What Are You Afraid of?

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

photograph by rishabh malik

 

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This week, Time named Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year.

 

In what was destined to become the viral moment of the week, President Donald Trump responded to the achievement by mocking Thunberg on Twitter, his preferred platform for gaslighting and bullying children: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”

 

As has become her signature, Thunberg responded by changing her bio on Twitter to match President Trump’s suggestion: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.”

 

In President Trump’s statement, what struck me most was his use of the phrase “good old fashioned.” What could be more evocative of what we are up against in the fight to change our culture’s relationship to climate? If we are to interpret his words to mean “the way things have been,” then “good old fashioned” has poisoned our waters, polluted our lands, and set fire to our lungs. It has set us on a dangerous trajectory that, in the next three decades, stands to bring entire nations to their knees. “Good old fashioned” has brought us to the brink of extinction.

 

It feels strange to say we live in a world where children are willing to be brave and face a fearful future, when those in power are too afraid of change. And make no mistake, that’s what we’re talking about here: fear. As is the case with most animals, when we experience fear, we lash out. Those who represent the crumbling institutions built on the back of this green Earth are terrified, for they know their days are numbered.

 

For us to course correct, everything must change. We need to be looking at more sustainable food sources that can feed a projected population of ten billion (for more on this, read our exploration of insect diets). We need governments holding corporations responsible for what they are producing. We need more innovations, yes, but the solutions to many of our problems already exist; what we need is those in power to implement and scale them. And in a democracy, change begins in one place: with the people.

 

“I am telling you there is hope. I have seen it,” said Thunberg in her COP25 speech. “People can change. People are ready for change. And that is the hope because we have democracy. And democracy is happening all the time. Not just on election day but every second and every hour. It is public opinion that runs the free world. In fact, every great change throughout history has come from the people. We do not have to wait. We can start the change right now. We the people.”

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