TIME Magazine named Greta Thunberg their “person of the year,” in an acknowledgement of the dire need to address climate change now. Her nomination is a bright spot, which deserves further examination. First though, we must acknowledge the other developments that explain why she and other activists need to be elevated.
The COP25 conference in Madrid ended with no worthy progress to report. The largest polluting countries including, China, India, and the United States blocked an agreement to enhance climate targets and also nixed a deal on carbon trading. Carbon trading has its critics but pushing the counting of carbon into the public and governmental spheres is a big deal. One of the mechanisms that must be added to the global economy is carbon costs. Without carbon costs, the true value of clean renewable energy cannot be calculated. More to the point of the polluting countries, the destructiveness of the burning fossil fuels cannot be calculated either without placing carbon production into the cost of doing business.
In the midst of this international maneuvering to protect fossil fuel corporations across the globe, this daring now sixteen-year-old stands up and defies the climate denial status quo. Both teenagers and adults have attempted to take the stage in the public square before, but none have succeeded as well as Greta Thunberg has. With moxie and determination, she pulled climate change onto the front page of politics and current affairs.
“Kol HaKavod!” we should say.
Hold your praise for a moment more though. Ms. Thunberg has come under attack for taking her stance from trolls, from politicians, and from heads of state in Brazil and the United States. Instead of lashing out or punching back with the full force of a teenager’s vital strength, she has responded a straightforward manner. She held up a mirror to their faces, giving them back their words while shying away from casting judgment in return. After her initial responses, Ms. Thunberg continues to respond with her core message of “we must act,” making clear that she will not be distracted by trolls and dissenters.
Now we should say publicly, “Kol HaKavod”
Pirke Avot reads, “Who is honored and respected? One who honors and respects others.” There is a lesson to be gained from Ms. Thunberg’s year long journey to bring forward momentum to the climate movement.
Overcoming the fossil fuel industry is a long frustrating task. In the United States, the lack of political will is not just the Republican Party whose elected members mostly reject climate science. The Democrats have their great issue as well, balking at the price tag in the trillions of dollars at the national level and billions of dollars per state at the state level. Elected politicians follow the voters though, who decide who shall rise and who shall fall.
Greta Thunberg has reminded all of us that reaching over the media shills and politicians to the voters demands respect and honor. She spoke in a sincere and forthright manner. Her speech to the United Nations, which was an impassioned scolding, was offered with dignity to everyone in the room. The speech was profound enough to replace the Yom Kippur Haftarah reading at my shul (I’m a congregant, not the clergy).
While community organizers are encouraging everyone to be “loud and proud,” the Jewish lesson is to protest and advocate with dignity and respect for everyone, even when others do not deserve it.