She began cutting school on Fridays and simply sitting on the steps of the Swedish parliament. Her name was Greta Thunberg. She was 15 years old, with a mind of her own and a sign demanding a school strike against climate change. Her parents wanted her to go back to school, but Friday after Friday she kept at it until others (including one of her teachers) began joining her. She handed out leaflets that said, “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” She demanded that her country’s politicians “prioritize the climate question, focus on the climate and treat it like a crisis” — like, that is, the one that could take down civilization and cripple the planet. She knew that it was time to panic. (“I want you to panic,” she insisted in a speech directed at the ultra-rich in Davos, Switzerland. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”) A single Swedish schoolgirl with Asperger’s syndrome was determined to take on the planet’s blind billionaires and leaders everywhere. She urged her peers to face the disaster that’s becoming an increasingly obvious part of all our lives and that their parents have generally been remarkably unable to face. She was, in other words, striking for the right to a future.
Within months, thousands and then tens of thousands of high-school students across Europe, as well as in Australia and Japan, among other places, began walking out, too, in “Fridays for Future” protests. And honestly, if that isn’t inspirational on a planet overseen by Donald Trump and his crew of climate arsonists ready to pump yet more greenhouse gases into a world already buckling under the strain, what is? Adults, too, should feel good to know that somewhere in a world in which the Chinese are still building coal plants domestically (and in Africa), in which Australian politicians are carefully looking the other way as their country burns and floods… well, I could go on, but I’m almost 75 and I’d rather let Greta Thunberg do so for me.
Let’s face it, when children become thoughtful adults because adults are acting like thoughtless children, how can you not feel amazed and inspired? In another set of circumstances, no less grim if more localized, TomDispatch regular and war resister (while in the U.S. military) Rory Fanning has stumbled across a different kind of Greta Thunberg — a 19-year-old Israeli who proved more than willing to go to jail, again and again, to protest his country’s expanding occupation of Palestinian lands. Thousands of other teens have yet to follow him, but check out Fanning today on just how inspiring he is. After all, a world of such young people remains a world of hope.