Scanning the headlines this morning before settling in to write my column, I looked for something, anything about the climate crisis. Global warming. The environment. The accelerated extinction of plant and animal species.

Anyone?

I have done this daily since watching a TEDx Stockholm Talk given by Greta Thunberg, the courageous student who first garnered attention by sitting alone in front of Stockholm’s parliament building holding a sign that read, “School Strike for Climate,” eventually inspiring the worldwide school walkouts and marches for climate action in March. Her work to draw attention to the global crisis we are facing has earned her a Nobel Prize nomination.

In her 11-minute talk, Thunberg, who has Asperger Syndrome, appears younger than her 16 years. Dressed in a blue sweatshirt, black baggy pants and boots, her hair is parted down the middle and unpretentiously braided into two long, thin braids. No makeup, no jewelry, just her words and utter lack of ego. She learned about climate change when she was eight. If this is really happening, she pondered back then, and if we, as an animal species, are capable of controlling it, we shouldn’t be talking about anything else.

Why, indeed, is something so dire and that affects all of us on the planet - and that we have control over - not front-page news? Everyday. If our planet were being invaded by an alien species, we would hopefully come together and figure out a way to fight it and save our planet.

Well, we are being invaded. But the invasion is from within. The invasion is one of greed, ignorance, short-sightedness and denial.

As if to prove this point, the headlines I did find had to do with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s bombastic and idiotic statements at the recent Arctic Council Summit  that the melting sea ice is providing us with clearer passage through the Arctic and new opportunities for trade. It pains me to quote this directly, but he also said, “The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore.”

And then, to put a fine point on it: “My view on this and President Trump’s view on this is that we should put all our emphasis on outcomes.”

I’ll give you a moment for outrage before continuing.

Why, Thunberg continues, is no one mentioning the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with up to 200 species going extinct every day, a rate considered to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times what is seen as normal?

I found some headlines in the Seattle Times regarding extinction threats. But nothing on the front page about the fact that we have 11 years until the damage becomes irreversible.

We’ve known about this for 30 years. Thirty! How old were you 30 years ago? What were you doing? Thinking about? I was having babies and nurturing friendships for them with other babies on Queen Anne Hill. And those babies are now having babies. That’s how long we have had to make these changes.

“If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence,” asks Thunberg, “how could we just continue like before?” Addressing climate inequality, she asks how we can expect countries like India or Nigeria, who are struggling for basic infrastructure needs, such as clean drinking water, roads, hospitals and electricity, to care about the climate crisis change if we, who have everything, don’t care even a second about it?

I have written about the climate crisis and my efforts to avoid plastic. I make my own lip balm, toothpaste, yogurt and hair products. I encourage my family and friends to do the same. But these are tiny drops in a massive bucket. Change has to come from the top.

With only 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage, some people are acting. Gov. Jay Inslee has made the climate crisis his campaign platform. He is signing bills to help with reversal, or stalling, of the destructive changes. Other politicians have climate action at the forefront of their platforms.

“What we do and don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren,” says Thunberg, reflecting on the year 2078, when she will celebrate her 75th birthday. “What will people ask about you?” she poses, gently but firmly to the audience. “Why didn’t they do anything when there was time?”

People have suggested that Greta study to become a climate scientist so she can “solve” (she uses air quotes for the word) the problem. But, she responds, the problem has been solved. We know what to do. All we have to do is wake up and change. “And why,” she adds, “should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more?”

“And what is the point of learning facts in the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society.”

Ouch.

Thunberg’s generous conclusion is that people keep doing what they do because they don’t understand the actual consequences of what is happening. And they don’t know what to do to stop it. Clearly, there are other issues that need our attention. But, without a climate, all other issues are moot.

“I don’t want your hope,” says Greta. “I want you to panic. I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.

“Instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”

If you have 11 minutes to spare, watch the video – it’s too important not to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=670&v=EAmmUIEsN9A

 

Irene Panke Hopkins is a freelance writer and essayist. Find out more at irenehopkins.com.