Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunburg first gained notoriety in August 2018 after leading a demonstration in the form of a school walk-out before the Swedish parliament to call for more fervent action on climate change. And naturally, after inspiring further walkouts across Europe and North America, the enamoured media cast Thunberg as heroine at the helm of a pivotal and divisive movement. Perhaps it wasn’t until the face of a starry-eyed youth from Sweden graced television screens did the world give a second thought to climate change. In her hands rests our global fate — or so the narrative goes.
We have chosen to appoint a singular protagonist, consciously or through our herd mentality, to steer us to our outcome. Whether because of her impressively young mind, her unusual courage or her audacity in the face of government resistance, Greta Thunberg is understandably beloved and heralded as the long-awaited harbinger of change. Yet, what she stands for has been pushed by climatologists for the past decade, and has largely gone unregarded up until her rise to fame.
Recall the 2018 tragedy that was the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Student survivor Emma Gonzalez became the face of a nationwide gun-control movement representing the victims of school shootings past and present. While what she and her fellow student activists stood for was honorable, the discouraging result was a spotlight on their political debates, which gradually outshone the memories of their slain peers and the dim reality of the real discussion at hand: gun violence. Likewise, the sensational tale of Greta Thunberg leading an international movement further feeds the idea that we require a leader to speak and act for us. While it’s useful to have public representatives occasionally serve as mouthpieces, to offload the task of change onto a teenage girl is downright irresponsible and a distraction from our capabilities and work as a larger society. Not to mention, why is everyone okay with asking a 16-year-old girl to be a spokesperson rather than be in school?
It’s worth noting that climate change shouldn’t be regarded as a movement; it’s a very serious issue that needs immediate address. And as far as climate change legislation goes, Greta Thunberg is a footnote that deserves recognition, but perhaps not emphasis. It’s important we don’t turn our focus away from what actually matters: constructive collaboration between nations to reverse our carbon footprint. Let’s save the sensationalism for the history books.