No wonder Greta Thunberg handed back a £40,000 prize – she knows commitment matters more than cash

Corporate and international green-washing stokes the young climate activist’s ire. For Thunberg, talk is cheap

Joy Persaud
Wednesday 30 October 2019 15:01 GMT
Greta Thunberg tells Denver rally: ‘Change is coming whether you like it or not’

Saving the world is an expensive business – especially when you’re just 16 years old. But money doesn’t always talk, as the young climate activist Greta Thunberg has proven this week.

Thunberg turned down an environmental award from the Nordic Council that would have netted her 500,000 kronor (£40,000), thanking the body for the honour but adding: “The climate movement does not need any more awards.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Since the days when she started out as a solitary figure sitting huddled on the concrete with a homemade banner, to recent months where millions took to the streets to join Thunberg’s urgent call for action on climate change, this has always been about a global issue and not one young woman’s personal desires.

It may suit Thunberg’s naysayers to tell her to go away, to be quiet, to know her place, but she has captured the mood of many; even if she were to follow so many of her contemporaries and confine herself to her schoolbooks and Fortnite for the foreseeable, the issues she has raised will still tower over us. And words will be echoed still by the scientists and conservationists who do not care a jot for the national mood, yet whose cold, hard facts support her case for change.

Indeed, the power of Thunberg’s approach is that she doesn’t go in for self-promotion. Her platform grew organically, like a cell dividing into a being. So globally famous though she has become, her core message still claims one of humanity’s most fundamental fears – our planet dying – as its focus.

Thunberg also eschews the lip service of politicians who like to plaster over the cracks for personal gain, preferring to concentrate on quantifiable action and scientific evidence for her demands. After all, as Shakespeare once said: action is eloquence. Words are certainly not enough for Thunberg. And neither is money.

Talk and profits, many argue, are the crux of the problem we face with climate change. The capitalist obsession with adding as much as possible to global corporations’ coffers, while undertaking a useful bit of green-washing to make the annual report look a tad more acceptable, stokes her ire. For Thunberg, talk is cheap. She cannot be accused of doing the same now.

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Of the Nordic countries who sought to grant this award, and their reputation on climate and environmental issues, Thunberg said: “There is no lack of bragging about this. There is no lack of beautiful words. But when it comes to our actual emissions and our ecological footprints per capita – if we include our consumption, our imports as well as aviation and shipping – then it’s a whole other story.” The Paris Agreement, signed by all the Nordic countries, is based on equity, meaning that richer countries must lead the way. She is right to suggest they are failing in their responsibilities.

“We belong to the countries that have the possibility to do the most. And yet our countries still basically do nothing,” she said. Cash, it turns out, is not enough to get something done. You need the commitment. That, there can be no doubt, she still has in spades.

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