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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

From Gore to Greta

A lot can happen in the world of climate change activism in the span of 12 years. I remember 2007 as the year when Al Gore was making the rounds and public awareness of the issues was seemingly at a peak. Soon after, Bush the Second, the Texan in the White house, was replaced by that beacon of hope, Barack Obama, and progressive politics were afoot – except that a bunch of shit had just hit the fan. Climate change took a back seat in the years that followed the housing crisis and the financial meltdown of 2008. To be fair, during those years, at least we were treated to progressive lip-service on the matter: Climate summits were held in various cosmopolitan centres every few years, where toothless laws and soft targets were the order of the day. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the fracking industry slowly gathered steam in attempt to mitigate the annoying effects of Peak Oil, which nobody really wanted to talk about out in the open. Later, on the political front, the Democrats succeeded in losing spectacularly – and, even if we can’t agree on why Donald Trump came out on top, we all know that there's a big ol' climate change denier the one in the White House at the moment. And so, yeah, a lot can happen in twelve years; a whole lot of inaction on climate change has taken place in that time. And carbon emissions have kept going up every year.

Now, the poster child of the cause is a teenager from Sweden. At first glance, Greta Thunberg is no Al Gore, and that’s why you might see her as a breath of fresh air. Gore, after all, was not exactly an exemplary environmentalist who would lead by example. His jet-setting motorcade kind of set him apart on that count. Thunberg is a little more “practice what you preach” in her approach, which is sorely lacking in the privileged circles of most environmentalist leaders. However, if you scratch the surface of this media-darling's public image, as some critics have, she has perhaps already been co-opted by the ultra-rich elite who (like Gore) often have a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to the cause.  It remains to be seen if she can set herself apart from the hypocrites who have otherwise taken over climate activism. If she does, will the media do its best to drop her? Ultimately, since we are still operating in the context of democracy, the most important question is whether there is a truly new wave of young protesters ready to rise up and demand real change? Or will her message be massaged free of meaning by a cynical media who still write the propaganda-du-jour for the establishment?

Clearly, for now at least, the masses are mobilising, and large numbers of protesters are convening once again – and for good reason: so much more really ought to be done to soften the blow of climate change in the immediate future, not to mention the next hundred years. But what isn’t clear is with what expectations does Greta lead the charge? And with what expectations to the masses convene?
It’s an important question, because anger, if blind, can be easily duped. Which is why next week I’ll be discussing “Green New Deals”.