A House On Fire. Greta Thunberg Speaks Boldly and Clearly.

Angst. A general sense of depression.  Wide-spread, generalized anxiety.  These are not circumstances resulting from being on the Autism Spectrum.  They are underlying conditions which many esteemed philosophers and sociologists have identified as being widespread in today’s world, in an era they term ‘modernity’.

This sense of unease and dislocation within society is so prevalent that it has been suggested as being the root cause of mass shootings in America, of the violence directed at other ethnicities, immigrants, corporate moguls and politicians. Even toward our neighbours and our domestic partners.

These erudite writers, ranging from Hanna Arendt to Pankaj Mishra, Richard Sennett and Marshal Berman, credit this sense of impending doom “even where there is none” to a general anxiety arising from the unsettled sensation created by living in a world where rapid change creates constant instability in almost every aspect of our lives. 

But what if these are not the primary factors creating this uncomfortable sense of ennui and lack of purpose?  What if one teenage girl, whose message is being largely ignored, has been pinpointing the underlying cause all along?

What if Greta Thunberg’s metaphor for our continually warming planet, our Earth, is fitting? Our house is on fire! [1](41) And we are all aware that nothing is being done about it because our leaders are too concerned with their own personal and political agendas to give the environmental crisis the attention it not only deserves but urgently requires.

 Greta Thunberg frequently travels the world from her home base in Sweden to Vienna, Strasbourg, London, and New York quoting the science behind the issues. She boldly states the near impossibility of correcting the situation if we continue to delay taking the steps which would slow the damage, while at the same time allowing third world countries to raise their standard of living.  

She asks those in charge of representing their governments on environmental issues, “Is my microphone on? Can you hear me?” and, “Did you hear what I just said?”

Her frustration arises from the fact that while world leaders repeatedly gather to discuss climate change agendas, very little is achieved.  Politicians, statesmen and numerous other representatives go back to their constituencies to raise self-fulfilling agendas.

In a scathing indictment of the current environmental situation, she told the attendees at the 2019 Climate Initiative that while deferring the decision to act responsibly in this matter may not greatly affect the representatives who were present, it would be devastating to those of her generation. 

“It is our future that has been sold, so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money.”

Is this unconscious, but prescient knowledge the reason so many children today seem to suffer a total lack of enthusiasm for life?  Not their addiction to screens and social media, but the underlying knowledge that they are doomed, powerless to change the tide of world events?  Is our general sense of malaise born of despair, of a sense of inability to influence our leadership toward any vital and meaningful action?

Thunberg’s Asperger’s clarity of thought has enabled her to speak boldly and without hesitation to high-ranking officials in many organizations including parliaments,  the Climate Initiative, the World Economic Forum, and the UN General Assembly. 

She credits her success in creating a worldwide movement that at times has rallied over six million participants, to the fact that she doesn’t think like a ‘normal’ and social person (28).

How does she see the environmental situation changing?  In speech after speech, she entreats world leaders to listen to the science behind the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystem.  She suggests a democracy and a politics based on that science (50) urging our leaders to forge a new system which would help to mitigate personal, self-serving, short-term agendas.

As for missing school to participate in the strike for change in the political response to climate change, Thunberg says, “We are not in school today.  Because this is an emergency.  And we will not be bystanders.”

Thunberg metaphorically describes our environmental situation as knowing that your house is on fire and yet, sitting down on the sofa and casually discussing what should be done next. 

Thunberg’s point is that such a response is unimaginable.  Inconceivable.  And yet we on planet Earth find ourselves in an unacceptably perilous situation and yet, with the possible exception of Ireland, we are failing to respond in a proactively effective fashion.

I see her frustration mounting as I read her speeches.  In her science-based estimation, the situation is dire, the consequences for her generation’s future almost unthinkable. 

But the people currently in power fail to act, as from their vantage point they will not be the ones to ultimately pay the price for their inaction.

This failure to act gives licence to individuals and organizations to react precipitously, possibly resulting in irresponsible and counter-productive activities. 

Those who will suffer through elevating environmental crises, ones which could still be mitigated if we act now, are currently too young to have a political influence.

Is this the root of our contemporary society’s general anxiety?  Our sense of frustration and hopelessness?  Does this not engender and fuel eco-terrorism?

We must open our eyes. The science is clear.  An environmental apocalypse is imminent! Our house is on fire!


[1] All page references in this article refer to No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg, a Penquin Book.

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