Wise People, Truth-tellers and Inspiring Leaders

Greta Thunberg

It is very hard to conceive that a Swedish schoolgirl could possibly have had such a dramatic world- wide impact, being a force behind a whole series of protests by young people against climate change.

Not satisfied with inspiring protests, Thunberg has roundly castigated politicians, such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Bolsanaro of Brazil, Scott Morrison of Australia, all of whom have sought to belittle her and her influence.

Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg (born 3 January 2003) is a Swedish environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition. Thunberg is known for her straightforward speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she urges immediate action to address the climate crisis.

Thunberg's activism started after convincing her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint. In August 2018, at age 15, she started spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on climate change by holding up a sign reading Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate). Soon, other students engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Together, they organised a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays for Future. After Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were multiple coordinated multi-city protests involving over a million students each. To avoid flying, Thunberg sailed to North America where she attended the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. Her speech there, in which she exclaimed "how dare you" was widely taken up by the press and incorporated into music.

Her sudden rise to world fame has made her a leader and a target for critics. In May 2019, Thunberg was featured on the cover of Time magazine, which named her a "next generation leader" and said that many see her as a role model. Thunberg and the school strike movement were also featured in a 30-minute Vice documentary titled Make the World Greta Again. Her impact on the world stage has been described as the "Greta effect". Thunberg has received many honours and awards, including honorary fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and in 2019, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people and the youngest individual Time Person of the Year. Thunberg was also nominated for both the 2019 and 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Thunberg at the Climate March, Montréal, September 2019

UN Climate Action Summit

On 23 September, Thunberg attended the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. That day the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) hosted a press conference where Thunberg joined fifteen other children including Ayakha Melithafa, Alexandria Villaseñor, Catarina Lorenzo, Carl Smith and others. Together, the group announced they had made an official complaint against five nations that are not on track to meet the emission reduction targets they committed to in their Paris Agreement pledges: Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey. The complaint challenges these countries under the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Protocol is a quasi-judicial mechanism which allows children or their representatives, who believe their rights have been violated, to bring a complaint before the relevant 'treaty body', the Committee on the Rights of the Child. If the complaint is successful, the countries will be asked to respond, but any suggestions are not legally binding.

In a speech at the summit, Thunberg said to world leaders: "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! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

Bolzano, 15 February 2019

September 2019 climate strike in Geneva

Paul Krugman, Economist

There are not that many economists who have been consistently accurate in their understanding and predictions about the actions of politicians, banks and the financial markets. Krugman’s recent book; “Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics and the fight for a better future”, reviews the thinking of many economists and politicians, especially those who promoted neo-liberalism, slashing public spending as way out of recession caused by the banking crash of 2007.

Here are some sayings by Krugman: Q, “What is the most dangerous economic myth of all?” Krugman answered: “The idea that a country is like a household, so that you always want your income to exceed your spending, with debt just a burden for the future. The reality is that money flows in a circle within the economy, and that changes everything”.

The “household spending” analogy is totally contradicted by the fact that countries and large companies must borrow and have debt in order to invest for the future. Whether Margaret Thatcher realised the damage she was causing by promoting the household comparison, or George Osborne realised the damage he would cause after the banking collapse by promoting a programme of violent slashing of public spending in order to foster recovery is unclear. In fact the opposite occurred, public services were decimated, investment collapsed and the economy has not reached pre-crash levels more than ten years later. Osborne was also responsible for the gross untruth that it was government spending that caused the Crash, rather than the grossly irresponsible behaviour of the international banking industry

Q: “What is the biggest problem of all? A: “Clearly Climate Change. Nothing else matters if we don’t deal with that. What makes it excruciating is that we know perfectly well how to fix it - But greed and motivated reasoning stand in the way and may doom us all”.

Cover of book by Paul Krugman: Arguing with zombies

Climate change science pioneer Wallace Smith Broecker

This US professor raised early alarms about climate change and popularised term ‘global warming’

A pioneering scientist who raised early alarms about climate change and popularised the term “global warming” has died aged 87.

Wallace Smith Broecker, a Columbia University professor and researcher died on Monday at a hospital in New York City, according to a spokesman for the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He had reportedly been ill in recent months.

Broecker brought “global warming” into common use with a 1975 article that correctly predicted rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would lead to pronounced warming.

He was also an advocate for political action to deal with the problem. In 1984, he told a House of Representatives subcommittee that urgent action was required to halt the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere because the climate system could “jump abruptly from one state to another” with devastating effects. His theories have subsequently become proven by events and are almost universally accepted by climate scientists.

He was also a pioneer in radiocarbon and isotope dating and became the first person to recognise what he called the ocean conveyor belt, a global network of currents affecting everything from air temperature to rain patterns.

“Wally was unique, brilliant and combative,” said the Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer. “He wasn’t fooled by the cooling of the 1970s. He saw clearly the unprecedented warming now playing out and made his views clear, even when few were willing to listen.”

In the ocean conveyor belt, cold, salty water in the North Atlantic sinks, working like a plunger to drive an ocean current from near North America to Europe. Warm surface waters borne by this current help keep Europe’s climate mild.

Otherwise, he said, Europe would be a deep freeze, with average winter temperatures dropping by 20F or more and London feeling more like Spitsbergen in Norway, which is 600 miles (965km) north of the Arctic Circle.

Broecker said his studies suggested that the conveyor belt was the “Achilles heel of the climate system” and a fragile phenomenon that could change rapidly for reasons not fully understood. It would take only a slight rise in temperature to keep water from sinking in the North Atlantic, he said, and that would bring the conveyor to a halt. Broecker said it was possible that warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases could be enough to affect the ocean currents dramatically.

“Broecker single-handedly popularised the notion that this could lead to a dramatic climate change ‘tipping point’ and, more generally, Broecker helped communicate to the public and policymakers the potential for abrupt climate changes and unwelcome ‘surprises’ as a result

In in his 1984 address, Broecker said the buildup of greenhouse gases warranted a “bold, new national effort aimed at understanding the operation of the realms of the atmosphere, oceans, ice and terrestrial biosphere”.

Broecker said that by dumping into the atmosphere huge amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, “we are conducting an experiment that could have devastating effects”.

“We’re playing with an angry beast – a climate system that has been shown to be very sensitive,” he said.

Broecker received the National Medal of Science in 1996 and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Among his many awards were the Vetlesen Prize in 1987 and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2002. He also served a stint as the research coordinator for Biosphere 2, an experimental living environment turned research lab, during which time he briefly worked under Steven Bannon, who went on to become a strategist for Donald Trump.

Broecker was born in Chicago in 1931 and grew up in suburban Oak Park. He joined Columbia’s faculty in 1959, spending most of his time at the university’s laboratory in Palisades, New York. He was known in science circles as the “grandfather of climate science” and the “dean of climate scientists”.

In the 1970s, he worked as a consultant for Exxon and wrote several papers on the effects of carbon dioxide for the oil company.

His 1975 paper “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”, which predicted rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to pronounced heating of the planet. This built on earlier studies and helped to push the subject to a wider audience.

More recently, he advocated the mass deployment of carbon capture and storage technology because he felt it was already too late to rely only on a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but too early to take dangerous gambles on geoengineering.

“His discoveries were fundamental to interpreting Earth’s climate history,” said Oppenheimer. “No scientist was more stimulating to engage with: he was an instigator in a good way, willing to press unpopular ideas, like lofting particles to offset climate change. But it was always a two-way conversation, never dull, always educational. I’ll miss him.”

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Frederick Attenborough, born 8 May 1926, is an English broadcaster and natural historian. He is best known for writing and presenting, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, the nine natural history documentary series forming the Life collection that together constitute a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on Earth. He is a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, 3D and 4K. In 2018 and 2019, he received Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Narrator.

Attenborough is widely considered a national treasure in the UK, although he himself does not like the term. In 2002, he was named among the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide poll for the BBC.

He has warned that “human beings have overrun the world” and are sending it into decline, in a new documentary detailing his vision for how the world can stop climate breakdown.

“This film is my witness statement and my vision for the future – the story of how we came to make this our greatest mistake and how if we act now, we can yet put it right,” the 93-year-old broadcaster says in a trailer for A Life on Our Planet.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the pioneering nature documentarian urged the public to “stop waste of any kind”, saying the world is precious and should be “celebrated and cherished”.

“The reverberations of that simple change [of rising temperatures] are going to be enormous unless we do something about it,” he said in interview aired on Sunday.

“And this is the very last moment that we have in which we can hope to stem some of these disasters.”

Asked whether Covid-19 was humanity’s “reckoning”, Sir David Attenborough said: “Anybody who knows anything about keeping animals [will know] the more dense population you keep, the quicker a disease will spread, and there’s never been a denser population of human species until this moment”.

In a warning to world leaders, he added: ”This is the last chance. There are short-term problems and long-term problems. A politician is tempted to deal with short-term problems all the time and neglect long-term problems.

“This is not only a long-term problem, it is the biggest problem humanity has faced. Ever”.

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