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Greta Thunberg

When the muted find a voice

by Ken Sehested, with extensive quotes from Jonathan Watts, “Greta Thunberg, schoolgirl climate change warrior: ‘Some people can let things go. I can’t’”, The Guardian

        I confess I’m head-over-heels in awe of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who was recently awarded Amnesty International’s coveted “Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019, on behalf of the Fridays for Future movement of school children demanding bold action to address the global climate crisis.

        [For more on that, see Amnesty International. Also, watch this short (4:12) video of Thunberg and fellow “school strikers for climate change” from around the world.]

        Then 15, Thunberg was considered little more than a curiosity when, in August 2018, she began skipping school to hold vigil outside Sweden’s parliament. She sat rather forlornly against the building with her hand-painted sign, which read skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate), calling on Swedish legislators to take climate change seriously.

        What an odd duck, we might say in English; or one joker short of a full deck. No doubt some thought hers was a cute gesture, “brave” only in the sense of how we dismiss people with fanciful grasp of reality. In effect, foolhardy. Harmless, really; but harebrained, nonetheless.

        Truth is, Thunberg is a little loony. Literally, she has been diagnosed with “selective mutism,” a condition on the Asperger diagnostic scale of mental health disorders. Her symptoms exhibit a “childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a an inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings.”

        People of the Book will recall an ancient story, about a man named Moses (cf. Exodus 4:10), who tried to beg off a public leadership task because he wasn't good with words.

        “People with selective mutism have a tendency to worry more than others. Thunberg has since weaponised this in meetings with political leaders, and with billionaire entrepreneurs in Davos. ‘I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act,’ she told them.

        “In this regard, her family see her Asperger’s as a blessing. She is someone who strips away social distractions and focuses with black-and-white clarity on the issues. ‘It’s nothing that I want to change about me,’ she says. ‘It’s just who I am. If I had been just like everyone else and been social, then I would have just tried to start an organisation. But I couldn’t do that. I’m not very good with people, so I did something myself instead.’”

        “I don’t care if what I’m doing – what we’re doing – is hopeful. We need to do it anyway. Even if there’s no hope left and everything is hopeless, we must do what we can.”

        It is we who live with cognitive dissonance.

Right: Greta Thunberg is greeted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the February meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee meeting in Brussels, drawing legislators and business leaders across the continent.  At this meeting, Juncker indicated that the European Union is pledging a quarter of $1 trillion budget over the next seven years to address the crisis of a rapidly heating planet. In the financial period beginning in 2021, Juncker said, the EU will devote a quarter of its budget to solving the crisis.

        “There are no comfortable reassurances in her speech, just a steady frankness. Asked whether she has become more optimistic because the climate issue has risen up the political agenda and politicians in the US and Europe are considering green New Deals that would ramp up the transition to renewable energy, her reply is brutally honest. ‘No, I am not more hopeful than when I started. The emissions are increasing and that is the only thing that matters. I think that needs to be our focus. We cannot talk about anything else.’”

        “On social media, there have been other crude attacks on Thunberg’s reputation and appearance. Already familiar with bullying from school, she appears unfazed. ‘I expected when I started that if this is going to become big, then there will be a lot of hate,’ she says. ‘It’s a positive sign. I think that must be because they see us as a threat. That means that something has changed in the debate, and we are making a difference.’”

        I will never again read the Prophet Isaiah's breath taking vision of Creation's promised fulfillment, including the line about how "a little child shall lead" (11:6), without thinking about Greta Thunberg.

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There are numerous excerpts on the web of Thunberg speaking. Among the brief ones, here is one of my favorites, when she addressed the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) conference in Katowice, Poland.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org