When Greta Thunberg told world leaders at the UN, “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” world leaders dismissed her.
If the people suffering and dying are the poor ones in the global south, they don’t count. They don’t spend, so they don’t count.
Trump mocked Greta Thunberg (“a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future” — now her sarcastic Twitter bio), as he presides over 18.5 million American citizens who, according to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez live on less than two dollars a day in the world’s richest country.
The Australian PM spoke of “needless anxiety”, reassuring Australian kids they’d have “an economy to live in.” Regarding the imminent extinction of life on earth, he urged “context and perspective.”
A Fox News commentator referred to Greta as “a mentally ill Swedish child.”
To distract myself — because that’s what we do when stuff is too big — I go to see a Chinese film about death (The Farewell, sweet and funny). Before the film starts, the ads feature electric cars, as though the car industry has finally had that long overdue meeting: “Hey guys, time to flog those zero emissions cars we could have launched decades ago.”
And then an advert for another new iPhone. (Manufactured up the road in China from the sweet funny film about death, at iPhone City in Zhengzhou, the Foxconn run facility with suicide nets to stop workers jumping off the roof to their deaths).
The iPhone 11 is shown in a wind tunnel being pummelled by water, cake and everyday detritus, suggesting Apple are running out of ways to sell us what is essentially the same phone over and over again. And yet we will buy it, over and over again. We will queue up for it.
On Twitter, the lovely Marian Keyes praises Greta as she tweets, “My bars of shampoo and reusable water bottle are only drops in the ocean. What can we do? Elect Greens? Stop buying? Stop flying?”
Well yes, all of the above, plus vegan, but here’s the thing — it cannot just be down to the personal shopping choices of individuals. It cannot just be about shampoo bars or keeping the iPhone you already have. Change has to come structurally, nationally, internationally, globally.
Eternal economic growth is not a fairy tale — it’s a hellscape in which we are all trapped. It’s killing us, and we need it to change. Radically. We are out of time. We have known this forever, yet here we are.
My daughter is 18, and currently at her first grown-up job, campaigning for Greenpeace. At the end of her first week, she takes stock. People are great, she says. Willing to engage, to support, to fund. “But what’s the point,” she says. “By the time I’m your age there won’t be anything left. Nobody’s doing anything.”