The Interstellar Moment of Rediscovering Reason
In a just 4-minute short speech during the Climate Action Summit on September 23rd, 2019, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg was sending a strong warning to all adults: “We’ll be watching you,” “And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.” Visibly angry, frustrated, and emotional, Greta was clear: how dare we question science and turn a blind eye, a deaf ear to the ongoing, worsening climate crisis? Climate activists, scientists, and supporters of significant sustainability actions applauded Greta Thunberg. The backlash against her, however, was swift, often personally attacking her youth and the fact that she has Asperger’s syndrome.
There are not many examples, in recent history, of young people leading a change in the world; of the few, many have faced attacks of personal insult and ridicule, bodily harm, or even murder: Iqbal Masih escaped child slavery and helped over 3,000 other children to freedom before his assassination when he was just 12 years old; Malala Yousafzai was shot by Taliban, survived and continues her work to support education to girls, unable to return to her home country for reasons of personal safety; and Greta isn’t the first young person to raise awareness of the climate crisis. At the age of 15, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez spoke in 2015 to the UN General Assembly about the urgency of climate actions. Others continue their work educating the world about social or environmental issues. To baselessly dismiss the views of all young leaders by discounting them for being naive, emotional, or delusional, has always been a cheap, and shallow tactic.
In the 2014 movie ‘Interstellar,’ humans live in a post-truth world, believing that past scientific achievements were fake and that science is a waste of time and resources. With such societal disdain for science, society surrendered to a hopeless fight for survival on Earth only to ultimately be saved when a young scientist followed the advice of her astronaut father: “You got to record the facts, analyze, get to the how and why, then present your conclusion.”
In our world, young people in schools or universities train to follow this methodology, leveraging the opportunity of knowledge literally at their fingertips. Over the past 30 years, along with societal and technological development, school education has changed dramatically like never before (and by some measure, not nearly enough): the nurturing of creative skills encourages students to think outside the box; omnipresent online access to information forces the teaching of critical thinking; STEM education has become as an essential building block for future economies worldwide. It then shouldn’t surprise anyone when young students, equipped with the methods of deductive, inductive and adductive reasoning, apply these skills to develop robotics, bioplastics, or to question our stubbornness and antiquated thinking that blocks us from acting on a science-proven global crisis.
Without thinking twice, we accept the diagnosis and prescription of medical doctors. When it comes to the future of our children, we consult with books, videos, and the advice of experts, teachers, trainers. Moreover, we are teaching our children to study facts hard, to diligently learn in school, and we encourage them to discover and shape their future. So when we, as adults, decline to follow the advice of scientists - of all things out of political or ideological reasons - we cry foul and condemn our children for reminding us of our social duty. As a parent of kids younger than Greta, I ask: how dare we? We parents do not have any right, sensible answers to why do we keep on burning down tropical rainforests; or, why there are traces of plastics in our food, and plastic trash in our oceans? We can only admit that we were holding off action for too long.
In “Principia Mathematica,” Isaac Newton defined three fundamental laws that explained the world. Considered as one of the most important scientific publications, Newton kicked off the Age of Enlightenment, sometimes also called the Age of Reason. After almost 300 years, how dare some of us still denounce this, our human acquired heritage of reasoning? How close to an existential threat of survival on Earth do our children and the next generations have to come before we jump to action?
Not the first, sadly likely not the last call to action, Greta’s speech is a watershed moment, having brought the climate crisis to the forefront of public media and inspiring many more young people. It is our Interstellar moment: the question of planetary survival now so palpable that we need to strip ourselves of political coloring and do the right thing. For our children’s future.
I’m looking for more climate leadership examples. What actions have you found, or even started yourself? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.
Watch Greta Thunberg's speech here: