Speaking truth to power

| 19th September 2019
Greta Thunberg outside Swedish Parliament in 2018

Greta Thunberg outside Swedish Parliament in 2018

'We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.'

Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.

There comes a moment in every parent’s life when your kids stop believing you are a superhero and you are brought back to earth with a bump.  

Greta’s trip to 'the Land of the Free' has taken that experience to a whole new, global level. She preempted the likely responses to her Sentate appearance by going on the attack against these old white people and their inaction on climate breakdown. 

Greta said: “Please save your praise. We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.”

Questioning everything

She continued: “If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard. I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.” 

As a parent, the killer word in there is “sorry”. Nothing is worse than your children being disappointed in you.

The realisation that your parents are flawed and confused – i.e. human – is all part of growing up. It is also part of parenthood.  It gets you every time it happens and every single adult in that Senate hearing will have felt it - the idea that despite the trappings of power bestowed on them, they had failed in their fundamental duty.

This is what it means to speak truth to power. And when she gets the Nobel prize, I hope they change the inscription from 'peace' to 'bluntness'. 

Greta's speech made me question everything I have been doing to ‘influence’ and bring about political change to support action on the climate crisis.

For example, as someone who has worked for 10 years to find ways to finance the infrastructure (wind farms, solar parks, tidal etc) we need to power our civilisation without burning the deck we are standing on, the climate strike on Friday would seem counterproductive.

Climate strike

Surely, I should redouble my efforts? Work my lunch hour? Get in early and leave late? Anything but strike? 

But I now see that was missing the point. When Greta is speaking truth to power she isn’t saying how ‘green’ is aligned with their political interests. Greta is pointing out the real reason that power hasn’t listened.

Global power is based on wealth that comes from oil. Just look at the politics of the countries that produce the fossil fuels  (and importantly hold the reserves) which will turn the climate crisis into a clear and present danger for humanity.    

The politics of the climate crisis is coming to a head. It is shifting from the politics of talking to the politics of action. The need for action sets the scene for a struggle across new dividing lines which have left many political parties clutching anachronistic identities and speaking irrelevant language.

By striking for climate, I am taking sides in the struggle. And a crisis requires you to take sides. Net Zero is not an objective delivered by compromise.  

That is not to say that our response to climate crisis should be at any cost. We still need to care about justice for those affected by the transition to Net Zero and frankly, if we don’t, we will create friction and suffering that will undermine our goal.

But the time for praise and inspiration is passed. The time for action has come. And calling out those in power for their inaction is a good start. 

This Author 

Bruce Davis is managing director of Abundance Investment, which advertises with The Ecologist.