Our Final Exam in Madrid
Greta Thunberg, after image by Adam Ferris
Al Gore describes atmospheric rivers and how they fuel California wildfires.
Loss and Damage
Right-wing media’s first instinct is to smear the messenger, to find some behavior on which to hang a charge of hypocrisy or some venal motive that allegedly undercuts moral authority. They have done it to everyone who has stuck their head up on climate change (beginning, famously, with Al Gore) for many decades now, snooping through stolen emails, filing lawsuits, and ruining careers.
But this is where Thunberg’s autism has proven, as she has put it, a kind of superpower. She has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that makes her indifferent, often blind, to social cues and incentives as well as inclined to focus intently on a single subject, a tendency Thunberg says is exacerbated by obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As Wallace-Wells notes, Thunberg fell into a depression when she was younger, after she learned about climate change, and spent a few friendless years eating and speaking little, barely motivated to leave the house. In her own words, her climate activism gave her a sense of focus and meaning that helped lift her out of depression.
Witness Thunberg’s utterly indifferent reaction to the plaudits lavished on her by congressional Democrats. “Please save your praise,” she said. “We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. It doesn’t lead to anything.”
She’s not intimidated or dazzled by social hierarchy. She just drags the focus, again and again, back to her fixation, what the grown-ups don’t want to talk about: the need for immediate action and their long-standing failure to take any.
|C. Söderberg teaching biochar basics in the Green Zone|
“Trump hasn’t been roasted that thoroughly since the last time he locked himself in his tanning bed.” — JIMMY KIMMEL
“That’s how you know that these are strange times. In one room, Trump is going after a 16-year-old on Twitter; in the other room, Melania is talking about the perils of cyberbullying.” — JIMMY FALLON
|The author giving TV interviews in Madrid|
“She’s 16, so she’s used to handling temper tantrums from immature boys.” — TREVOR NOAH
But, in part through their indifference to social cues, people with autism have a unique capacity to face the facts clearly. And the facts about climate change are fucking terrifying.
This, I think, helps explain why Thunberg has inspired so many people, especially so many young people: There’s a kind of courage in ignoring the pervasive social pressure to calm down about climate change. She takes the facts seriously, even when very few adults are modeling how to do so, even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient for those around her. She’s vegan, she won’t fly, and she’s devoting her young life to prodding adults into action; the default right-wing accusations of hypocrisy and duplicity simply don’t stick.
The right has established a social environment in which speaking up on climate change leads to bullying and shaming, but those tactics just don’t seem to work on Thunberg. And without them, the right has nothing to fall back on (not one of the hundreds of attacks launched at her has the courage to directly dispute the IPCC report she submitted).
In ignoring social cues, Thunberg has become one: A signal to other young people around the world that, yes, this really is an emergency, and yes, they really can and should speak up.
Since the Paris Agreement, global banks have invested 1.9 trillion U.S. dollars in fossil fuels. One hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. The G20 countries account for almost 80% of total emissions. The richest 10% of the world’s population produce half of our CO2 emissions, while the poorest 50% account for just one-tenth. We indeed have some work to do, but some more than others.
If there is a child standing in the middle of the road and cars are coming at full speed, you don’t look away because it’s too uncomfortable. You immediately run out and rescue that child. And without that sense of urgency, how can we, the people, understand that we are facing a real crisis?
|Global Ecovillage Network offers workshops to Burkina Faso|
- One trillion in green investment over next 10 years
- No fossil investment (including fracking) from 2021 onward
- 50% of the investment portfolio will be climate directed by 2025
- From this moment, no loans of any kind shall violate or impair the Paris Agreement.