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The importance of being Greta Thunberg

Climate change meets Oscar Wilde?

Well, if you remember, The Importance of Being Earnest, the wittiest and arguably most popular play from Wilde, is the story of people who don fictitious identities to skirt social duties they find hard to meet. Interestingly, Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist who has become the de facto face of the global campaign on climate change, has jolted us all out of our genetic lethargy and reminded us how we have been shrugging off our duty as citizens, free-willed individuals and thinking inhabitants of Planet Earth.

Agreed, climate change campaigns badly needed a face.

Yes; in fact, the entry of the 16-year-old on the global climate change movement is kind of epochal and well-timed. Thunberg was shot into global fame in 2015 with her climate strike outside the Swedish parliament, calling for stronger action (from governments, especially) on global warming (which causes climate change, for starters). Soon, she captured the imaginations of climate groups and millions of children (across geographies), for the sheer audacity of her campaigns — calling upon people to avoid air transport, which according to her is one of the biggest contributor of carbon emissions globally — shocked critics and supporters alike.

Yes, she’s a radical.

Exactly. And that’s why a section of her critics include climate activists as well, who think traditional ways work better with such issues and her extreme, “hyperbolic” statements can endanger the campaign’s spirit. They argue that calling for a boycott of air travel runs the risk of going against modernity and the inventions that helped being the world together, aiding trade, travel and enabling faster exchange of ideas and people.

Isn’t that a valid observation?

To be frank, labelling such remarks “eco-fascist”or “utopian”, as some critics have termed Thunberg’s demands, is a little too much. Abolishing slavery or voting rights for women once sounded too good to be true. But well-meaning humans have made those possible.


Also, what really matters here is the fact that Thunberg has brought climate change — a complex socio-political issue that till date was shuttling between academics, scientists, elite global panels, hawkish politicians and such — to the street, prompting a giant wave of mass protests involving millions of parents, children, teachers and other volunteers calling for ground-level action to check impacts of climate change, which creates refugees across the globe, robs millions out of livelihood, triggers floods, famines, droughts and other calamities that impact the lives of millions of vulnerable people.

True. How many of us have really been following the UN climate summits, I wonder!

You said it. In an era where misinformation spreads through social media like wildfire and as a result even serious, tangible issues such as climate change is denied by not just businesses with vested interests but also by policymakers and leaders such as Donald Trump (who reportedly called it a “hoax” invented by China), young minds like Thunberg or Helena Gualinga (17) from the Ecuadorian Amazon, or Tekanang (21), from the island nation of Tuvalu, with all their blemishes are clearly making a difference.

Can’t agree more. We adults have failed them.

As Oscar Wilde has put it, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” But let’s not get into laments here. The children need our support. The fact that a little girl with Asperger’s Syndrome has called our bluff, accusing us of damaging the planet and imperilling the future, might seem a little uncomfortable and even intimidating at the outset, but this phase in history offers us a chance to introspect and join these young Avengers to build a better, habitable planet. We may not have a dream. Seems they have one.

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