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Greta Thunberg effect: Should our kids stay poor and hungry so Western kids can feel virtuous-green?

Author: Ramesh Thakur
Publication: The Times of India
Date: October 26, 2019
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/greta-thunberg-effect-should-our-kids-stay-poor-and-hungry-so-western-kids-can-feel-virtuous-green/

There’s been an outbreak of mass insanity with the Western world’s adoration of the Swedish child-prophet Greta Thunberg. Climate related extinction is among the most serious moral and political challenges, but infantilising the discourse is a strange approach to solving it. In her blistering UN speech, Thunberg scolded world leaders: ‘How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.’ The only thing missing from a typical juvenile outburst was: ‘I hate you!’ A culture that disrespects elders cannot insist on grown-ups submitting to demands from teenagers.

How much of this is due to a cynical calculation to manoeuvre her into the global limelight, on a contentious public debate, without regard for her well-being? The agenda is being hijacked by adult professional activists using children as a tool to silence critics by conflating policy criticism as an attack on a child. She is but a 16-year-old schoolgirl with no life experience, limited understanding of the complex science and decision matrix for competing public policy choices, and zero understanding of the international politics of the choices. What were the organisers of the UN climate talkfest and Davos thinking in inviting her to speak? Why do national leaders grant audience to a captious child who scolds them harshly, demonstrating the self-righteous inflexibility typical of adolescent certitude?

Hectoring young activists cling to all the benefits of industrial society while raging against the generations that gave them these benefits. In the pre-industrial age 80-90% of populations lived in subsistence, doing backbreaking work just to survive. Life was indeed nasty, brutish and short for the vast majority. People killed by climate disasters has plummeted by 95%. Energy fuelled growth and prosperity has lifted billions out of squalor to give them longer, healthier, safer and better educated lives.

Who knew that ‘saving the world’ is acceptable for weekly school bunking? Yet the youth cling to electricity dependent, consumer driven lifestyle of upgrading and discarding electronics devices ever year or two while decrying capitalism as evil at its core. This is the cohort with computerised classes in air conditioned comfort, driven to school compared to previous generations who walked, cycled or took the bus.

Meanwhile for the bottom two billion poor of the world, the main priority remains roti, kapda aur makaan. Should China apologise for achieving the fastest poverty reduction rate for the biggest number of people in history? Should a billion more Chinese, Indians and others who have stayed poor and destitute over the last three decades, go on that way so Western kids could feel virtuous-green? Thunberg is so slight in part because she stunted her growth and delayed physical development. At 38% as measured by the Global Hunger Index, India has among the world’s highest rates of stunted children under five: but not through choice.

Disruptive protests and haranguing slogans are no substitute for policy action. If the roughly 4.5 billion flights per annum were aborted until 2100, temperature would fall by just 0.03°C. Who decides if the miniscule gains are worth the mega-disruptions to lifestyle as we know it? Or the impact on emissions of alternative transportations? Even Thunberg’s publicity hugging sailing trip across the Atlantic was tinged with a triple hypocrisy: a first world solution to a first world conscience. No carbon fibre racing yacht is ever 100% zero-carbon in construction; some members of the crew returned to Europe by plane and others had to be flown across the Atlantic to sail it back; the yacht cost over €4 million. This is the answer to flight shame?

About 90% of historical carbon emissions originated in the advanced industrial countries. India’s per capita emission of 1.7 tonnes is only one-ninth that of Australia, Canada and the US. Coal secretary Subhash Garg says to meet basic energy needs, India must expand coal production from 600 million to a billion tonnes. What if an immediate coal ban stole Indian children’s dreams of a better life? Is that a reasonable price to give peace of mind to privileged Western kids?


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