The “Greta effect”: The Polarized Global opinions of Greta Thunberg

By Laura Rong

November 22, 2019

BOLOGNA, Italy — On November 1, Spain agreed to host the 25th annual United Nations (UN) Climate Change conference (COP25) in December 2019, after Chilean President Sebastián Piñera cancelled plans to host citing domestic unrest. 

COP25 is the main climate event of the year. Momentum for the conference built steadily throughout the year, in part through the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit last September, which sought to “mobilize political and economic energy at the highest levels to advance climate action” and catalyze ambition.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg was already on her way to Chile by carbon-neutral boat when the conference location suddenly changed, stranding her thousands of miles away from Madrid. With the assistance of an Australian family and a professional sailor who offered her a ride to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean, she arrived just in time for the conference. 

While many appreciate Thunberg’s efforts in raising awareness of the climate change issue, others disagree with her ideas and her way of traveling. Some people doubt the idea of abandoning air travel or criticize her for not sympathizing with low-income developing countries. 

“No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden,” Russia President Vladimir Putin said

But is there a way for these countries to continue developing while cutting their emissions?

Dr. Nina Hall, assistant professor at SAIS specializing in international organizations, transnational advocacy, climate adaptation and global refugee governance, sought to answer this question by posing another: “How do we change our economies?” She also raised the ongoing debate regarding how to protect working class jobs while transitioning away from a fossil fuel-based economy.

Dr. Hall raised examples of successful economic policy to combat climate change: “What we need to see is a large-scale shift from carbon intensive industries, and the UK interestingly has led on this in some regards and their emissions have really decreased.” She continued, “[New Zealand has] modelled its recent Zero Carbon legislation on the UK.”

 Of Thunberg, Dr. Hall said, “She’s very strong on climate justice.  All of her energy has been focused on getting countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.”  Dr. Hall also argued that Thunberg’s Friday for Future global climate movement will have global benefits, even in developing countries whose economies rely heavily on manufacturing and coal. “If we were to look specifically at China, the argument might be ‘China should move its economy towards production of solar panels, towards electric cars,’ so I think there are a lot of areas where people in China could shift into,” she said.

We all know there is a long way to go for countries to realize their goal of cutting emissions. Nevertheless, the 16 year old Greta Thunberg is sending the world a message, like it or not: We are already running out of time in our battle against climate change. 

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