Green Democratic Deficit: Lone Voices Across An Empty Stage
Two teenage girls decades apart saying similar things, yet world leaders feel threatened
A young girl, teenager, got on to the podium and made an environmental speech of international proportions at the United Nations. She had her critics and detractors. Did anyone listen or respond, especially politicians? Is someone feeling threatened?
Here’s how the president of the United States responded to one of them, Greta Thunberg in September this year sometime after her speech (Monday September 23rd 2019): "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Thunberg modified her Twitter bio to “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”.1
The American president was mirrored by the Russian president who attacked Thunberg as a “kind but poorly informed teenager”2. His implication was that she was being manipulated by adults. Once more Thunberg reproduced this as her twitter bio. The adult manipulation looks a little doubtful as Thunberg had started off a year before as a rather forlorn character on a lone protest outside the Swedish parliament.
There were other, lesser politicians who attacked Thunberg including the infamous environmental vandal, Brazilian President Bolsarano and even the French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer3. These politicians belong to a club that sought to maximise the opprobrium cast on Thunberg. Several supportive channels were quick to start echoing these sentiments “yes my master”, a diverse chorus from a common hymnal. Michael Knowles, a guest on Fox News described Greta as a “mentally ill Swedish child4”. What was the substance of Thunberg’s speech that raised the ire of these politicians and their legions of fans?
"I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight."3
Yet Thunberg was mirroring a similar teenager, much younger, who at 12 spoke at the UN about 22 years earlier. Her father was a prominent environmentalist, Professor David T. Suzuki. This is what daughter Severn Cullis-Suzuki had to say at the Rio Earth Summit:
"I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the hole in our ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it. I used to go fishing in Vancouver, my home, with my dad, until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear of animals and plants going extinct. Every day, vanishing forever. In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies. But now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see. Did you have to worry of these things when you were my age? All of this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realise neither do you. You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer, you don’t how to bring the salmon back up a dead stream, you don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct, and you can’t bring back the forest that once grew where there is now a desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it."5
Severn has praised Thunberg. The most powerful men in black on the planet aren’t listening to Thunberg. Neither did they listen to Severn Suzuki. Why?
Not just a few months ago but right now the Amazon rainforest is on fire. Not just in Brazil but in Bolivia6. At least two million animals were effectively burned to death locally this year. Their corpses aren't pretty and have largely gone unnoticed. The Indonesian forests are also on fire to the chagrin of Singapore that receives the fumes. This is “ecocide” as UK George Monbiot described. North America alone has lost about 3 billion wild birds since 19707. Ocean fish stocks have collapsed. There is now a plastic pollution epidemic and tens of charismatic species including the Sumatran rhino, the Vaquita and the southern Bluefin tuna face imminent extinction, leaving aside thousands if not millions of lesser known plants and smaller birds, wildlife and invertebrates.
The US president didn’t seem to have much to say about the Amazonian fires. He couldn’t give a hoot about all the birds in the US that have been lost while he rolls back the power of the Endangered Species Act and tries to force California to lower its emissions standards, while obsessing about a wall that will prevent the exchange of wildlife including the jaguar between north and south America, trampling as that project does, sensitive natural ecosystems.
Nature and wildlife do not have a vote and don’t really get much from democracy. They aren’t much represented at all. If two teenage girls among a handful of others such as David Attenborough are the only voices wilderness has, in the absence of global leadership, the planet is seriously f****d. Yet the most powerful people on the planet choose to vilify Greta and black-ball her as some kind of freak manipulated by adults.
This is not true. Greta was obsessed about the environment, before her parents took an interest. She represents herself as well as the planet. Maybe it is high time we all started protesting against the limitations of democracy in addressing issues of planetary proportions such as overfishing and deforestation, not to mention the insane banning of pigswill across the Western hemisphere that turned pork from a sustainable form of protein into something that contributes to rainforest destruction given that soya is grown there to feed pigs8.
We can all start doing small things. Thunberg is tipped to win the Nobel Prize, though that won’t necessarily save the planet or future generations given the state of current environmental leadership at a global level.