We have all seen the environmental speech delivered to the UN by Greta Thunberg. The 16 year old, Swedish environmental activist delivered a heartfelt and passionate speech about governmental powers choosing to prioritise ‘eternal economic growth’ over protecting the earth. Greta Thunberg is a courageous character, without a doubt. With a head of knowledge, far beyond her years, you must admire her tenacity and confidence to change the course of history. For this, she must be commended. However the content of the speech is actually damaging to public discourse surrounding the topic which is the quintessential requirement for problem solving.
The issues with Greta Thunberg’s (and really activist’s) passionate speech
When it comes to talking about the environment, it is almost impossible to have a conversation if you do not share the view put forward by Thunberg and other like-minded activists. It has become a vitriolic soup of hatred for so-called ‘deniers’ and for the government for not acting. With so much animosity in the air already, I would argue that Thunberg has merely done nothing but throw more fuel onto the fire. It is understandable that this level of irritation stems from the appearance of a lack of government action. However, the aggressive yet phatic language used by Thunberg is specifically designed to stir up the base in the midst of a movement. It is brilliant marketing but awful for working through the issue and developing effective policy prescriptions. When you have a situation where people, on a particular side of the isle, are pushing a narrative with such aggression and based on significantly heightened emotion, it becomes almost impossible to work on solutions as it is so much harder to separate the issue from the politics. Discussing the risks, flaws and rewards of each action to take on the environment, in such an atmosphere of vitriol, is bound to also stifle rational thought and unfortunately, Thunberg has contributed to this.
The big flaw of the environmental movement
It is all well and good wanting to protect the environment. I mean it, it really is. We should all be accepting personal responsibility and playing our part, on an individual level to change it. The fundamental problem with the climate change movement on the world stage is that nobody knows what they want. Seriously, it is. It may seem obvious that the end goal is to mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming as best we can. However, inconvenient and aggressive protests procreate a message along the lines of ‘something needs to be done, now’. But what is it that needs to be done? Just like any political party coming into an election, they would need a manifesto of policies they want to implement and goals they want to achieve, the climate change movement needs specific goals and they need to be the frontline of the argument in order to not be deemed trivial, hysterical or annoying.
The incompetence of government
When it comes to the issue of environment, what Thunberg has said is largely true. Higher up the political chain you go, there is more investment and potential for political manipulation and dodgy dealings. If protecting the environment hurts the bottom line of MP’s or political campaigns and figureheads, it will likely be rejected. This should reinforce the physical (and arguably moral) incompetence of government. You can use the environmental debate as a compelling case to strip power from the government. I am heavily in favour of a weak government. By that, I mean a strong government but not a powerful one. The government should be the provider of basic financial and physical services like sanitation and refuse collection, for example, to ensure we have strong national security and be diplomats in the event of international negotiations. That is really all we need them to do, by and large. Pledging funding to a government but in return expecting them to handle EVERYTHING we ask them to is a quick recipe for failure, stagnation and societal polarisation.
The climate movement should aim to take matters into its own hands. It is evident that relying on government to play ‘nanny state’ and solve all the world’s problems hasn’t worked and will continue to fail. The green movement should be looking to build a manifesto, be willing to discuss with politically opposed people about the benefits, risks and rewards of such an undertaking and make the movement one that can’t be ignored. The unfortunate reality is that, at this moment, it can and will be ignored and it is indicative of a nature of greed within the government