Will I see a walrus smile…if I live to be 100?

On January 3, she celebrates her sixteenth birthday. Greta Thunberg is a climate change activist from Sweden you may have heard about, who as part of her campaign, in December 2018 spoke at the United Nations COP24 climate summit in Poland.








Much like the students who in February last year, after the Parkland school shooting, took their message on gun control to the streets and to the doorstep of governments in the US, Greta also inspired a movement by taking off from school, going on strike to express her commitment to end our climate crisis. Quickly these student school strikes in turn spread globally to hundreds of towns and cities in countries in Europe, Australia, the UK, the US and Canada.

If you have not yet seen or heard of Greta Thunberg, rather than give you a link to her UN – COP24 speech, check out her slightly longer TEDx Stockholm presentation here – School strike for climate – save the world by changing the rules which is somewhat similar in content but more compelling when you hear her in the usual TEDx style.

Apart from the obvious comments you might expect her to say to draw our attention to climate change, what I found interesting is how she framed her concern for the crisis in terms of envisioning the story of her own longevity:

“If I live to be 100, I will be alive in 2103. Adults often don’t think beyond the year 2050. But by then, I will, in the best case, not have lived half of my life. What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my friends, our children and their grandchildren.”

How poignant she makes it when she mentions not thinking beyond 2050. When you think about all the statistics, reports and policy making on aging and longevity (and other social issues) that have come out over the last ten years, everything gets pegged to either 2030 or 2050, and what we have to do by then to handle an aging society. Time was when it used to be 2020, but that benchmark has evaporated.

Maybe we should be looking at 2103 and Greta’s longevity.

Greta takes a serious jab, in her speeches and protest pamphlets, at the older generations of world leaders, for the environmental mess they have created for decades, and in one of her finest shout outs for “shitting on my future”.

However, she is not the first to say all this, which in itself is rather sad. While poking around for evidence from voices of previous generations expressing their concerns about climate change I found an overabundance, but I note here this quote from Philippe Cousteau, Jr., the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, which actually draws a similar line of sight that Greta does, that generational perspective:

“My grandfather opened the first chapter of his story, The Smile of the Walrus, with an old nursery rhyme, ‘Did you ever see a walrus smile all these many years? Why yes I’ve seen a walrus smile, but it was hidden by his tears.’ As we open this new chapter in the battle against climate change, I fear that if we do not take action, then the smiles of our children, like the walrus, will be hidden by the tears they shed as they pay the consequences of our inaction, our apathy and our greed.”

Also speaking at the UN COP24 climate summit was Sir David Attenborough, 92 who said as if in an echo from some of Greta’s words:

“The world’s people have spoken. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands.”

And so, as with all global social and environmental challenges facing us today, and in that long stretch to Greta’s tomorrow, it is once again proof as revealed in the threads of this story, that whatever your cause or calling, solving anything on a grand human scale is an inter-generational affair.

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday Greta!

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