'It’s safe to say that anyone flying to this year’s global climate conference in Madrid had better have a watertight excuse if they meet Greta Thunberg. The Swedish teen has set a high standard for government officials, scientists and environmental campaigners attending the Dec. 2-13 talks by deciding to sail back across the Atlantic following a last-minute switch of venue from Chile.
Thunberg’s steadfast refusal to take the plane to Spain is a key plank of the message of the worldwide movement she has helped create, and of the earnestness with which its followers pursue their cause.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of mostly young people are expected to rally in cities around the world Friday to demand that governments step up their efforts to curb climate change. Thunberg is likely to join them in spirit from the sailboat La Vagabonde on which she’s crossing the Atlantic together with a small crew. She’s hoping to make it to Madrid in time to put world leaders on the spot — again — about what they are doing to protect her generation from the worst of global warming.
The 16-year-old has become an inspiration to peers such as August Wietfeldt, a senior at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans who says Thunberg has helped highlight the way previous generations have used up resources unsustainably.
“The short-term gain is just awful because then our generation, and ones after that, will need to bear the consequences,” he said. Wietfeldt fears climate change could trigger massive economic and social problems akin to those seen in the 1930s, when severe drought caused mass migration away from America’s farming heartlands to the western states.
“If we don't fight land loss, then that's going to happen again,” he said. “We really need to be taking action to prevent scenarios like that.” Together with other members of the school’s SEA Club — Students for Environmental Action — Wietfeldt has been helping pick up trash at a park on the Mississippi River.
An ocean away, Jennifer Selfa shares that hands-on spirit in her school conservation group in Lagos, Nigeria. “Some of the things I have been doing to reduce climate change are planting of trees,” the 15-year-old said.'
Read more: ‘Generation Greta' (Generation Hoaxed): Angry youths put heat on climate talks