The Thunberg Meme

Ugo Bardi at Cassandra’s Legacy has just published The Thunberg Effect Seems to be in Full Swing: Will It Last? He uses Google Analytics to show the effect of her leadership. The blue line shows interest in the topic of ‘Climate Change’; the red line in the topic of ‘Greta Thunberg’.
Thunberg Meme

It is too early to know if this young lady really has started a movement, but it is interesting to note that she herself cites Rosa Parks as one of the people who inspired her. Maybe she and other young people have started the equivalent of a new civil rights movement.

The Stordalen

Book Release

Priests in a hurry
Every week we release a section of the book A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits. We have modified our release program. Instead of publishing just the new pages, we will provide the entire book so far, including the current Table of Contents. This week we are up to the first part of Chapter 2 — A Personal Journey (the image is of Dante’s Forest Dark). The document is a .pdf file that can be downloaded at no cost here.

The Stordalen

1 stordalen  =  10,491 bacon cheeseburgers

Quantification

As an engineer I like to think in numbers. Hence one of my favorite quotations is from Lord Kelvin (of degrees Kelvin fame) — yet another bewhiskered Victorian gentleman.

Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

One of the difficulties that many of us face when discussing environmental issues is to do with the units of measurement. We talk about our carbon footprint, but how is that footprint to be measured? Our knowledge is indeed of a “meagre and unsatisfactory kind”.

Saving the Planet

In his post A Wilderness of Mirrors John Michael Greer refers to an article in the Daily Mirror entitled Globe-trotting billionaire behind campaign to save planet accused of blatant hypocrisy. Greer says,

Late last year . . . the mass media trumpeted yet another study proclaiming yet another low-meat diet that would supposedly save the planet. The study was funded by a Norwegian vegan billionaire named Gunhild Stordalen. For a change, reporters actually looked into the story, and turned up the fact that Stordalen’s commitment to the environment apparently begins and ends on her dining table.

Diet aside, she’s got the same colossal carbon footprint as other members of her class; her idea of a modest wedding celebration, for example, included flying a private jet full of friends from Oslo to Marrakesh and back.

(Math isn’t my strong suit, so one of my readers obligingly crunched the numbers, and showed that this little jaunt of Stordalen’s—one of many each year in her globehopping lifestyle, by the way—had a carbon footprint equal to no fewer than 10,491 of the bacon cheeseburgers she insists nobody ought to eat.)

Stordalen-Gunhild Tree Hugger
Gunhild Stordalen: A Tree Hugger

So maybe, if we decide to walk rather than drive to the grocery store, we can determine how the impact of our decision by measuring the number of stordhalens saved.

(One person pointed out that ‘stor’ is Norwegian for ‘large’, whereas ‘liten’ means ‘small’. The stordalen is too large a unit for daily use, but if litendalen is a thousandth of a stordalen then it would be equivalent to 10.5 bacon cheeseburgers — a more practical measure.)

Live the Life Preached

The above is, of course, written somewhat tongue in cheek (although the idea of quantifying environmental impact is a good one). But the point that Greer makes is serious: we must live the life we preach.

He made the same point in an earlier post when talking about Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth. Gore’s book and the matching video introduced many people to the ideas of global warming and climate change. (Gore had been Vice President under Bill Clinton, and came close to winning the presidency himself.)

An Inconvenient Truth
Bennett — reproduced with permission

Although what Gore said was properly researched, his message lost credibility because his lifestyle does not match his message. He lives in a large air-conditioned mansion (and owns other properties), flies around the world in jet airplanes and eats a high meat diet. If he had really wanted to get his message across Gore would have moved to a small home without air conditioning, cut back on long distance travel (and then only by train), and eaten a mostly vegetarian diet.

The Gore Mansion
The Gore Mansion

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez environmental hypocrisy

To bring the topic up to date, consider the reporting of the New York Post to do with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s carbon  footprint. The report states,

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign logged 1,049 car service transactions totaling over $23,000 between May 16, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018, The Post found. Her campaign once booked 26 car-service transactions in a single day.

Even though her Queens HQ was just a one-minute walk to the 7 train, her campaign only made 52 MetroCard purchases, spending about $8,300.

And despite high-speed rail being the cornerstone of her green strategy, the Democratic firebrand took Amtrak 18 times, compared to 66 airline transactions costing $25,174.54 during the campaign season.

Her response:

“I’m just living in the real world”.

Another New York Post article says,

Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly attributed her success in beating Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley to walking the streets of her district, which includes parts of Queens and the Bronx.

“I knocked doors until rainwater came through my soles,” she tweeted last June, famously donating her worn-out campaign shoes to the Cornell Costume Institute for an exhibit about women and empowerment.

But Ocasio-Cortez and her staff appear to have done much less walking after she vanquished Crowley in the party’s June 2018 primary.

Instead, her campaign embraced the friendly skies, logging 66 airline transactions costing $25,174.54 during campaign season.

The Democratic firebrand or her staff took Amtrak far less — only 18 times — despite high-speed rail being the cornerstone of her save-the-world strategy.

Ocasio-Cortez has drawn considerable praise for her Green New Deal proposals, including at our site, and it may be that reports such as the above come from her political opponents. Nevertheless such articles can knock her message badly off course.

Confessions

I have already had much to say about Augustine’s works De Mendacio and City of God. But there is another work of his that is important in this context, and that is his Confessions. In one of the world’s first autobiographies he opens himself to his readers. He knows that that, before telling others how to behave, he has to act correctly himself. He takes very seriously the words from Matthew 7.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

One reason that the way in which we live matters is that none of us have enough time to investigate all the issues that we face. So we tend to base our opinions on the character of the person presenting a point of view. (Advertisers know that the best reference is from a person that you know and trust.)

This idea of living the by the standards that are preached is particularly important for rich and powerful people such as the Stordalens or Al Gore. Otherwise, ordinary people will suspect that they are being asked to sacrifice their standard of living so that the wealthy can continue to live in luxury.

Benedict

Benedict of Nursia
Benedict of Nursia (480-547)

The principle of living the life preached is one of the foundations of the monastic way of life. This is an important topic, and one that we will discuss in future posts. At this point it is sufficient to say that, when societies decline, there is often a revival of the monastic ideal. In the case of the western Roman Empire the person who embodied this ideal was Benedict of Nursia.

The Benedictine ideals are usually condensed into three principles: poverty, chastity and obedience. Although Benedict’s rule is demanding, it is not a harsh; indeed, it is built around a spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness. The key words are ora et labora: pray and work.

In his book The Benedict Option Rod Dreher suggests that Christians can form Benedict-style communities within the larger secular society. It is not necessary to actually become a monk or nun to follow many of Benedict’s principles.

Book: The Benedict Option

Top-Down Action

The counter-argument to Greer’s point of view is that the actions of individuals and small groups of people are not enough to make a difference. Indeed, Jevons Paradox suggests that whatever we do will be cancelled out by someone else’s actions. For example, we may choose to drive a smaller car to save fuel. But the fuel that we do not use is not really saved — it is simply used by someone else, somewhere else.

Therefore, it is argued, it does not matter if we personally lead a profligate lifestyle, just as long as we are able to change society’s rules and standards. The catch with this argument, as we have just seen, is that it can be perceived as being hypocritical and self-serving.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

The Christian Response

In these posts I always try to come back to what the issues that we discuss mean to today’s Christian church. By doing so we may be able to figure out some aspects of a theology for our times.

The first decision that the individual Christian and that the church overall has to make is whether to work top-down or bottom-up, i.e., whether to take political action to change the actions of governments and large corporations, or whether to concentrate on individual lifestyles.

The ideal answer is that a person will adopt a simple lifestyle and then work with the church overall to change national policies. In practice, the decision will probably depend at least partly on the personalities of the people involved. Some people enjoy working with others who are trying to change policies, others prefer to work by themselves or with small groups.

A Low-Carbon Lifestyle

If we are to live the life that we preach then we need to cut back on those actions that have a large carbon footprint. But this is not always easy or justified. For example, we know that commercial aircraft are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Therefore we should stop flying. But does that mean that a person living 3,000 miles from her children and grandchildren must give up seeing them? We might say that she should take the train, or that she should drive her car. But what if there is no train service, or if her medical condition prohibits long-distance driving?

Or maybe someone with a large garden decides to grow her own vegetables and other produce. This is obviously good for the environment, and it reduces resource consumption. But the seeds that she purchases are delivered to the local nursery using the same supply chains that deliver food to the supermarkets. If the supply chains were to collapse she is in a pickle. So maybe she should save her own seeds. But many of the vegetables we grow now are hybrids so their seeds may not grow true. So now this person is into seed-saving, with all the work that that involves.

None of this is easy.

The point is that it is easy to say that we should live a simply, but such a decision is more difficult to implement than it first appears. We are not going to jump from our SUVs to a Cistercian monastery all at once.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough

Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923)

I started this post with some comments on the importance of quantification. Continuing with that theme, it is useful to keep in mind the Pareto Principle, often referred to as the 80/20 rule. The Principle was developed by yet another bewhiskered Victorian-era thinker: Vilfredo Pareto — an Italian economist and misanthrope. He noted that most of the wealth of the Italian communities he looked at was not spread evenly — in fact, typically about 20% of any population owned 80% of the wealth.

His principle, which, to the best of my understanding, has no theoretical underpinning, is widely observed to be true in many fields of human activity. It can be expressed by the following equation,

log n     =     c     +     m * log x

where n is the number of items whose value is greater than x; c and m are constants.

Examples of the principle’s applications in an industrial context include:

  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its customers.
  • 80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of the sales force.
  • 20% of the workers are involved in 80% of the accidents.
  • 20% of the equipment items cause 80% of the facility shutdowns.
  • 20% of a company’s products will account for 80% of the total product defects.

In a church context we generally observe that.

  • 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the parishioners.
  • 80% of the social services are provided by 20% of the parishioners.
  • 80% of the internal arguments come from 20% of the parishioners.

The practical effect of this rule is that there is no need to be a perfectionist. Just 20% of the effort will achieve 80% of the desired results. We can choose to live more like the Benedictines without having to follow every aspect of their rule.

Conclusions

So, as the Age of Limits closes in, how should individual Christians live, and what should the church’s strategy be in a world of so much uncertainty and anxiety? We know that the option of maintaining BAU (Business as Usual) is not an option. As resources dwindle, and as the climate becomes ever more erratic, we will be forced into a simpler lifestyle — like it or not. It is this knowledge that prompted Greer’s famous remark,

Collapse now and avoid the rush

In other words, prepare for a lower standard of living now. Such a decision does not necessarily mean that we have to suffer hardships. Indeed, many people who adopt a simple lifestyle say that they prefer it to our current, fast-paced way of living.

From the overall church, it will be necessary to work with governments, corporations and other secular bodies to create policies that align with our predictions as to what may take place in the coming years. For example, church leaders need to decide whether they prefer an incrementalist, “realistic” strategy, or whether they should follow a bold approach such as that outlined in the Green New Deal.

Or should the church adopt a different strategy — one of adaptation and resilience, as discussed in The Third Road? None of these decisions are easy.

Three tracks Richmond VA

Rearranging the (Episcopal) Deckchairs

Book Release

Priests in a hurryEvery week we release a section of the book A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits. This week it is the second part of Chapter 1 — For the Christian in an Hurry: The 300-Year Party. The document is a .pdf file that can be downloaded at no cost here. (The Table of Contents for the complete book is available here.)

While working on this blog and on my book A New City of God three events occurred at roughly the same time. They were:

  1. Greta Thurnberg made her speech to the COP24 Conference in Poland. Her words went viral and they have encouraged young people around the world to take action.
  2. The Methodist church in the United States is going through turmoil with regard to same-sex marriage and related issues.
  3. I carried out a calculation to do with the membership of the Episcopalian church while writing A New City of God.

Pull these three threads together, and I am reminded of the image at the head of this post, which shows the neatly arranged deckchairs on the doomed Titanic on her fateful journey across the north Atlantic.

The Titanic

Titanic Sinking
Der Untergang der Titanic

The story is familiar. The luxury steamship RMS Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, off the coast of Newfoundland after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage. The submerged portion of the iceberg scraped against the hull, tearing a gash along much of her length. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 perished in the icy North Atlantic.

The quotation, “Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic” has become a staple of our discourse. It implies futile, symbolic action in the face of catastrophe. Indeed, the sinking of the Titanic has generated many other aphorisms and oft-repeated quotations such as,

Until the moment she actually sinks, the Titanic is unsinkable.
Julia Hughes

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.
Erma Bombeck

. . . the disaster suddenly ripped away the blindfolds and changed dozens of attitudes, practices, and standards almost literally overnight.
Brander 1995

When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course, there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident . . . of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.
E.J. Smith, Captain of the Titanic

Captain E.J. Smith — Titanic
Captain Edward J. Smith (1850-1907)

The Brander quotation is important. The magnitude of the incident led to a total overhaul of the safety standards as sea (known as SOLAS). Those standards are with us today, and have saved countless lives.

Three Events

I started this post by saying that three events had made an impression on me. Let’s take a quick look at each of these events.

The Thurnberg Speech

Greta Thurnberg accusing world leaders of not acting on climate change
Greta Thurnberg (2003 – )

We have already discussed Greta Thurnberg’s clear, honest and courageous speech. It has encouraged thousands of young people to follow her leadership. To state the obvious, these young people (and many of their parents) are interested in staying alive. Consequently they are also highly critical of the actions of the hypocrisy of the generations that have preceded them. Maybe there is a message for the church there.

Climate Change Protest

Methodist Turmoil

united Methodist church

At the time of writing (February 2019) the Methodist Church in the United States was starting a conference at which LGBT and same-sex marriage issues were to be voted on. The result could be a breakup of the church. The USA Today says,

“What the United Methodist church will look like in March will likely be very different than it is today,” said the Rev. Ron Robinson, a chaplain and religion professor at Wofford College, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. “This has the most significant potential for major division out of anything in my lifetime.”

Now gender issues are of high importance to many Christians — not only to Methodists, but also those in other denominations. The catch is that such discussions have, as an unstated assumption, that the present physical world will continue more or less in its current form. The passions are strong and deeply felt. But, if Age of Limits issues are going to create wrenching problems, then such discussions do have a flavor of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Episcopalian Membership

While writing my book, I decided to research the status of the Episcopalian Church in the United States. Using 2017 data from the church’s web site I developed the following rather  scary chart.

Episcopal Church Membership
Episcopal Church Membership: 2006-2016

Membership in the church has declined steadily over a period of ten or more years. (Attendance at Sunday services is probably a more important figure than nominal membership. But it shows the same trends. Average parish attendance in the year 2011 was 65; by 2016 it was down to 58.)

While church membership is declining, the nation’s population is growing. The Episcopal church’s membership was 0.28% of the population of the United States in 2005, but had dropped to 0.19% in 2016. So, in the period 2005-2016 church membership fell from 827,000 to 601,000, a 27% drop. But the church’s percentage of the population fell from 0.28% to 0.19%, a 32% drop.

A simple linearization of the line, which has remarkably little scatter, shows that membership is declining by roughly 22,000 per annum. Given that current membership is at around 600,000 we can expect to hit the zero point somewhere around the year 2045. This is not what will actually happen, of course. The line will show an asymptote (hockey-stick effect) near its end; membership will level off at a low level, but it will not hit zero. Or the church may merge with another denomination struggling with a similar data set.

But, if the church is to have any meaning for the population at large, this trend must be reversed. I recognize that religious faith is not just a matter of numbers, but numbers do matter.

Related to the  decline in attendance and membership is the fact that the church’s congregations are getting older — not only are more members needed, it is even more important to attract young people.

Assessment

So we have the following situation:

  • Young people are growing increasingly passionate about climate change issues.
  • The church is spending its time and energy on issues that do not seem to be important to those young people.
  • Church membership and attendance is down. In particular, youth participation is dwindling.

And so the conclusion is . . .

Yet most church communities are not responding to climate change issues with the same level of passion as are young people. (After all, we don’t want to be controversial, do we?) This means that, from the point of view of these young people, church leaders are, by and large, simply rearranging the deck chairs on their sinking Titanic. So, unsurprisingly, they have little interest in joining the church. Who can blame them? No wonder that membership curve is declining so precipitously.

Moreover, even when the church does consider climate change, it tends to treat it as  just one concern among many. Most churches have committees to organize activities such as food banks, spiritual retreats and mission trips. So the tendency is to treat climate change, and other Age of Limits issues, as being just one piece of the overall program. (“We will form a committee to take care of that.”) But climate change (and other Age of Limits issues) are existentially important — they are the Titanic. And, if the Titanic sinks, i.e., if the climate is drastically disrupted, then the other activities will sink with it.

Conclusions

If the church is to engage the trust and the confidence of young people growing up in a world that is changing frighteningly fast then Age of Limits issues need to become central to the mission. They are not just one activity among many — they are core to our beliefs and our actions.

Which means that a theology that fits this new world is needed.

Stay tuned.

The Third Road

Book Release

Priests in a hurryThis week we release the second section of the book A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits. It is the first half of Chapter 1 — For the Christian in an Hurry: The 300-Year Party. The document is a .pdf file that can be downloaded at no cost here. (The Table of Contents for the complete book is available here.)

Three Roads

In last week’s post I described the proposed Green New Deal, and discussed how Christians can respond to this initiative. I have reflected further on this important initiative, and it seems to me that three roads open up to us. They are:

  1. The sensible, cautious and realistic road advocated by leaders such as Nancy Pelosi.
  2. The “reach for the stars” road contained with the Green New Deal.
  3. The road of adaptation.

Let’s spend a few moments thinking about these three roads so that we can decide which is best for the Christian community. It’s important.

First Road

The first response is to be “sensible and realistic”. The politician who probably best represents this point of view is the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (1940-)

Her approach reflects the philosophy of Otto von Bismarck when he said,

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.

Or, as we engineers like to say,

Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

This approach to political decisions makes sense when considering normal issues such as health care or trade programs. Using this approach, initiatives such as carbon capture or the use of solar energy may be “attainable” in the human/political sense. In such situations we are negotiating with other human beings. But, political attainability is of little value when faced with an existential issues such as climate change. No amount of “small ball” legislation will enable us to reverse our current trajectory. We can negotiate with other human beings, but we cannot negotiate with the laws of physics and thermodynamics. They don’t care what we think or what we want.

Second Road

Franklin Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945)

The second road is to take radical, bold action. People in this camp, the Green New Deal sponsors, believe that climate change presents a profound challenge that can only be addressed with drastic action. As the second apparition said to the indecisive Macbeth,

Be bloody, bold and resolute.

The analogy is with the New Deal implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s in response to world-wide economic recession. He did not just tinker around the edges, he came up with a bold vision and then used his influence and authority to implement that vision.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (1989-)

The person who has become the human face for this option is newly-elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and her colleagues are the ones who sponsored the ‘Green New Deal’ Resolution.

Leonard Pitts (1957-)
Leonard Pitts (1957-)

In a Miami Herald editorial entitled Requiem for an American Vision, Leonard Pitts says that the resistance to the Green New Deal indicates that “something vital has seeped out of us”. He notes that criticism of the idea, whether it is from the right or the left, “is simply too big an idea”.

His critique resonated with me. Before I came to the United States I had always been attracted by the nation’s “can do” spirit. But now, that spirit seems to have disappeared. We see it not only with the response to the Green New Deal, but also with regard to the California high-speed rail debacle — dubbed the “No consultant left behind program”. Not only do we not reach for the stars when it comes to addressing climate change and its attendant ills, we cannot even build a railway using 50 year old technology.

The Third Road

Three roads used to illustrate the choices that we face in an Age of Limits.
The two roads just described — moderate response or full-on attack — are what most people would consider as being our only options.

But there is a third road. Those who travel on it basically accept that there is little that we can do to change our current trajectory. To re-iterate a theme of this site — we face predicaments, not problems. When faced with a predicament, we accept the situation, adapt as best we can and develop systems that are resilient (as distinct from efficient). This is not to say that we should not support “green” initiatives. But we need to recognize that those initiatives can only slow the pace of change and/or ameliorate the consequences. They are not going to cause the predicaments to go away.

The Christian Response

In these posts I always try to consider three questions. The first is, “What should the Christian response be?” The second is, “What’s the theology of all this?”

I suggest that the first road — that of being sensible and of achieving goals that are politically possible — should be discarded out of hand. Not only will it fail to make a serious dent in our climate change trajectory, it could create a feeling of, “Well, we have taken care of that problem, we have done what we could”. It could create a fatal, air of complacency.

The second road — the Green New Deal — has four things going for it.

  1. In spite of the cautionary statements made at sites such as this, it just might work. Age of Limits issues are inherently complex, we all see through a glass darkly, so this approach may pleasantly surprise us.
  2. By presenting climate issues in such stark terms, this approach does at least raise the topic as being urgent and existential, one that cannot be ignored on the grounds that, “they will think of something”. At the very least, it will force the idea’s opponents to think, at least for a brief second, about the realities of physics, thermodynamics and ecology.
  3. If the climate does deteriorate to such an extent that nothing can be done, then people will, to some degree, have been prepared for what is to come.
  4. The Green New Deal is the one program that might, just might, mobilize the nation (and the world) to take drastic action.

The third road — that of Acceptance — is actually the one that is truly realistic. No matter what actions we take, climate change is taking place, and its consequences are increasingly serious. In spite of its boldness the Green New Deal approach is, unfortunately, too little, too late. So we need to work within out communities on programs of acceptance, response and adaptation.

It is the approach that Augustine and other church fathers followed in the early 5th century. They did not attempt to revitalize the western Roman Empire. They accepted the loss of that empire, and focused their efforts on building a new City of God.

I suggest that we choose a combination of the second and third roads. That we work toward the ambitious goals outlined in programs such as the Green New Deal. At the same time we understand that such a program may fail, so we simultaneously quietly work on adaptation.

Realistically (a word that seems to crop up quite a lot in the context of these discussions) we probably cannot simultaneously work toward two such separate goals. But it might be worth a try.

40 Million Americans

 

Colorado river drying up

The Grist site has published an article 40 million Americans depend on the Colorado River. It’s drying up.

The article makes the following points:

  • The Colorado river provides water to 1 in 8 Americans.
  • It irrigates 15% of the country’s agricultural products.
  • Major cities such as Denver and Los Angeles depend on it.
  • In addition to its direct use, the water in Lake Mead and Hoover Dam generate vital electricity for the region.

But, “There’s no longer enough water to go around”.

People talk about “sustainable living”, with the implication that, if we just make adjustments to our lifestyle, we will be able to continue with BAU (Business as Usual).

But, if the Colorado really is drying up, then major disruptions lie ahead for the 40 million Americans living in the southwest.

 

 

Out of the Mouths of Teenagers

Greta Thurnberg accusing world leaders of not acting on climate change
Greta Thurnberg (2003 – )

Greta Thurnberg, a 15-year old from Sweden, gave the following speech to the comfortable “adults” at the COP24 Conference in Poland in 2018.


My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden.

I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now.

Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do.

But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference.

And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.

You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.

Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.

Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.
The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.

You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.

We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.

We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.

We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.

We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.

Thank you.


So what is this young person telling we “adults”.

  • Speaking as a young person living in a country with little economic power, she says that she, and people like her, still have power.
  • She speaks clearly — no fudging around about “sustainable growth”.
  • She speaks for the many poor people who suffer disproportionately from the ravages of climate change. She is not self-centered.
  • She sarcastically talks about “green eternal growth”. She seems to have a better grasp of the second law than people three times her age.
  • She makes the obvious statement that a continuation of the bad actions that got us into this mess is not a good idea. She does not use Einstein’s famous remark, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we crated them” — but she could have done.
  • She tells the world “leaders” that they are not mature. They leave all the hard decisions to the young people.
  • She challenges the economic system that benefits the very rich at the expense of the life of the planet.
  • Her comment about how she will talk about people like us when she is 75 is reminiscent of the famous Kitchener proposal (which, incidentally, worked — it persuaded many young men to join the army at the start of World War I).
Kitechener. Your Country Needs You.
Lord Kitchener (1850 – 1916)
  • She accuses us of hypocrisy — she says that we don’t love our children enough to make real sacrifices in our lifestyles.
  • She says that “we are running out of time”. In this she is actually incorrect — we have already run out of time. But maybe she was being tactful.
  • Change is coming — like it or not.

Extinction Rebellion and Young Evangelicals

Extinction Rebellion
Two news items caught my eye this week.

Extinction Movement

The first was to do with the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protest movement. The Guardian says,

The Extinction Rebellion climate protest group has expanded to 35 countries and is building towards a week of international civil disobedience in April.

Wikipedia describes the movement as follows,

Extinction Rebellion (sometimes shortened as XR) is an international social movement that aims to drive radical change, through nonviolent resistance in order to minimise species extinction and avert climate breakdown

In an open letter members of the  movement, which was formed this year, say,

The science is clear, the facts are incontrovertible, and it is unconscionable to us that our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of an unprecedented disaster of our own making.

What is interesting about this movement is their use of the word ‘Extinction’. They are not mincing words, or saying, “maybe this, or, on the other hand, maybe that”.

In an open letter they make the following demands,

  • The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  • The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  • A national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

Taking these points one by one,

  • In in his book De Mendacio Augustine stressed that it is the responsibility of Christians to tell the truth at all times — not even while lies are acceptable.
  • Reducing carbon emissions to zero by the year 2025 will not happen. Any attempt to do so will lead to extinction by a different route.
  • Would the Citizens’ Assembly over-ride existing government?

Young Evangelicals

The other item that attracted my attention was this article. It describes how some young, Evangelical Christians are now taking climate change very seriously.

While many evangelicals are preoccupied with the long-term state of human souls and the protection of the unborn, Diego and the other students I met at Wheaton are also considering other eternal implications and a broader definition of pro-life. They are concerned about the lifespan of climate pollutants that will last in the atmosphere for thousands of years, and about the lives of the poor and weak who are being disproportionately harmed by the effects of those greenhouse gases.

I have never really understood why any Christian would oppose the science to do with climate change (and other Age of Limits issues). After all, if people are suffering due to these events then we need to understand what is happening before coming up with “solutions” that are not actually solutions.