I have been guilty of impersonating the tooth fairy and perpetuating the Father Christmas myth – and have been caught out, at which point I got a long lecture from my children about lying (the gist was that I was a hypocrite for telling kids not to lie and being a big fat liar myself).
In a recent article in The Guardian, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, calls out the hypocrisy of politicians and adults in general for not doing enough to solve the climate crisis. Clearly, she has a similar view on the shortcomings of adults.
Thunberg does not identify a single politician who has a real climate strategy and is particularly scathing of the idea that a commitment for action by 2050 or 2060 is meaningful. She says that, “leaders were happy to set targets for decades into the future, but flinched when immediate action to cut emissions was needed”. I share her concern. The 2020s are the decade when significant change has to happen to address global warming. Governments and companies that deny the urgency of the escalating crisis and plan to deal with it by 2050 or 2060 cannot see (because their hands are covering their eyes) the big red flag that is being waved by scientists across the globe.
Thunberg’s student protest outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018 kicked off a global movement. Other teenagers rapidly began similar strike actions around the world. So what has this movement accomplished and what is reasonable to expect of young people?
Some people interpret the mobilisation of the youth climate movement as a hopeful sign for the future, somehow assuming that we can leave it to youth to solve the problem. This is unrealistic and unjust. If we believe that this is the decade when radical change is needed to preserve the planet, which we do at RIISE, then youth movements like Fridays for Future shouldn’t be burdened with all the responsibility.
It will take time for Greta’s generation to arrive at a point where they have the financial clout to determine which companies thrive and which go under. And they will need to gain expertise and experience in the workforce in order to reach the positions of power needed to enact change. Greta’s generation will not be meaningful financial agents for at least 10 years, in most cases longer.
So for now, their role is to spark action in others whatever the motivation for that action. Their role is to hold up a mirror to those of us who are in a position to use our financial resources to support businesses that are building the zero carbon economy, who are in leadership positions in organisations and can make change. Now. The louder they protest, the angrier they are, the less chance we adults have to ignore them. Perhaps we need a bit of their teenage outrage and disdain to remember who we set out to be and who we want to be.
Searching the origin of the word “hypocrite” reveals that the word ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player”. The Greek word took on an extended meaning to refer to any person who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they were not. Perhaps it’s time to stop playing and start acting.