Greta Thunberg should not be up there

Young climate activist Greta Thunberg was just named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year, and many celebrated. It is, indeed, a well-deserved honor. It also summarizes the depth of humanity’s systemic failure on an unprecedented global crisis. As Thunberg herself said, in a justly celebrated speech a few months back:

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!

Most people were most struck by the passion and pain of her challenge: How dare you! But at least as important was her context:

I shouldn't be up here.

Greta Thunberg should not be the face of the climate crisis. She should not be the voice of climate activism. That she has become both speaks to the entire world's systemic failure in addressing climate change. That it took a teenager to wake the world up is a stark condemnation. And that was the core of her outrage. It’s a given that the Republican Party will do nothing but make things worse, but the media should be calling them to account on it. Every day. The media should put climate scientists front and center. Every day.

As Thunberg pointed out, the science has been clear for a long time. Over eight years ago, I wrote that climate change is the most important issue humanity has ever faced. A year later, I cited the numerous scientific organizations that concurred with the consensus on anthropogenic climate change. A year after that, a scientific study concluded:

Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors' self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.

And four years ago, further research showed methodological flaws in most of those scant outliers to the scientific consensus. NASA lists 18 American scientific societies that agree with that consensus. The evidence is abundant and overwhelming. It is not hard to find. If one is searching the science.

The scientific proof that human activity is causing the climate crisis is clear. It is no more debatable than the theory of gravity. And yet the world's political leaders dawdle. Most of the world's major media outlets relegate climate change to just another story, when they do bother to cover it at all. And most tellingly, when climate change is discussed on TV talk shows or TV's ostensible news programs, it is politicians and activists that are interviewed. It's almost never scientists. And it should always be scientists. That's the point about Greta Thunberg. She should not be the one on whom the spotlights fall. It should be the scientists. It should always be the scientists.

The politics of climate change does merit debate. There are legitimate differences among scientists as to the best means of addressing climate change. Those are conversations worth having. Conversations about whether or not we are in a climate crisis are just misdirection and distraction. The world doesn't have time for misdirection and distraction. The world needs to be having the legitimate debates, now, with absolute urgency, and no compromise. It should not be about politics, it should be about science. It should not be about the financial and social costs of addressing climate change, it should be about the far more dangerous consequences of not fully addressing it.

Four years ago, I wrote that the climate crisis already was causing a dangerous and deadly refugee crisis; and that has metastasized into a cruel xenophobic political crisis that has quickly become an existential threat to the world's leading democracies. The United States is under threat. The world is under threat. Global carbon dioxide levels are at levels unseen in the entire history of humanity. Even the financial industry is awakening from its torpor to admit the obvious. All evidence continues to point to the crisis being worse than expected, faster than expected.

As I wrote at the end of last summer:

The climate news this summer was what has become routinely alarming. July was the hottest month on record. The United Nations just warned that climate change presents an unprecedented threat to the world’s food supply. The genetic diversity of Central Europe’s plants are at risk of collapse. Spy satellites showed that Himalayan glaciers have lost billions of tons of ice in just this century. Arctic permafrost is thawing 70 years earlier than was predicted. Ocean temperatures were the highest ever recorded, as were sea levels. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which just six years ago broke 400 parts per million for the first time in human history, in May hit 415 parts per million.

The more we learn, the worse it gets. The political upheaval is roiling the world. And a teenaged girl has come to personify attempts to deal with it. Greta Thunberg should be celebrated. But that she has become that personification is cause for the world’s politicians and media outlets to be condemned.

by Lawerence Lewis