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OPINION | RICHARD MASON: Small voice with a powerful message

by Richard Mason | May 16, 2021 at 9:01 a.m.

It seems that in a world where billions of people are shouting, one small voice can't make a difference. But it can. Over the past couple of years I have listened and watched as that small voice made a difference in our perception of global warming.

That voice belongs to Greta Thunberg, 18, a force in making us aware of the dangers of climate change.

When Greta was barely 15, she decided to do what she could to reduce global warming. She hand-painted a small sign with the words School Strike for Climate and stood in front of the Swedish Parliament Building, imploring the legislators to take action. She stood there each day for three weeks.

Soon she was joined by other students, and as the numbers grew, other towns in the area joined in. As the Internet sent her message around the world, a worldwide student protest began to happen. It was nothing like anyone had ever seen.

Soon hundreds of thousands from dozens of countries began to demonstrate, and as the number grew, her appearances in European cities were met with hordes of reporters, as if she were a Hollywood celebrity. She had started a grassroots movement that touched a worldwide nerve.

A year later the movement was so powerful that Time magazine made Greta its youngest-ever Person of the Year. And she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for three consecutive years.

What is even more remarkable is that Greta is knowledgeable beyond her years. By believing in a cause, she has accomplished so much, garnering acclaim from people around the world.

Her message is simple and to the point. Her 2019 speech at the World Economic Forum summed up the year in five words: "Our house is on fire."

She not only speaks about global warming, she lives it to the point that when she traveled to North America, she did so by sailing to keep from leaving a carbon footprint, and returned to Europe the same way.

While in Canada she participated in climate protests in several cities including Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver. On Sept. 20 and 27, 2019, these protests had attracted four million people; in Montreal, several hundred thousand took part, the largest in the city's history. The mayor presented her with the Freedom of the City award. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance.

Her most notable appearance was an address before the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City on Sept. 23, 2019. The notables in attendance probably expected the small, soft-spoken girl to almost whisper a plea to control global warming. However, her emotional speech almost sent the assembly into shock.

Appearing in front of a standing-room-only crowd in a large auditorium, steely-eyed and holding back tears, she gave the most significant speech of the entire meeting. Here are some of her words:

"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

The assembly was visibly moved, and the next day media outlets around the world blared those headlines.

She has picked up numerous critics who deny global warming. She has even called the Paris Climate Agreement lacking, as well as the efforts by the European Union as insufficient. Russian President Putin called her an immature young woman who has only a limited understanding of her subject matter, and American President Donald Trump mocked her, saying she has an "anger management problem."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, after Greta commented that Indians were dying trying to save the Amazon rain forest, called her a "brat." And she has been strongly criticized by OPEC, the oil cartel.

Greta responded in a Time Person of the Year interview: "It's quite hilarious when the only thing people can do is mock you or talk about your appearance or personality, as it means they have no argument or nothing else to say."

After her appearances in North America, her departing words were: "My message to the Americans is the same as to everyone: that is to unite behind the science and to act on the science."

Outside of expense money, she has donated substantial cash awards to various charities through her foundation. She has received such a list of rewards and commendations that they would take this entire column to list them.

Greta is a wonderful example of how dedication by one individual can make a difference. She has taken a stand, and from her involvement literally millions of students and other caring individuals are joining her to demand that our elected leaders address the global warming of our planet.

After being named Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year in 2019, Greta's award was accepted by Jane Fonda, who quoted her: "If a Swedish teenage science nerd who has shopstop, refuses to fly, and has never worn makeup or been to a hairdresser can be chosen a Woman of the Year by one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, then I think almost nothing is impossible."

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