by Lowell Bliss, The Liberator Today
We were a scant quarter mile into the climate march that civil society groups were hosting on the Saturday between the two weeks of the latest UN climate summit, COP 24 in Katowice, Poland. Someone inadvertently bumped into my hip and I looked over and saw a familiar face. It was 15-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Greta, now sixteen, was a familiar face last Friday. In fact, in your news feeds, you saw either one of two photos from the worldwide strike by schoolchildren for climate action. Either you saw the huge crowds of kids marching in protest, or you saw a photo of the girl who had inspired them all. Greta was the first to scrawl a sign: “Skolstrejk för Klimatet.” Three weeks before Sweden’s parliamentary election on September 9 of last year, Greta took up position on the steps of parliament, demanding that government take more radical action on carbon dioxide emissions. After the elections, she returned to school for four days each week, but every Friday she was back out on strike. On this past Friday, she was joined by children in 123 different countries, and in all 50 states. Kids are creative; my favorite protest signs all had to do with playing hooky, such as “Why Should We Go to School if You Won’t Listen to the Educated?,” and “Civil Disobedience Requires No Permission Slip” and “If you didn’t want us to skip school, you shouldn’t have given us such good science teachers.”
The climate march in Katowice was a long, slow affair. We shuffled. I had plenty of time to strike up a conversation with Svante Thunberg, Greta’s father. He’s forty-nine, an actor, and we chatted about his visit to the Niagara region back when he was in grad school. “I doubt if I’ll get back,” he told me. He and his family have given up flying. I bragged a little also about my own two remarkable daughters, Adelaide and Bronwynn.
During the COP, Svante and Greta appeared for a press briefing sponsored by scientistswarning.tv. Moderator Scott Stuart introduced him, “And with her is her father who is an author and actor,” and then putting his hand up to the side of his face as if to create an ‘aside’ with the audience, he said, “he happens to be her PR person, her chauffer, her protector, all of the above; a very, very dedicated man.”
Much has been said about Greta, and her younger sister Beata, being diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Their mother, Svante’s wife, Malena Ernman wrote a book about their care. At the press briefing however, Svante was able to fill in the picture about Greta’s move into climate action: “Greta fell ill – I think it was four or five years ago. She stopped eating and she stopped talking and she fell into a depression. And she stayed home from school for almost a year. She lost a lot of weight and went away to hospital. So we stayed at home, my wife and I. We stopped working. . . . We have two daughters and we made sure they were feeling well again. Once Greta was coming back, it turned out she was very concerned and upset about the climate. She has been going on about this before, obviously, but it sort of stuck to her and she could not get this out of her head: the fact that everyone was saying one thing and doing the exact opposite all the time, not least, us parents.”
Svante, picking at his beard with his left hand and staring off into his memories, described his wife and himself as “very concerned” people: they were active in issues of human rights and care of refugees. “But in Greta’s eyes, of course, we were missing out on one big point, in fact the most important point, which was the climate and the sustainability crisis going on all around us. While we were saying all these things about taking care of our fellow man, we were flying around, eating meat, buying things, and driving a big car, having two homes and of course, that’s not really sustainable. And then we realized that we were, of course, a huge part of the problem. In fact, we were the problem. Greta could not, sort of, get around that, and it made her very, very upset.”
Then Svante said, “So, listening to her, we started taking in the sustainability and the climate crisis and we embarked on a road which we are still upon. She told us that we had to change.” They did.
Svante Thunberg, forty nine years old, father of two, successful career man—listened to his daughter. And that may have made all the difference in the world, for our world. Out on the march, shuffling along, enjoying being outside, watching other marchers suddenly recognize Greta, watching her patiently pose for another selfie, I turned to Svante and said, “You know, Greta gets a lot of admiration, and it is deserved. She’s pretty remarkable. But I want to say. . . Dad. . . that I think you are pretty remarkable too.”
It was announced last week that Greta Thunberg has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Hey you, Dad. . . Mom. . .if you are listening to your kids’ concerns, if you discover the strengths in their disabilities, if you are determined to raise adults who care, if you are open to change. . . well, I think you are pretty remarkable too. Good job!