Greta Thunberg has been in the news recently, from her talk to the United Nations to her involvement in Canadian protests in Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist has been condemned by a number of people from US President Trump on down both for her message and for her age. One politician referred to her as mentally ill because of her autism.
I hesitate to post something political, but in this case she reminded me personally of the emerging environmental movement in 1969 when I was in third year at University and heavily involved. The pollution story of the year here indicated that Lake Erie was dead, and the international joint commission came to town to hold public hearings. I was well aware of pollution issues by that point having published an article about it while still in high school. I remember when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio burned which struck me as really absurd. It was the years of protest over the Vietnam war, Kent State, the Santa Barbara oil spill, and the first Earth Day. The first major environmental legislation emerged not too many years later. I can't believe it, but next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
So I screwed up my courage and went off to the International Joint Commission hearings and gave a passionate speech about the evils of pollution and waste. As luck would have it my testimony, the testimony of a young student, was the presentation to be seized on by the media. By the next day my professors were congratulating me for speaking up!
The success of early environmental cleanup efforts that emerged from those hearings left me convinced that the activism of youth is a very important catalyst for change and improvement in society. In the following years millions and millions of dollars were spent reducing pollution in the Great Lakes, particularly by building sewage treatment plants in cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago. Over time a major effort to improve agricultural practises to reduce nutrient-laden runoff also developed. So measuring success by action on the ground rather than by protests in the streets leaves me thinking that Greta Thunberg's influence will probably be a very positive one, if we overrule some of the old white men who seem blind to he climate change issue!