Column: Teen Offers Global Warming Challenge

December 19, 2018

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

Taking a courageous stand on a fundamental principle, that has global implications, is challenging for most people, let alone a 15-year-old girl.

These past two weeks, during the UN’s Annual Climate Change Conference [COP24], many international media outlets have become aware of the story of one-such teen.

Amongst the thousands attending the Conference was Greta Thunberg of Sweden; a 15- year-old who, with quiet boldness, challenged the adult delegates to pivot – to change the game – to act with the necessary urgency required to address global warming. Greta’s story resonates with that of another 15-year-old – Claudette Colvin – who took a game-changing courageous stand more than 60 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama.

Greta had become curious about the implications of climate change over the last few years and made a serious personal study of it. Her growing understanding of its grave impact on the planet led to her experiencing a grave, personal health challenge. When she recovered with the support of her parents, she decided to stage a school strike on her own in late-August.

She began her one-person sit-in outside of her country’s Parliament, demanding that the leaders address the crisis of climate change with appropriate haste. After two weeks of a daily strike, she returned to school and began striking every Friday. Her Strike Friday campaign gained student support in various parts of the globe.

Greta’s family has joined her by adopting a vegan diet in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Her mother – a renowned Swedish Opera singer – has abandoned her lucrative career because of the air miles required for the concert circuit. Greta’s father drove her to the conference in Poland and the UN Secretary General requested a private consultation with them. Greta was also invited to address a plenary session and the youngster made a brief presentation, calling for urgent action.

Greta’s motivation is of course complex. In the historic context, she is accepting the baton of another 15-year-old’s courageous stand, more than 60 years ago.

As a high school student, Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus on March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. This was nine months before the renowned, parallel stand taken by Rosa Parks. However, when community activists in Montgomery were totally surprised by Claudette’s courageous action, the circumstances did not lead to a major campaign on segregation.

However, this teen’s ground-breaking stand – in a city impacted by the terrorism of the KKK – proved foundational for Rosa Parks’ action, sparking the famous Bus Boycott in December 1955.

While Claudette Colvin is not renowned, she was one of the few volunteers who Civil Rights Lawyer Fred Grey could get to serve as witnesses in the series of court cases during the Boycott.

These legal battles led to that historic Supreme Court Ruling in 1956 banning segregation on public buses. This 15-year-old’s courage was key in launching a sea-change in the U.S., but the Civil Rights movement continues to inspire transformative action across the globe – like the stand of Greta.

Both teens gained key support, reinforcing their bold actions. Claudette received family support, credited her social studies teacher, and benefited as a member of the NAACP Youth Council, led by Rosa Parks. Greta’s family has been supportive as she continues to learn about her great-grandfather’s pioneering work on the science of climate change.

The UN Conference on climate change was able to reach an agreement of the nearly 200 countries involved, late on Saturday, December 15. While there was satisfaction that this massive effort reached consensus on process, there remains concern regarding the need for urgency.

In carrying forward that baton from Claudette Colvin, Greta gives voice for this generation.

Addressing the UN Conference, Greta summed up the concerns of those aware of the reality: “We are facing an existential threat – the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced. First we have to realize this and then [act] as fast as possible.”

Greta is committed to continue her Friday Strike until her country – Sweden – takes urgent action and the teen invites young and old around the globe to join in taking the urgent action that circumstances require.

- Glenn Fubler


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Category: All, Environment