“You know it’s time for change when the children act like leaders, and the leaders act like children.” That was the caption on one of the posters displayed by a climate change protestor recently.
Okay, I know I’m a grumpy old man, I admit it. But I can’t be the only one that finds Greta Thunberg ever so slightly irritating. It is more than a guess...I am absolutely certain... that she is being coached. Not even the most precocious child can get to a demonstration or a media event without mum or dad’s taxi.
But of course much of what she says is hard to argue with. ‘We are not just some young people skipping school,’ she told thousands of school strikers in Manhattan, on a day when millions around the world demonstrated for action. ‘We are a wave of change. Together, we are unstoppable.’
Just before that, Greta spoke to the US Congress. And this is what she said:
Some of you may have heard that we have 12 years as from 1 January 2018 to cut our emissions of carbon dioxide in half. But I guess that hardly any of you have heard that there is a 50 per cent chance of staying below a 1.5 degree Celsius of global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. Fifty per cent chance.
And these current, best available scientific calculations do not include (unknowns) like the extremely powerful methane gas escaping from rapidly thawing arctic permafrost. Or already locked in warming hidden by toxic air pollution. So a 50 per cent chance – a statistical flip of a coin – will most definitely not be enough. That would be impossible to morally defend. Would anyone of you step onto a plane if you knew it had more than a 50 per cent chance of crashing? More to the point: would you put your children on that flight?
And why is it so important to stay below the 1.5 degree limit? Because that is what the united science calls for, to avoid destabilising the climate, so that we stay clear of setting off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control. Even at 1 degree of warming we are seeing an unacceptable loss of life and livelihoods.
Greta Thunberg, and her bandwagon irritate me. Any other sixteen year old girl standing in front of the world media would want to look mature and sophisticated, a new hairdo, a touch of makeup, smart business-like clothes. Greta turns up in long pigtails, dressed like a nine year old. She annoys me. She annoys me because, like world governments, I don’t take well to being lectured by a sixteen year old who looks like a nine year old. And part of the reason she annoys me is because her message is annoying.
And it is annoying because it is true. Greta Thunberg annoys me like the Prophets of the OT annoyed their listeners, including the leaders and the power brokers, in their day. The inconvenient truth is always uncomfortable to hear.
And always, when future suffering is predicted, it will be the poor, the dispossessed, the powerless, who will suffer the first and the greatest. Amos the prophet leaves us in no doubt about his target. “Listen to this,” he says... “you who rob the poor and trample the needy.”
The urgency of Amos rings down the centuries: God is the God of the entire universe and created every person out of love. We are all equal in God’s sight, and God is the only god there is. Everybody matters, and not just every body, but all things created by God.
But what is going on, in Amos’s world? The cries of the poor go unheard by their neighbours. Wealth and power are spread unevenly, and the few who are rich and powerful are profiting at the expense of the poor and needy. (Amos 8.4). On the top of their wealth, the rich exploit the power they already have through dishonesty and cheating. Their money and power have made them corrupt. Amos says, your time is running out. The same message we hear from the climate activists. Amos says, you don’t seem to see it as being in your interests to start redressing the inequalities. Why would they?
So, he says, I’m going to call our your deceit and dishonesty. I’m going to expose you for the dreadful, selfish, hypocritical, often corrupt people you are.
And we hear the same message today. It may not be couched in religious terms, today’s message. But for people of faith, it must make sense. If you read your Bible, it must make sense. God requires justice of us. We are called to repentance, to changing our ways; to offering justice to the poor, to those who suffer first when anything goes out of control in society.
There’s one more reason why Greta Thunberg irritates me. She presents as a trailblazer, stating her cause as new, devised by children like her, because of the inaction of world leaders. It’s not. The climate emergency is fairly new but the message is as old as the hills. It’s as old as the Old Testament. If Greta grinds your gears...read your Bible to find your steer on social justice. It got there, long, long before Greta.