Greta Thunberg has guts, but you don't need to

As she shames world leaders for their inaction, there's plenty you can do

This morning, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who has become the voice of young peoples’ alarm over climate change, appeared before the U.N. General Assembly and gave the important people there — well, more than a scolding, it was a shaming. If you have not had an opportunity to watch it, here it is (above). It is riveting. It was historic.

No matter what you may think about the urgency of this expanding global crisis, if you aren’t inspired that an admittedly shy teenager can address heads of state from around the globe, and do it so fiercely and passionately, then I don’t know what to tell you. She’s an amazing kid. We should all be able to agree on that.

This morning, we looked for any wire-service coverage of the event that had a direct tie-in to cars we should highlight. Nothing specifically automotive got addressed from the U.N. podium. But there was plenty to be said about moving away from fossil fuels (which we are doing nowhere near quickly enough, Greta pointed out). That transition is the biggest overarching story in automotive journalism today, and for years to come.  

The U.N. is the butt of infinite jokes about its glacial (to use a grim pun), ineffectual pace. Meanwhile, from way down here where we're standing, it's hard for those of us going about our daily lives to think in big, global terms. Discussions of gigatons of carbon are impossible to put into perspective. Of course global deliberative bodies are not moving fast enough. Nations aren’t moving fast enough. The current government of one (guess who) has decided to move in the opposite direction. The adaptation of renewable energy is happening faster than many of us might have believed, but that’s not fast enough, either. It’s hard to turn the Titanic (especially while coal’s literally still being shoveled into the furnaces).

But we little people can do little things. If the important people won’t act, we can. Easily.


Our highways are packed, we're constantly on the run as a society, but I’ve noted recently that I save a lot of gasoline by clustering errands into one outing — does it have to be done today, or can it wait until tomorrow when I’m headed out for something else? Nobody's making you go buy an EV today, but you can be selective in using your SUV — it gets a million mpg when parked. It's fun to drive fast and accelerate hard, and we do our share of that at Autoblog, but it's also fun to see how far you can stretch a gallon, and we do that here too.

I'm waiting longer now between lawn mowings, knowing that a mower is one of the most polluting devices we use. Do you really need to fly across the country on a work trip in the age of Google Hangouts? It's easy to turn out the lights when you leave a room. Or open the windows rather than run the AC. 

During the second oil crisis of the 1970s, President Carter was derided for asking us to wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat. How dare he suggest we not use all the cheap energy we damn well please, how defeatist. Well, no it wasn’t. In any context, energy crisis or no, that’s just common sense. What, you like paying heating bills?

Many hands make for light work. On this day when presidents and prime ministers are being upbraided by a teen, when the biggest of bigshots can’t accomplish big things for the good of the many, the many can do things that add up. At no additional cost — and in fact, at a savings.




Honda today announced it's ending the sale of diesels in Europe by 2021 and will electrify its fleet there by 2025. It's also cutting the number of models it's offering by a third, for savings of 10%, to be directed into R&D. Other automakers are looking for the same efficiencies. They're spending smarter. We can too.

The point is, we don't have to feel powerless. And even if you don't believe in all this climate-change mumbo-jumbo, you can still do these things just to save a buck. Keep in mind that a lot of the inaction on climate change, or the attempts to unravel what has been accomplished, is being done in the interest of getting you to spend more of your money, particularly on gasoline. Are you really cool with being used like that?

Do something. Emit less. Waste less. Use less. It’s not hard. Greta Thunberg just demonstrated that someone small can do something powerful.

We’ve had our turn with this planet, and the generation in the on-deck circle is appalled. They’re not wrong. And even if you think they are, what you and I think doesn’t matter much longer. It’ll all be theirs soon. Our time is up, quicker than we think.

Last Friday, when millions of young people were marching in cities across the globe to demand action on climate change, our commenters were unmoved. One of them wrote, “Say no to their attempts at controlling our lives.”

But if you listen to brave Greta and these other young people, well ... isn’t that exactly what they are saying about you and me?

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