Greta Thunberg, autism and her America tour

Greta Thunberg

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is my hero. Except for a handful of cynics, who wouldn’t be impressed by this soft-spoken girl with a no nonsense demeanor, seriously concerned about the well being of the planet earth? She has inspired millions around the world to change their perspective beyond the “here and now,” and onto the future in regards to increased carbon emission.Greta knows how to challenge the big name politicians into opening their eyes to see how climate change is posing danger to our very existence. She has the power to inspire young and old, and educate them about global warming.Her strength lies on what she believes in, in order to make the earth safer for the future generations.

She is not carrying this campaign of climate change for fame or glory. The proof comes from seeing her face as it resonates with the belief about how she wants the world to be – clean, safe and hazard free. With her unrelenting determination,Greta was able to persuade some of those who have deep skepticism of science, and who do not believe in climate change, to hear her out.Many acknowledged that there are man made problems like excess carbon dioxide that is primarily responsible in making the environment toxic and polluted.

Greta Thunberg has come all the way to America to carry out her mission as a climate activist. She has been here since late August. To get to the US, Greta chose to sail for two weeks across the Atlantic instead of flying to avoid carbon emissions from the jet travel. As soon as she stepped into New York City, this is what she had said: “New York City smells. People talk really loud here, they blast air conditioning and they argue over whether or not they believe in climate change.” In Sweden, “they accept it as fact.” Another thing she pointed out, “Also, American lawmakers would do well to read the latest science on the threats posed by climate change,” she added.

Greta was in Washington, D.C., for a week, before going to New York for the UN Climate Change protest on Friday (September 20). A week before, on September 13, on our way to a dinner invitation, I was listening in the car radio Greta Thunberg talking to National Public Radio’s Ailsa Chang. Earlier that day,she was outside the White House with other student protesters who held up signs that said, “Denial is not a policy and raise your voice.” Had I known about her program, I would have tried to go and get a glimpse of her despite heavy traffic on a Friday afternoon. It wouldn’t have taken more than an hour. While in Washington, her message to President Donald Trump was the same as has for other political leaders: “Listen to science, and take responsibility.” She was asked by Chang if she has regret that she wasn’t invited to the White House to deliver her climate change message personally to the POTUS. Her answer was: “I don’t want to meet with people who don’t accept science.” Greta is leaving such a crucial task to the experts and climate scientists. They are better suited and more knowledgeable in making the ignorant change their minds as to the climate related hazards the world is facing today.

How would Donald Trump really react if he had to face Greta asking him the following five questions?a) Why had he pulled out of the Paris Accords after he was elected President?b) After all the countries made a pact to change their environmental practices, how could he not keep his country’s promise to abide by the agreement? c) What proofs he has to show the climate scientists, that climate change doesn’t exist? d) How did he derive to the conclusion that climate change is a “hoax” without looking at the scientific evidence? e) Why has he ruined climate change diplomacy for those who were interested in decreasing carbon emissions?

It is for the better, that Trump did not meet outspoken Greta as he doesn’t understand the science behind the climate change and its effect.There is no telling as to what his tweets would say post- meeting if he had felt embarrassed by the questions. I can well imagine this septuagenarian picking on a 16, year-old.That would not be unusual for him as he insults people for pleasure. No one can trust Trump to hold his tongue when he is cornered. As a defense mechanism, he probably would have tweeted unkind words about Greta’s mental health, the way Canadian politician Maxime Bernier did. It was shocking to read how 56-year-old Maxime made fun of Greta’s autism. In fact, his comments top the list of the most insensitive, utterly upsetting and the dumbest thing that I have heard in a long time. Bernier is a politician, not a licensed medical doctor to know about her condition and what she is capable of doing or not.

As it turns out, brave Greta Thunberg is freely disclosing her disorder to others which falls under Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).This form of autism is identified as “neurodiversity,” in the medical dictionary. “It is a condition where one can be socially awkward and have an all- absorbing interest in specific topics.” In Greta’s case, it seems that her condition has helped her as she is going around the world delivering a clear message. By Greta’s own admission, “My diagnosis helps me see things a bit clearly sometimes.” As she was telling her story,it became clear that getting involved in activism has helped her in dealing with her debilitating depression as well.

At 10-years-old, the images of plastic floating on the oceans were stuck in her mind, which she had watched with other school friends in a classroom video. Gradually, there came a time when she was unable to relate to her peers. She had remained withdrawn and became immensely depressed and quit going to school. She would stay home bound,mostly curled up on the sofa with her dog next to her. Sometimes she would walk to the meadows with her horse. Being close to nature made her feel better. She slowly beat depression by changing her focus on how to make the world a better place. She feels no embarrassment in sharing her personal story with others. Any mental health issue is attached to some kind of stigma but that hasn’t deterred Greta in the slightest. She talks about her illness in the hope of helping others in a similar situation. Greta’s message about her condition is in sync with her climate change message –precise and clear. Having a disability or a condition doesn’t necessarily make anyone “less” of a person, and Greta is a living proof of that. She should be applauded and not ridiculed for being able to talk so freely and openly about her illness. If someone has a dream s/he should pursue it even at the cost of personal sacrifice. Greta is a prime example of that, as she is taking a gap year while she is in High School, to continue with her activism around the world.She hopes that her mission will help people in opening their eyes to the huge impact the climate change is having on the environment.

Even without seeing her up close, just by listening to her on the radio in her impeccable English, I became mesmerized. I found her voice to be very soothing in talking about issues like climate change and mental health; even most grown-ups do not fully comprehend. I almost could feel her pulse vibrating; her voice concerned about the gloomy forecast of climate change that is fast approaching. Throughout the interview, she remained calm and stuck to the points that she is passionate about.Her goal primarily is to make people listen. She doesn’t have any targeted group, anyone who is willing to listen;she tries to explain the effects of climate change. Sooner people realize the urgency of the matter,her work as a climate activist will prove to be a success.

Greta particularly doesn’t like the focus on her, but wants it to be on the message instead.In clear and powerful terms she delivered her message to the American public. Her main message to the Americans in combating climate science is: “You are such a big country. In Sweden, when we demand politicians to do something, they say, ‘It doesn’t matter what we do – because just look at the U.S.’ I think you have an enormous responsibility.” To lead climate efforts she adds, “You have a moral responsibility.” She kept most of her answers short and the vital message was why it is important for both old and young people to pay attention to earth’s climate. At times she elaborated on the topic of her mental health.I was simply awestruck as to how someone so young is blessed with so much wizardry, resolve, and clear thinking. There were other moments when she was talking in a nonchalant manner as if she has been giving interviews for ages. The conversation was very riveting till the end.

On a side note, was Trump able to convince everyone that climate change, “a hoax and a concept created by the Chinese?” After the US pull out, only China, India and the countries of the European Union remain steadfast to the green versus fossil fuel technologies – in reducing the carbon emissions. China has the greatest greenhouse emissions in the world. Russia and Turkey have changed plan citing the US decision. Australia also reversed some of its decisions to comply with decarbonaization. Brazil is following the US and is in denial of the fact that climate change has become a global problem. In keeping the planet sustainable for the future, Donald Trump with his cynicism has indeed messed it up for us.

While in Washington, Greta had a packed schedule. She at first spoke along with another US climate activist at a meeting of the Senate Climate Crisis task force. They were commended for being wise beyond their years. That praise didn’t flatter Greta even one bit as she said, “Please save us your praise. We don’t want it.Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it.” Greta recommended that they must consult the experts in this field. She gently suggested that those who are in power and in a position to make a change should actively combat global warming. She humbly reminded them she was a student and not a scientist, nor a senator. “We want science to be heard,” she concluded. Her point was well taken.Jamie Margolin, 17, a climate activist from Seattle, who had been invited to the same meeting, was very impressed by Greta’s impromptu response to the committee. “She gives very blunt observations. If I had done that people would’ve thought that I was an entitled brat.” “She comes with an outsider’s perspective,” she added.

On September 18, Greta Thunberg spoke to Congress for a few minutes and “submitted a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in place of her own testimony into the record.”

After Greta kicked off her plan in leading several protests, hundreds thronged to Washington, D.C.,during the week to show their support. Journalists were following her everywhere. Both amateur and professional photographers remained busy clicking away their cameras in capturing her every gesture. Greta mostly tried to blend in with the other protesters to avoid camera and excessive questions. She was very busy asking people to elect leaders who will work to reduce carbon emissions in order to slow down global warming.

Next on the agenda for Greta Thunberg is New York City where she is to participate during the U.N Climate Action Summit.September, 20th has been planned for a global climate strike. As I close this article around noon, thousands have gathered in New York City, since morning to participate in the strike. Activists from around the world have come to put pressure on their governments for them to pay attention to climate change. Greta,of course, is there with everyone else, to lead the way. Students and workers have walked out of their schools and offices to be a part of this great movement. Earlier, it was disheartening to read that the teachers in New York City schools were not given permission to join the strike. Greta passionately hopes that her serious message will only increase people’s awareness in realizing the dangers of climate change. She has conquered many hearts including mine in her pursuit for a better world. People will cheer her on today, and for months and years to come. Vive le Greta Thunberg!

Zeenat Khan was a special education teacher at Our Lady of Victory in Washington DC. She is based in Maryland, USA.




Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Either way, history will judge you

An Open Letter to the Global Media by Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate Dear media editors around the world, Melting glaciers, wildfires, droughts, deadly heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, loss of biodiversity. These…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News