She’s not a delegate to the COP26 climate summit and she won’t be addressing the conference. But teenage activist Greta Thunberg has caused a sensation in Glasgow and “Greta Mania” has swept through the city.
Since arriving by train at Glasgow’s Central Station last Saturday Ms. Thunberg has been accorded rock star status. She was met by a crush of well-wishers and required a police escort to get out of the station. Since then she’s had a meeting with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, headed a rally in a downtown park and co-authored an open letter to world leaders that has been signed by more than 1.4 million people.
Despite not being invited to COP26, her influence on the gathering has been so pronounced that her work has been invoked by Prince Charles and her catchphrase “blah, blah, blah,” was referenced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his speech to open the proceedings. In a warning to delegates about the risk on not acting on climate change, Mr. Johnson said; “All those promises will be nothing but blah, blah, blah and the anger and impatience of the world will be uncontainable.”
Ms. Thunberg has come a long way from the precocious 15-year old who skipped school and sat outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 to draw attention to the climate crisis. Her silent protest captured global attention, and she’s become the driving force for a new generation of activists.
Now a young adult, she hasn’t tempered her blunt talk or her piercing scowl that can rattle even the most seasoned politician. Prior to arriving in Scotland, Ms. Thunberg called the British government “climate villains” and dismissed Ms. Sturgeon’s environmental policies as inadequate. “If we look at it from a broader perspective then I think we can safely say there are no countries – at least in the global north – that are even doing close to what would be needed,” she told reporters before the summit.
During Monday’s rally in Glasgow’s Festival Field, a stone’s throw from the COP26 venue, Ms. Thunberg said the conference was already a failure even though it had barely begun.
“This COP26 is so far just like the previous COPs and that has led us nowhere,” she said to the applause of a couple of hundred people. “Inside COP there are just politicians and people in power pretending to take our future seriously, pretending to take the present seriously of the people who are being affected already today by the climate crisis.” Then she led the crowd in chants of “no more blah, blah, blah” and “you can shove your climate crisis up your arse.”
Ms. Sturgeon acknowledged that her meeting with Ms. Thunberg had been uncomfortable. Ms. Thunberg grilled the First Minister on plans for a new oil development in the North Sea and made it clear that she opposed the project. “Those voices often, including for me, are really uncomfortable at times, because they make us confront the hard realities of our own lack of delivery,” Ms. Sturgeon said after the meeting.
Ms. Thunberg’s passion has been an inspiration for people such as Abigail Dowling, a former management consultant who travelled from London to join a march through Glasgow’s financial district on Tuesday in protest against the funding of fossil fuel companies. “I just think her directness and her honesty is what shocked the world and got everybody thinking. She doesn’t pull any punches,” Ms. Dowling said.
Ms. Dowling said it was thanks to her teenaged son and Ms. Thunberg that her attitude toward global warming changed. She still works in the corporate sector but refuses to fly anymore even though the decision has limited her career. “I have to turn work down but I have that great conversation with people. I say ‘I don’t think flying is appropriate.’”
Not everyone is as enamoured by Ms. Thunberg. She’s had famous tangles with former U.S. president Donald Trump; Russian President Vladimir Putin once described her as a “kind but poorly informed teenager.”
In Glasgow she’s ruffled some feathers with her strong words. “I like Greta Thunberg and think she’s a very effective campaigner – but she can also be very very annoying,” television commentator Piers Morgan said on Twitter.
Others have complained that the media gives her too much attention and ignores other young activists. Ms. Thunberg alluded to that herself in a Twitter post on Tuesday in which she criticized the media for failing to mention that another climate crusader, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, had been in the meeting with Ms. Sturgeon. The “media needs to stop erasing the voices of activists, especially the most affected people from the most affected areas,” she said.
Whatever the grumbling, Ms. Thunberg will continue to have a starring role in Glasgow throughout COP, and she’s slated to headline a massive youth demonstration on Friday. And that’s just fine with Diana Groom, an 80-year-old environmental campaigner from Wales who said the Swede has injected new life into the movement. “She’s wonderful and she’s done a great deal of good,” Ms. Groom said as she joined the march through Glasgow on Tuesday. “The young have got to do it, they can’t trust us anymore. We’ve failed them totally.”
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