Greta Thunberg’s damning words echoed through the halls of the UN and the online soundbite. But is there a bigger picture that we’re missing?
Most people are rather naïve and embarrassing in their teens, they may not realise it then, but one only need cast a reflection back over their own formative years to make them flinch.
The pre-mobile camera phone generation can leave those awkward MSN usernames, MySpace chatroom diva moments and overly revealing Facebook selfies hidden in the past where they belong, never to see the light of day.
Miss Greta Thunberg won’t have this luxury. Her developmental years are now plastered all over the media, immortalized forever. She may come to see through the façade of her being manipulated to further green initiatives that had less than noble intentions.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”Greta Thunberg, addressing the UN delegation, New York, 2019
Western media has been rolled up in the cotton wool that is political correctness. Take Russian media for one such alternative take. They see her as a privileged, forceful young lady. She may well believe strongly in environmental issues but remains largely oblivious to the world around her. Vladimir Putin himself praised her intention, yet criticized those handlers manipulating her in the background. He called on environmentalists like Greta to tell the poor of the world they cannot enjoy the standard of living the west has enjoyed for decades because of their zero-emissions plans. And, considering the millions of child labour slaves worldwide, he may have a point…
You know whose childhood has been stolen?
This boy preparing the cocoa used in her evening chocolate drink and KitKat. “Fairtrade” means the farmers get a good deal. It does not mean it was not grown, harvested and packed by a child.
This child who makes charcoal all day polluting his lungs and the environment to feed his family. Manila, Philippines to Jaipur, India, children as young as three spend their days sitting in soot and breathing in coal dust and toxic smoke as they help their families eke out a living making charcoal out of wood scavenged from rubbish dumps and construction sites.
Surface and underground mining cause black lung disease from inhaling coal mine dust and silicosis by inhaling silica dust from crushed rocks. Children who survive till their teens have major health problems.
Young lungs are particularly susceptible, with progressive massive fibrosis within 5 years instead of the 20 years traditionally for coal miners.
The children rolling tobacco leaves on plantations have had their dreams crushed and their future stolen. An opaque supply chain means weak regulatory scrutiny and enforcement on child labour in countries like Indonesia.
In Ghana, children risk death as they climb deep into unstable pits to mine gold, while teenagers in Bangladesh risk poisoning and horrific industrial accidents in the country’s lucrative tannery industry.
These children who mine coltan used to make her mobile phone. Ruining the environment in the process. The cobalt extracted is found in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, from smartphones to electric vehicles. An entire day of mining in cramped tunnels will earn 50 pence as these children’s only means of survival. 60% of the world cobalt supply is mined in this “copper belt” in the south-east Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is their childhood that was stolen, not hers.
Shallow-mindedness and blinkered vision will mean many readers passionate about the environment will be incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Most won’t even know anything about these children around the world dying in their millions from malnutrition, slaving away in cocoa farms, breaking up charcoal or climbing inside precarious, often collapsing tunnels to extract coltan so they can power their ridiculously prosperous future.
So what has Greta got to do with the suffering children?
Notice the children having to deforest acres of rainforests and mining coltan, perishing from the dust, cave-ins, fatigue and overwork…all so we can enjoy the latest, cool, shiny new phone each year. Juxtapose this with the photo of Greta with her megaphone awash in a sea of mobile phones. Simply those in the picture cost acres of rainforest alone. Yet, there they are, shouting adults have stolen their childhoods, enjoying the fruits of stolen childhoods of others and deforestation. This is just mobile phones. Try the hot cup of cocoa in a warm, cosy sitting room watching Netflix on a device powered by suffering.
There will come a time when she realizes what has happened. With exposure to more evidence, Miss Thunberg will come to appreciate the pragmatically restrictive realities of the world we inhabit.
Until that time, children still suffer in poverty that is not rooted in environmental degradation, nor systemic oppression.
That is the true failing of the adult world, and our most pressing reality. When we tap into that talent and realize the potential of billions of voices so far unheard, then we can conquer the existential crisis that won’t end the world within 7 years.
The problems of climate change are greater than Greta and her activism may raise the voices of those that cannot advocate for themselves. Including those suffering throughout the world under the auspices of consumerism demanding such cheap and plentiful resources to meet their needs.
If her activism functions as a call to action for greater conscientiousness toward consumer demand, then that would be a great achievement alone. If people can take responsibility to not be mindless, individualistic automatons driven by advertising campaigns and blind materialism and connected to the impact of their choices. Voting with your money as a consumer may force the hands of governments and big business to accommodate changing consumer tastes, and Thunberg’s rhetoric may be that key call to action.