Greta Thunberg, Tilting at Windmills, and the Winds of Change

Thomas Schueneman

Thinking about the latest environmental news headlines from the Daily PlanetWatch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon. Wednesday, September 25.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

- Margaret Mead

The movement Greta Thunberg started one year ago makes many of the “adults” in the room nervous. The initial go-to reaction is to look down upon the earnest, naive, somewhat naughty children with scorn, couched in a veneer of sympathy. Don’t bother us kid, we’ve got a world to run.

But then the kids’ voices get louder, spread further, and gain traction. They can’t simply be ignored. Nobody relishes it, they say, but it has to be done. Time to call in the artillery (then apologize after shooting the place up).

It’s hard to imagine the trajectory of Thunberg’s influence has taken in a few short months. But we don’t have to imagine, her record speaks for itself. The history of this century has yet to reveal if she and other youth leaders like her will spark the revolution of transformative climate action or simply fade into another cold ember of promise.

What is apparent is that in their criticism, it is the adults’ attempt to bring the passion, sincerity, and outrage down to their level with their cynical, manipulative, zero-sum worldview. Whoever has the most money and wields the most power rules. Always. Make too much noise, even if you’re a child, you’ll be shut down.

Dismissed as merely tilting at windmills, the voices of young people, and the old who support their message, portends the winds of change that no one can resist for very much longer.

The winds of change

In his 1966 “Ripple of Hopespeech delivered to the National Union of South African Students at the University of Cape Town, Robert Kennedy who said:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice. He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”

Less than two years later, Kennedy was shot dead. His assassination seemed to kill the dreams of a better world, for a time. Winds of change stir, then are silenced, only to stir once again.

With each threat to a just society, a counter force awakens. Small and insignificant at first, but all movements, great and terrible, start with a thought in a person’s mind. Informed by reflection, context, and circumstance, a thought leads to a word, then action; and then - just maybe - influence. Sent forth is a ripple of hope, passion, outrage.

Greta Thunberg has captured the world’s attention. Her message is unmistakable in its passion and outrage. She sends a ripple of hope -- though she may reject the language of hope in favor of outrageous action -- that instead of tilting at windmills yet again, this time we feel a slight breeze: the winds of change. 


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