Quantcast

The Youth Have Seen Enough

Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Jonne Sippola / Greenpeace

By Rex Weyler

The world's youth have finally seen and heard enough from the deplorable political process, from compromised delegates, corrupted political appointees, and criminal corporations who sabotage these critical international discussions.


The truth of our ecological crisis is not difficult to see. Fragile ecosystems are unraveling all around us. We have been warned by scientists for two centuries: by the 1972 "Limits to Growth" study, William Catton's 1980 book Overshoot, by reliable scientists, and by millions of ecology activists. We were warned by the 2009 Nature article, "Planetary Boundaries" showing that humanity has breached seven critical tipping points; and by the 2012, Nature article, "Approaching a State Shift in Earth's Biosphere," by 22 international scientists warning of an "irreversible" planetary-scale transition, "unknown in human experience."

And yet, politicians and delegates travel around the world, stay in luxury hotels and dither about our children's future, as carbon emissions rise, species blink from existence, rivers run dry and ancient forests burn. It is no wonder, and a welcome sight, that the world's youth have seen enough and are not impressed.

Thirty Years of Pep Talks

On Dec. 12 2018, at the COP 24 UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland, Swedish student Greta Thunberg finally said what the politicized delegates have failed to say. Thunberg is a direct descendant of Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who predicted global heating from carbon emissions in 1896.

During this year's heat wave and wildfires in Sweden, Thunberg gained world attention by staging a school strike outside the Swedish Riksdag, holding a sign that read, "Skolstrejk för klimatet" (school strike for climate). She demanded that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions. Her actions inspired student strikes in over 270 cities around the world.

Greta Thunberg full speech at UN Climate Change COP24 Conference youtu.be

Speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Now, Thunberg chastised the delegates and member nations for failing to take action appropriate to the climate crisis: "Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can't solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground."

Thunberg pointed out that "if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself," and she spoke directly to the errors and injustice of our economic system. "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few."

She exposed the errors of convenient but false solutions that have displaced the genuine solutions to climate change and ecological collapse. "You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular," she said. "You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake."

"We've had thirty years of pep-talking and selling positive ideas," she said in Stockholm prior to departing for Poland, "And I'm sorry, but it doesn't work. Because if it would have, the emissions would have gone down by now—they haven't."

Meanwhile, outside the conference, 330 organizations from 129 countries presented six "People's Demands for Climate Justice," beginning with "Keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies to fossil fuel industry."

The youth leaders urged nations to "reject false solutions"—techno-fixes and offsetting schemes—in favor of "real solutions that are just, feasible, and essential." They particularly called out corporations and rich nations, who use the excuse of carbon sinks to seize indigenous land.

They called on the rich nations, whose historical carbon emissions have caused the climate crisis, to accept their fair share of climate reparation costs by honoring their Green Climate Fund obligations.

Finally, the coalition demanded that UN conferences end "corporate interference" and sabotage of the climate talks. Extraction corporations "have been getting massively wealthy," said Sriram Madhusoodanan from Corporate Accountability. "They're in these talks, blocking real solutions and advancing false solutions that will continue to propagate their business model."

Why Thunberg Is Correct

Thunberg is correct about years, decades, of pep-talks and positive ideas that have failed to reduce carbon emissions. Scientists have known about the threat of global heating since Thunberg's ancestor, Arrhenius calculated the impact in the nineteenth century. The modern world has been meeting about the crisis for almost forty years, since the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979. Since then, human carbon emissions have doubled from about 5 gigatonnes of carbon per year (GtC/yr) to 2018's record-breaking 10.88 GtC/yr. Meanwhile, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has grown by 22 percent, from 337 parts per million (ppm) in 1979 to over 412 ppm today. These results represent an enormous failure on the part of world governments.

Laser Projection on the COP24 Venue in Poland

She is also correct about the unfulfilled promise of "green growth," a notion made popular in 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, both dedicated to industrial growth.

However, recent studies show that "green" or "sustainable" growth are delusions. In 2018, anthropologist Jason Hickel reviewed recent data and wrote in Foreign Policy that "green growth ... is based more on wishful thinking than on evidence." A 2012 study by German resource economist Monika Dittrich and colleagues showed that even under optimum conditions, decoupling economic growth from resource use has not occurred. The United Nations Environment Programme came to similar conclusions in 2016 and 2017 studies. They predicted that by 2050, with continued growth, resource use would double to 180 billion metric tons per year (Gt/y). Ecological footprint data shows that a sustainable level of resource use is about 50 Gt/y, a limit breached in 2000.

Studies have consistently and rigidly linked economic growth to energy. In a 2012 paper, "No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change," T. J. Garrett, at the University of Utah, performed the calculations and determined that every single dollar (U.S. dollar, 1990) of global economic growth in recent decades required approximately 9.7 milliwatts of energy. "Global CO2 emission rates," wrote Garrett, "cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains."

Wealthy nations, such as the UK and U.S., have claimed to "decouple" energy use from GDP, but only because they have exported energy-intensive industries and now import finished goods—cars, computers, trinkets—which represent massive embedded energy.

Based on recent data, Thunberg is entirely correct that "green growth" is a delusion.

Pull the Break

Finally, Thunberg is correct that the only paths out of our predicament require that we "change the system itself." Global heating, biodiversity loss, environmental toxins, nutrient cycle disruption and all other ecological challenges arise as symptoms of a single, larger biophysical reality. Humanity is in a state of ecological overshoot. There is no way to grow out of overshoot. All genuine solutions to overshoot require that the species contract, not grow. As Thunberg says, it is time to face these facts, to slow down, and to "pull the emergency brake" on economic growth.

This is the reality that the climate conference delegates are too scared to voice. Our status quo economic system—industrial capitalism—requires growth to survive. Without endless economic growth, the $250 trillion global debt to bankers and investors cannot be paid. As Thunberg says, "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people .. can live in luxury." The biosphere is being sacrificed so bankers can receive their interest payments, to keep stock prices up and to avoid facing reality.

The current system is biased for the rich to get richer, as multitudes suffer, as the ecosystem collapses, and as other species disappear. Economist Jeremy Grantham concurs in "The Race for our Lives," when he states that "capitalism and mainstream economics simply cannot deal with these problems." Corporate sabotage of the climate talks is not new. In the 1920s and 30s, Standard Oil, General Motors and Firestone Tires acquired and sabotaged public transportation throughout North America for the purpose of replacing efficient public transport with gas-guzzling cars. Today in Nigeria, Ecuador, Canada, in the Arctic, around the world and at these UN conferences, oil companies are still sabotaging the public interest for profits.

It gives us some measure of hope that young leaders appear to be among the few who have the courage and insight to speak the truth. Greta Thunberg closed her short talk by announcing, "We have not come here to beg world leaders to care … We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not."

Her speech stands as one of the most hopeful moments for ecological realism in recent years.

Rex Weyler was a director of the original Greenpeace Foundation, the editor of the organization's first newsletter, and a co-founder of Greenpeace International in 1979.

Sponsored
Prince William and British naturalist David Attenborough attend converse during the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 22 in Davos, Switzerland. Fabrice Cofferini /AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.

During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.

Read More Show Less
EV charging lot in Anaheim, California. dj venus / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Electric vehicle sales took off in 2018, with a record two million units sold around the world, according to a new Deloitte analysis.

What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Teenager Alex Weber and friends collected nearly 40,000 golf balls hit into the ocean from a handful of California golf courses. Alex Weber / CC BY-ND

By Matthew Savoca

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.

As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California.

Read More Show Less
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Read More Show Less
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Read More Show Less
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Read More Show Less
MarioGuti / iStock / Getty Images

By Patrick Rogers

If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Read More Show Less