Everyone is missing Greta Thunberg’s message, especially world leaders.
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, has become a major player on the world stage. She addressed the United Nations about climate change and led a series of school strikes, one here in Los Angeles Nov. 1, for the same cause. Thunberg has drawn the pressing issue of climate change into the limelight, encouraging world leaders to do all they can to combat climate change.
But those leaders weren’t really listening. In fact, hardly anyone is.
Everyone has let Thunberg’s message fly over their heads. Well-intentioned statements like “Greta Thunberg will save the world!” run rampant on Twitter and at protests, but that sentiment is exactly what she wants to stop.
“My message is that we’ll be watching you,” Thunberg said during her speech at the United Nations summit in New York Sept. 23. “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you.”
And she is exactly right. It’s not her job to “save the world” or reverse climate change single-handedly. It is in the hands of global leaders to make the material change of which she is not capable. While she is passionate and intelligent, there is only so much she can do as an individual and as a teenager.
Those global leaders seem eager to receive her counsel, but this too is often just for show. Prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau met with Thunberg after approving a controversial oil pipeline dig in his country a few months before, which will damage the climate, according to NPR. Trudeau is a repeat offender in this respect; he often puts on a progressive image while implementing policies that contradict this attitude.
This type of showmanship and hypocrisy is emblematic of the attitudes of many world leaders, who would rather relegate responsibility to the next generation under the guise of empowering them, rather than actually making change.
Thunberg was expected to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but ultimately did not. It has been speculated that she was not awarded the prize because her mission was not exactly what the prize is awarded for, according to the Washington Post. There is not a specific conflict she is working to solve, and the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to those who endeavor to ameliorate global conflicts.
However, it seems more likely that Thunberg did not receive the prize because those in political power are afraid to allow her a bigger platform. Often, hot-button issues will remain mainstream for a short period of time, but they soon fade, allowing leaders to hide behind superficial commentary. If Thunberg won the Nobel Prize, she would stay relevant for longer, and the people receiving her messages would hold global leaders accountable for their lack of action. That terrifies the world leaders who want to immediately move on from controversial issues such as climate change.
Greta cannot do it alone, and she should not have to try. World leaders need to captain this endeavor. If they have the audacity to belittle, ignore and patronize young activists, then they need to show us that they are more capable. The world is counting on their contributions.