As someone who is relatively well informed on climate change and worked in sustainability for the best part of two decades, I have to admit, there have been few pieces written or stories told about the issue that have made me think ‘F**K, what ARE we doing here?!’. That is until I read an extract called “Greenwashed into our senses” (published in the Guardian) from Greta Thunberg’s latest book ‘The Climate Book.’ It is the first piece in a long time that is refreshingly honest and useful. I didn’t leave reading it feeling despair or panic but rather overcome with an ‘AHA’ moment. Her storytelling is a refreshing reminder to re-focus our energies towards the politicians and corporate power players of the world because they hold the keys to the climate conundrum we all face.
Thousands of mildly concerned individuals have probably watched one, two, or even all of David Attenborough’s documentaries. Millions watched the Netflix’s Seaspiracy documentary (itself mired in controversy). We hear increasingly convincing stories of tech and energy innovations that will solve this problem – in maybe 30 years’ time. Earthwatch comes to mind.
What all these pieces have in common is the one dimensionality of them all. They spark either despair or excitement, but rarely give us cause to believe in the issue enough to engage – Greta’s style does just that. She reminds readers that the same institutions driving climate change through increasing emissions are the very same who hold the power to halt it – or at the very least decelerate its damaging impacts. She reminds us that solutions and frameworks to address the climate crisis already exist – yet increasingly the story being put forward by these players is that we can hit targets like Paris; we can hit them, just not right now. Greta simplifies all of this and with emotion and information, she boils it down to one message: national leaders and governments can change the course of our climate trajectory. They just don’t want to.
She flips conventional wisdom about climate change on its head. She questions the phrases we have perhaps become too comfortable with. The word ‘change’ is problematic – it indicates something yet to happen but in fact has already happened. Her use of precise metaphors strips back the issue to great effect. She likens the current levels of absorbed heat in the atmosphere to water overflowing a bathtub – you would solve the problem at the source – switch off the tap and not let it run even more. What you wouldn’t do is mop up the flood with the tap is still running. It makes no logical sense.
Greta’s communications are masterclasses in reminding people of where their campaigning focus needs to be. She takes the reader from a position they may know nothing or little about or even care about, and, like an onion, unpeels the complex layers. She wants her readers to understand the issues so they can eventually take action through their own existing democratic structures (for those who can). She doesn’t ask you to give something up, deprive you of things you like – she communicates to keep the attention back onto those most accountable and with the agency to affect change on a global level. She empowers her readers to think they could be activists or even consider who to vote for, or even question ‘Actually,why isn’t the Green Party in power?!”
She lays out the bare facts stating that current solutions are far from strategic and instead designed to manufacture consent that has been driven by the loudest, most powerful voices (‘the white, male, cis leaders of coproates and many govenments) tantamount to global greenwashing. She uses hugely emotive and insightful statements like “Our so-called leaders still think they can bargain with physics and negotiate with nature. They speak to flowers in the language of economics.”
She looks at the issue through a strategic, yet powerfully simple lens.
The problem = too much carbon in the atmosphere.
The solution = count the emissions and make a plan to stop and reduce them.
To date no leader globally has recorded their countries own emissions (these include the ones sent abroad to destroy waste in poorer nations) and the endless climate accounting frameworks, which shuffle the figures around to no avail, have failed to provide realistic plans to meet the Paris targets – yet, the tap is still running.