I was a bit late to the party in following the rise of Greta Thunberg. In August 2018 she began her activism by spending school days outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign saying (in Swedish) “School strike for the climate.” This movement soon spread with high school strikes and protests happening throughout the world opposing climate change.
It’s strange that media and social media create phenomena like Greta, whose name has now become synonymous for the single biggest issue facing the planet. I admire Greta, and all climate activists who have stood up and demanded that action be taken to stop the impending climate catastrophe.
But Greta was far from the first person to warn of the climate crisis and the need to take action. In 1989, then Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher made what I believe was one of the finest speeches of her political career to the UN general assembly. Thatcher, a Conservative Prime Minister, is far from everyone’s favourite political leader. And there are plenty of criticisms that can be made of her time in office. But on this crucial issue Thatcher acted as a real leader. She highlighted what she called the “credible” scientific evidence of environmental problems caused by the release of green house gasses, and proposed global action to counter this.
Thatcher was someone who rarely shied away from an argument. Former UK Labour Party back bencher Austin Mitchell in his book Revenge of the Rich describes this. Austin claims when hey wrote to Thatcher as a backbench MP, she would always respond, usually with 1 page justifying her government policy and 2 further pages explaining why the opposition position was wrong. Thatcher was Britains first woman prime minister and the longest serving UK PM in the 20th century. While a very polarising figure, she was a leader, and one who would stand up for what she believed in.
This is in stark contrast to the actions of current Conservative PM Boris Johnson. Last week channel 4 hosted the worlds first leaders debate on climate. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage refused to attend this debate. Channel 4 responded by displaying ice sculptures on the podium where these two men should have been standing. The Tories have complained to the UK media watch dog that displaying these ice sculptures was media bias, a complaint that has been rejected by that body. The climate crisis is one of the greatest threats to life on our planet, and as Prime Minister Boris Johnson should have fronted this debate. By failing to do so, he has shown himself to be a weak and feeble leader. By not engaging on the critical issue of climate change, Boris Johnson has shown not only UK electors, but the world that he is a fool.
The increased occurrence of extreme weather patterns, like the flooding in the north of England a month ago are becoming more common. The slow and disinterested response from the current government is consistent with not attending the climate debate. Internationally we have seen climate change deniers like Donald Trump come to power. There are also a number of governments around the world who pay lip service to the climate emergency but continue to take little action. Unless this changes very quickly, it may be too late to stop the climate crisis.
In an earlier blog post I mentioned the increased number of young people enrolling to vote in the 2019 election. Climate change is a massive issue for young voters, who are very aware that during their lifetimes the impacts of the climate crisis will hit. Globally we have seen youth leaders like Greta Thunberg stand up and demand action. It’s time the world listened to these young leaders, and Margaret Thatcher’s UN address back in 1989, and take real action to prevent a climate crisis.