Thunberg’s 20-year climate policy: Making good progress in limiting global warming to 3 degrees C by 2045 is far from the goal
I first met Thunberg in the middle of that maelstrom, when she came to New York in 2019 by boat to help stage two large climate strikes as bookends to the U.N.’s climate week. A lot has changed since then but a whole lot hasn’t. Thunberg is 20 years old. Countries accounting for almost 90 percent of the world’s emissions and G.D.P. have made net-zero pledges. Fossil fuel use hasn’t gone down but renewable energy is still a lot bigger than it was 50 years ago. The policies suggest that the world’s temperature will rise above three degrees Celsius this century, more than double the goals outlined in the Paris agreement. She published her third book, “The Climate Book,” which contained a tour of the state of emergency and how to think about it from more than 100 contributors. (I wrote an essay for it drawing lessons from the experience of the pandemic.)
Reading The Climate Book at a deliberate pace over some weeks (it’s a lot to absorb), the cumulative impact on my understanding of the crisis through its data, cross-cultural reflections, and paths for step-by-step change became mesmerizing.
Most critically, they — and Thunberg herself in numerous brief essays of her own — explain what steps need to be taken without delay if the world is to have a reasonable chance of limiting global temperature rise as stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The document hopes to keep the temperature below 2 degrees Celsius and below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The rich nations of the world don’t seem to be making progress towards achieving limits on global warming. Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, said in his essay that rich nations should eliminate fossil fuel use by around 2030. We are where we are because for thirty years we have preferred make-believe over real mitigation.
Anderson refers to it as “Make-believe”. In her own chapter, journalist Alexandra Urisman Otto describes her investigation into Swedish climate policy, specifically its net zero target for 2045. She discovered that the official number of greenhouse gases emitted was 50 million tons, while the actual figure was 150 million tons. The target is way off, she writes, because the lower figure does not include emissions from consumption and the burning of wood. 2.5 to 3C is the increase that would occur if all countries were off by that much.
Burning wood for energy and sometimes other materials like seaweed are included in the term “biomass”. Karl Heinz Erb and Simone Gingrich of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna said that burning wood for energy causes more emissions per unit of energy than fossil fuels.
What Should We Do to Prevent Climate Disasters? A Perspective from Environmental Scientist and Climate Change Specialist M. Iwasawa Thunberg
International aviation and shipping are not typically accounted for in national emission targets, policies, and carbon budgets, says the Professor of Climate Science and Energy Policy at the University of Manchester.
transparency in climate-emission figures is an urgent goal. Beyond that, Thunberg says, distribution of climate budgets fairly across countries of the world must be a priority. Policies are less likely to succeed without climate justice. An especially effective subsection of the book, “We are not all in the same boat,” brings this point to life.
The communities most devastated by climate change are overwhelmingly poor people of color, according to Saleemul Huq, director of a Bangladeshi international center for climate change. But Bangladeshi citizens shouldn’t be thought of as passive victims, Huq emphasizes. Communities work together to prepare for the effects of climate disasters in ways not often seen in the global north. For example, “An elderly widow living alone will have two children from the high school assigned to go and pick her up” in case of hurricane or other emergency.
What should be done around the world? First, we can hold industrial and corporate interests accountable and push back on their messages placing the burden solely on the individual, a tactic that allows the worst of the status quo carbon-emissions activities to continue.
Beyond this, it’s not enough “to become vegetarian for one day a week, offset our holiday trips to Thailand or switch our diesel SUV for an electric car,” as Thunberg puts it. Participating in recycling may lead to feel-good moments, but in fact, in the words of Greenpeace activist Nina Schrank, it’s “perhaps the greatest example of greenwashing on the planet today.” More than 9% of plastic ends up being dumped or burned after one or two cycles.
She has given up flying. She wrote that frequent flying is the most climate-destructive individual activity you can engage in. Though she writes that lowering her personal carbon footprint isn’t her specific goal in sailing (instead of flying) across the Atlantic — she hopes to convey the need for urgent, collective behavioral change. She writes that if we do not see other people behaving in a crisis manner, few will understand that we actually are in a crisis.
Social norms can and do change, Thunberg emphasizes. We need to keep climate justice front and center at every step in order to have hope.
Fridays for Future: The Greta Thunberg Book of Climate Change (The Swedish Parliament’s youngest ever person of the year)
Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at William & Mary. Animals’ Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity is her seventh book. Find her on social media.
Fridays for Future started with the school strike for climate. At the age of fifteen, a young girl named Greta Thunberg began striking on Fridays in front of the Swedish Parliament to demand action against climate change.
In less than five years, millions have joined Fridays for Future. The United Nations has a speaker in it. She was named Time magazine’s youngest ever person of the year. She was nominated for the prize for four years in a row. After finishing high school, she became a household name around the world.
Climate change: Where do we stand? Where can we go? What can we learn? Where to start? Why we need to act now, not what to do?
I think what mainly motivated me was that it was so difficult to find a source where you could actually read and go in depth on these issues. People often ask me where I can read. What can I read? What should I watch? I want to get involved with the issue of climate change. I would like to become an activist. I want to learn. But I don’t know where to start.” This is a good place to start. I think it covers a lot of issues concerning the climate crisis. So it’s not just a one-sided story.
I wouldn’t say in the way that it needs to. We might see some improvements in some areas, but still, the U.S. is expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. There are a lot of people losing their lives and their livelihoods in a climate emergency that is just continuing to get worse. I don’t think that’s right and I think it’s crazy.
That’s exactly the reason why the politicians and the people in power need to start speaking up. Because as it is now, they might not have the votes, they might not have the public support from voters to actually take these measures. How can we expect that? How can we expect people to demand drastic change in order to safeguard our present and future living conditions if they don’t know the reason why those changes are needed.
Right now it’s like, saving the climate is seen as an act of tree hugging. It’s not being seen as a way to protect our civilization as we know it and to save countless human lives. That is being put against jobs and workers, when it’s actually the opposite.
Climate justice is the fight for social justice. We can’t have one without the other. We can’t put them against each other. Unless the situation is bad, they’re not going to want to change because they’re already used to it.
I believe that the changes will come from the outside, people demanding this, because we see that when there have been successful campaigns. People are raising these issues in a way [that’s] been working then that has also had effects on the policies that are being made and the decisions that are being made.
Doing What I Can Do During this Existential Crisis: What I’m Doing to Help and Whom I Can’t Help?
And then, of course, I think that I’m not the one to tell the U.S. how they should do things when it comes to things like Congress and so on. I think that’s more up to the experts and the people there.
I really hope not. [laughs] I mean, politics as it is now is very, very toxic. It seems like a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I think that I can do more as a campaigner on the outside.
Of course, I don’t think it’s what anyone expected or could ever expect. So I guess I just have to use the advantage that that gives me. It gives me a platform I can talk about things that can affect people, things, etc. It sends a strange message, that instead of focusing on the problem itself and on the people who suffer the consequences, we should focus on individuals who are worse off.
It might be overwhelming. I think doing something that matters is more important. Doing something that has an impact. Something that in the future, I will be able to look back at and say, “I did what I could during this existential crisis when most people were just either looking away or were too busy with their own lives.”