Greta Thunberg began her public crusade against climate change in August of 2018 when, rather than being in school, she planted herself at the entryway to the Swedish parliament. She was a lone protester, but photos of her holding up a sign that said “Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate) quickly went viral across multiple social media platforms. Greta’s plea for action from Sweden’s political leaders resonated with so many around the world and has inspired a new generation of activists claiming their own agency in the effort to make real change.
Greta’s parents, Malena Ernman and Svante Thunberg, are musicians and actors, not scientists or politicians. As they raised their young daughter to be curious about the world, she became increasingly depressed as she learned more and more about the disastrous effects of human-caused climate change. Greta was inspired by student-led protests against gun violence here in the United States and this led her to counter her depression by taking action. This restorative compulsion is what led her and her cardboard sign to the Swedish parliament and social media sensation.
Two years ago today, on September 20, 2019, the movement that a 15-year-old Greta had kicked off just over one year prior launched a week-long “Global Climate Strike” to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit taking place in New York. Events took place across 4,500 locations in 150 countries. It’s estimated that over 4 million people participated globally in some action on this day. Greta, having sailed to New York on a fossil-fuel-free boat, delivered a speech outside the U.N. for over 250,000 protesters.
Three days later, in her speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Greta said this…
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people 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. You are failing us. Thunberg stated. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”
Powerful words from a child prophet. While I fear they fell upon many deaf ears, I wonder if they have inspired just enough that change may come. God is speaking through the young, those who will be the next inheritors of creation, and God calling us to act. How will we respond? We will continue, as Greta accuses, to be complacent and self-interested? Or will we dare to be bold, dig deep, and face up to this challenge in hope? Today, I pray it will be the latter.
May God’s peace find you this day. – Pastor Peter
Let us pray…
Creator God, all things live, and move, and have their being in you. We praise you, God, for the Earth that sustains life. Our demand for growth, and an endless cycle of production and consumption are exhausting our world. The forests are leached, the topsoil erodes, the fields fail, the deserts advance, the seas acidify, the storms intensify. Humans and animals are forced to flee in search of security. You made us in your image, with power and responsibility to seek the good for all in Earth’s great web of life. Guide us and empower us, to carry out our responsibilities and exercise our power to support all your good creation. Amen.
(adapted from the resources Light for Katowice and Season of Creation 2020)