A tale of two leaders: A teen and a prime minister

A tale of two leaders: A teen and a prime minister
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrives in New York, earlier this week. Thunberg is scheduled to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Greta’s urgency is about the survival of our species and is informed by hard scientific research carried out on behalf of the common good. Boris’s urgency is driven by ego and the egg on his and his party’s face, writes Joyce Fegan

I NEVER thought that I would be looking to a 16-year-old for reassurance, hope and leadership, but then again, these are strange times we are living in.

This week, as a 55-year-old Eton and Oxford-educated man suspended his country’s parliament, steering his nation towards catastrophe, with scant regard for any collateral damage caused, a 16-year-old schoolgirl sailed into Manhattan to save the world. Literally.

Both people have an extremely similar agenda: “Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s do it now”.

One is Boris Johnson, real name Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the prime minister of Britain, and the other is Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who started a now global school strike in August 2018, in response to her deepening anxiety about climate catastrophe.

In the words of Boris’s own mother, Charlotte, the 55-year-old always wanted to be “world king”.

Greta on the other hand, began learning about our impending climate catastrophe around the age of eight, the finer details of which, plunged her into depression. 

The only way out of it, was to take action.

This week Greta sailed into New York, having come across the Atlantic by boat, to speak at a UN Climate Action Summit and to raise awareness about the amount of emissions created by air travel.

Meanwhile, Boris, the wannabe-world-king, visited the Queen of England requesting that parliament be suspended for nearly five weeks. 

This means that democratically-elected members of the British parliament will not have an opportunity to take up their chamber seats and attempt to halt his no-deal Brexit plan through democratic means such as debate and voting.

Exactly 1,164 days after the Brexit referendum and three prime ministers later, Boris remains intent on leaving the EU, no matter the economic or social consequences. “We’ve got to move ahead now,” said Boris, having left his meeting with the Queen.

A tale of two leaders: A teen and a prime minister

In New York, the urgency of Greta’s environmental agenda was starkly similar. Stepping off her yacht to a large and applauding crowd, she said: “Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s do it now”.

One mission I can understand, the other I cannot.

Britain has wasted more than three years attempting to leave the European Union, a body it joined in 1973, and a decision it held a referendum on in 1975.

In 1975, in the country’s first ever national referendum, the people of Britain were asked if they wanted to remain a part of the European Communities. “Yes”, they said, by a resounding 67%.

On June 23, 2016, they were asked again about their country’s membership of the European Union. This time sentiment had shifted towards a negative position.

A total of 51% wanted to leave and 48% wanted to stay — a far smaller margin compared to their 1975 position.

Over the course of the last three years, Britain has, of course, stayed in the European Union, with no political leader able to negotiate a satisfactory exit deal. 

Last May in the European elections, the Brexit Party, in all its irony, won 29 seats in the European Parliament, but more seats, 36, went to major parties such as the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party, all of which want to remain in the EU, and the Labour Party, who wants to respect the wishes of the British people, but who do not support a no-deal Brexit.

In the absence of a second referendum, and if we are to discount the protest of apparently one million people last March, demanding an opportunity to vote again, surely, this election result reflects some kind of public sentiment.

But Boris pushes on with his seemingly reckless agenda, and to what end? To make Britain a great empire, again?

Greta, meanwhile will travel across the US on a number of climate engagements, and to Canada and to South America on her evidence-based, planet-saving agenda.

Asked about Donald Trump, who is a well-known climate denier, the 16-year-old maturely and succinctly answered: “I say ‘listen to the science’, and he obviously does not do that.”

For anyone listening to the science over the last two years, it has been both resounding and dire.

A tale of two leaders: A teen and a prime minister

In 2018, a UN report, by leading scientists said we only had 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. After that, even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. 

To meet the target of keeping global warming below 2C, the world needs to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 50%.

We now have fewer than 11 years to act on that.

I can see the reasoning behind Greta’s urgency. Boris’s, I cannot.

Greta’s urgency is about the survival of our species and is informed by hard scientific research carried out on behalf of the common good.

Boris’s urgency is driven by ego and the egg on his and his party’s face.

Last April, the EU gave Britain one more deadline, October 31, to come up with an agreement about how they will exit the European Union. No such agreement has been reached. 

Boris is now exiting the bloc, one which was formed to create economic cooperation and foster peace between European countries, in the wake of the Second World War, just for the sake of being the Prime Minister who could bring about Brexit.

And when he achieves this, to what end? And what next? And for whose economic and social benefit?

Greta, if she achieves her goal, will mean the world has managed to keep global warming below that 1.5C mark, staving off floods and droughts, human disaster and the collapse of our eco-systems.

Growing up in a patriarchal world, I was conditioned to assume that older people, namely white western men, had the monopoly on wisdom, were acting on the greater’s good behalf and were not to be questioned or challenged, for to do so would be both ignorant and disrespectful.

I was wrong.

Now I find myself looking to a 16-year-old girl, without even a secondary school qualification, for leadership.

But it’s time for adults to act like adults, and for us to demand better leaders who come equipped with a moral compass, rely on science as their fact, and who are driven to act on behalf of the common good.

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