I mean, Greta is great. She’s fearlessly speaking truth to power, and I agree with everything she says, including the ruder bits and the yelling. Ditto for Autumn Peltier, the teenage water activist, and so many others, although Greta’s getting most of the press right now. I hope they keep on keeping on. I’ve been equally furious about this for my entire adult life.
But one of the things Greta is saying is that she’s not here to be your poster child, your inspiration porn, your excuse for not getting off your own ass to do hard things. And she is 100% correct. Fixing this issue requires significant change, much of it uncomfortable, inconvenient, or both, at least for those of us in the first world, and we all have a responsibility to act.
The fairy tale of infinite growth doesn’t end well (does any fairy tale ever end well for the villain?) and we are on that deeply predictable downward slide. You can’t pack infinite growth onto a finite planet, and where will your economy be when the planet is too hot to grow food? No, it’s not a debate; the science on this has been settled for a very long time now, and only the modern tendency to discount reality in favour of fantasy and ideology has even allowed the question to arise. There is no question. The reality of a hot planet has to vanquish the desires of shareholders. NOW. Or preferably many years ago, but capitalism has kept brushing aside the problem of externalities and I’m sure given its current propensity it will continue to do so until the very air catches fire.
Twenty-four years ago, my environmental studies grad school class spent an evening session settling our collective opinion on how long we had until some major planetary tipping point. We settled on thirty years. On the one hand, yay! we were fairly prescient. On the other: shit! we were fairly prescient.
If it takes an angry 16-year-old Swedish girl to get people to act: fine. Let’s do it.
Which means: DO IT. YOU, the one reading this. Liking Greta’s speeches and FB posts does nothing practical. She would tell you that herself. If you’re egging her on (because she is right) — act in real life. Cause yourself some useful discomfort. Some ideas: Sell your car(s) and buy a bike(s). Move to a smaller home, probably in a denser neighbourhood, probably with at least one shared wall to save on energy needs, probably closer to your work so you can use active transport for your commute. Turn your thermostat down. Walk places. Think about what clothes you buy. Eat less meat. Take the train instead of flying in the Windsor-Quebec corridor. Live in an old house instead of having a new one built. Fly less, generally. Pay attention to where your food comes from. Pay attention to where your everything comes from. Pay attention.
For the love of all that is holy: don’t drive to the climate-strike march.
(Don’t drive anywhere if you can help it. And — side point – an electric car is still a car, with all the inefficiency, space demands and urban-planning problems of non-electric cars but with an added frisson of counterproductive value signalling. Buy five really nice electric bikes — at least one can be a cargo bike — instead of a Prius.)
Individual action is nice and satisfying and also highly necessary, but giving up plastic straws and putting on a sweater isn’t going to do it. The essential problem here is capitalism, which externalizes harms. While we all do need to act individually it’s also critically important that we also act collectively at all policy levels — municipally, regionally, provincially, federally, globally — to regulate it. We must enact policies to limit its continuing harms and mitigate its ongoing effects.
It’s vital that you vote NOW for people who are willing to guide Canada through what’s going to be a tough transition away from fossil fuels. Tough not because it is inherently awful or theoretically difficult, but because it’s change and it’s of a type many people have shown they will resist until, as I mentioned, the air catches fire, if it means the slightest alteration to their personal lives. We need to get over that. We should have done it thirty years ago when it would have been easier to make a gradual change but we didn’t, and now we have to speed up the transition by several orders of magnitude.
We absolutely must vote for people who won’t build more pipelines, who won’t capitulate to fossil-fuel industries, who will enact carbon taxes and raise them over time and use them as a stepping stone to further action — people who will listen to the evidence and act accordingly to build a revised economy based on sustainability, moving away from the myth of infinite growth. Jobs will be different (not necessarily fewer — the fossil fuel industry employs fewer people than they would like you to think). Ways of living, of eating, of working, of building cities, and of moving ourselves around will be different and maybe somewhat less convenient. But: sustainable, and possibly even more pleasant as a result.
Ride or die, folks. Don’t count on one furious Swedish teenager to do it for you.