Opinion: The passion of Greta Thunberg, climate activist

One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Jeanne of Domrémy, known to history as Joan of Arc. Her story is nothing short of unbelievable. At a time when France was about to lose the Hundred Years' War to England, an unknown French peasant girl had a series of visions. In them, she was told to demand from her ruling prince an army which she would lead to defeat the enemy and save her country.

At first, nobody took her seriously. Needless to say, Joan persisted and today, she is the patron saint of France.

Joan, of course, braved vicious derision from her adversaries of the era, accused of being a fraud, a camp follower and, more fatally, a heretic. In modern times, she has been analyzed as schizophrenic, delusional, bi-polar or just plain crazy. None of that matters. With an almost supernatural sense of purpose, she vowed to save her country and that is exactly what she did.

Today, we have another young visionary on the scene, a teenage girl, the same age as Joan of Arc, who a year ago was sitting alone in front of the Swedish Parliament with just her knapsack and a sign saying "Climate Strike." No doubt she was mocked and ridiculed by those who passed by her, wondering who this strange little girl was and why wasn't she at school getting an education.

A lot has changed since then. Greta Thunberg has addressed members of the United States Senate and the United Nations, been honored by former President Barack Obama and featured in Time magazine. She has inspired a movement that recently sent millions of young people and their allies out into the streets of cities around the world to call attention to the most important issue of our times - the changing climate of our planet.

Like Joan the Maid, Greta has also had her share of attackers, the obvious ones being climate deniers, right-wing conservatives and proponents of the fossil fuel industry. They have scorned her youth, her gender and her Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. On the left, the "purity police" of progressive activism are insisting that she address racism, sexism, LGBT rights, this-ism or that-ism. Some have disparaged her for being white and coming from an exclusively white nation.

In this regard, Thunberg's Asperger's serves her well. Like Joan, she has a laser-beamed sense of purpose that ignores her critics and stays focused on the only thing that matters to her. This old soul has come back to earth to sound the alarm of how the changing climate and our inaction will drastically affect her generation. The other issues are for other people.

But let's be careful not to place Greta Thunberg on a pedestal. As time goes on, she will make mistakes, say the wrong word, tell a crude joke or address someone by the socially incorrect pronoun. Her passionate youth movement will become messy and fragmented as all political movements eventually do.

Some have questioned why Thunberg now when so many others have warned for decades about climate change. Perhaps we have reached the tipping point where ongoing climate catastrophes can no longer be ignored. Or maybe all the templates have fallen into place and she is the right person at the right time. African Americans protested racial segregation long before Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. They, too, appeared at the crucible of history.

To her credit, Thunberg has repeatedly stated that she isn't interested in praise, especially if those doing the honors are inert in their actions about how to solve the crisis at hand. She is very clear. It's the message, not the messenger that matters. And we deny that message at our own collective peril. Time is running out and the next generation knows it.

Daniel A. Brown is an artist, writer and teacher living in Arroyo Seco.

Editor's note: Greta Thunberg is not the only teenager who has been sounding the alarm about climate change for the last couple of years. Among others to learn more about are Xiye Bastida, Alexandria Villaseñor, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Jamie Margolin, Nadia Nazar and Isra Hirsi. Taos and New Mexico also have groups of young climate activists including several who recently took a request for action to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.