Greta Thunberg is an inspiration. But it’s time to stop swooning, and start listening.

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Time to wake up

I woke up this morning with the intention of writing a tribute post. I wanted to write a post to celebrate the success and effectiveness of the climate strikes that have been happening all around the world lately, and how amazing it is that the young people of the planet have banded together across borders to bring the climate crisis into the centre of the political discussion. I wanted to write about Greta Thunberg and what an inspirational figure she is and how she’s a shining beacon of hope for us all. I wanted to write about the bright new world this defiant generation are going to build where everyone works together for the good of the human race and the planet. But I feel like writing a tribute post would be missing the point, and would be doing them a disservice. More is needed.

The emergence of Greta Thunberg, the global climate movement she has ignited, and the rate at which it has spread is certainly a phenomenon that inspires, but it can only become a true driver of hope and progress if we actually start listening to what the protesters are saying. Really listening. It’s no good just reading the headlines and watching the videos of the protests and getting all warm inside with the notion that ‘the youth are going to save us’. In the words of Greta herself, ‘’We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.” It is clear, we need to fucking wake up. And fast.

Politicians, businesses, billionaires, famous musicians, footballers, backpackers, people. Everyone. Humans. We have to start paying attention, real attention, and we have to start now. Because we are in the midst of a crisis, there is no doubt about that, and we have to start acting like it.

Changing our Priorities

Greta continues, and these are all words from her speech to the UK parliament. “People always tell me and the other millions of school strikers that we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. But the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at. Every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves; how will this decision affect that curve? We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: “Have we got enough money to go through with this?” but also: “Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?” That should and must become the centre of our new currency.”

This is Greta’s full speech to the UK parliament, very inspirational words. Words we need to start listening to.

These changes won’t be easy to implement, on any level. On a personal level it is extremely difficult to maintain significant alterations to our lifestyles. What we eat, what we buy, how we travel, how we live. These behaviours are so ingrained in our daily lives that leaving the comfort zone of our everyday structures, rituals and routines can be very daunting. On a political level it can seem nearly impossible to implement any real change when so many of the available candidates have been corrupted by money and nothing significant every seems to get accomplished. On a societal level there is so much division, so many vastly differing beliefs and contrasting agendas that working together for the greater good can seem idealistic and completely unachievable. But we have to try. We absolutely have to.

I started a wall of hope to find and explore reasons to believe that we can overcome this crisis, reasons for hope, but I think it’s very important that we direct our own actions to create our own hope as well as searching for it externally. The more we act in a positive way with regard to the emissions curve that Greta talks about, the more hope we will create, individually and collectively. Greta suggests that ‘avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking.’ That ‘we must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.’ The future is unclear, and it can be scary to swap a trusted, familiar way of living for a completely new one, but what is perfectly clear is that if we don’t start laying the foundations right now for a better future, there will be no human future at all. So what can we do?

We can all make a difference

I think it starts with accepting personal responsibility for our actions. Deciding that we alone can make a difference, and that how we choose to live our lives bares significance for the world around us. It’s all well and good blaming the big bad corporations, and my goodness they do deserve a gargantuan portion of the blame, but that’s not going to do us any good if we don’t start setting the right example ourselves as well. Up until very recently I was of the belief that I couldn’t really make a difference, that one person couldn’t make a difference. One extra vote in the elections didn’t matter, one extra body in a climate protest didn’t change anything. One person fewer living a sustainable lifestyle had no significant effect in the bigger picture. I didn’t believe in voting, had never taken part in a protest, and hadn’t made any real effort to live in a more sustainable manner. I have started to try and change this.

I am currently volunteering on a farm in Portugal as part of what’s called the ‘ Wwoofing ‘ community, which is a worldwide movement that matches organic farms with curious volunteers and allows anyone who wants to learn about sustainable living and organic farming to offer their services in exchange for room and board and a whole lot of education, and I am learning plenty.

Everything on the farm is done as sustainably as possible; no artificial chemicals are used, efficient water conservation methods are utilised, the heating systems are solar powered, large wild areas are conserved to attract wildlife and increase biodiversity. The couple who run the farm are very passionate about being as friendly to the earth as possible, and I am learning loads about how to maintain a farm sustainably. But obviously, we can’t all be farmers, and it is the lessons regarding my own personal lifestyle choices that I feel are most important, as they will influence my effect on the emissions curve long after I am done volunteering on farms!

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A farm selfie in the sun.

I’ve only been living on the farm for a week and a half but have already been inspired to commit to some simple lifestyle changes that will significantly lower my effect on the emissions curve, and hopefully encourage others to do the same.

I have decided to pay much more attention to labels when I go shopping, to not buy any products that contain palm oil, and to try and determine the source of the products I purchase to ensure that I’m choosing the options with the most desirable effect on the emissions curve. I’ve also decided to significantly cut back on my meat and dairy consumption, something I was already doing before I went farming, and to only buy from sustainable sources when I do consume meat and dairy. No longer buying bottled water, bringing my own bags when I go shopping, using public transport or walking and cycling as much as possible, not leaving chargers plugged into the sockets when they’re not charging anything. It all makes a difference.

I do understand that we require fundamental systematic and infrastructural changes on a universal scale, and quickly, if we’re going to significantly mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, but a lot of that is beyond my control, so I’ve decided to focus my energy on the changes I can make myself. It’s going to take time, effort, and constant research, but I am determined to do it. We are in a crisis after all, and solving a crisis isn’t supposed to be easy!

A more productive outlook

A failure to vote counts as one less opposition vote to all the hot-headed lunatic extremists out there, and every vote that opposes the oil-hungry rainforest demolishing climate change deniers is a vote worth casting.

So that’s me trying to live more sustainably, but I’ve also decided to start voting and taking part in protests. It was actually a recent conversation with the couple who run the farm I’m staying on right now that changed my mind with regard to voting. They convinced me that even though the political system is corrupted by money and corporate donations, and the options and candidates available are very limited in scope, and most of the promises made by politicians in the run-up to elections turn out to be false ones, that it is better to vote for the best available option, than to not vote at all. A failure to vote counts as one less opposition vote to all the hot-headed lunatic extremists out there, and every vote that opposes the oil-hungry rainforest demolishing climate change deniers is a vote worth casting.

I used to say to myself that ‘voting is a load of nonsense, there needs to be a ‘none of the above’ option, all the candidates are crapheads, and if nobody voted then we would break the system and the ‘powers that be’ would be forced to find a better alternative’. This was a lazy, wildly naive, responsibility shifting idealistic outlook, and I realise now that we have to utilise the system that’s already in place if we want to build a better one. Unfortunately, this gift of a revelation didn’t come to me in time to vote in the recent European elections, but I will be voting from now on. Better late than never.

With regard to the protesting, I don’t know why I’ve never taken part. Laziness, hopelessness, a mix of both maybe, but once I’m done working on the farm I will be joining in, and posting about it on the wall. So watch out for that one!

Building the Cathedral

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I am not writing all this to boast about everything I’m doing to save the planet. It’s not worth boasting about, and I know I can be, and need to be doing much more. I’m writing it to try and show that each of us can make a difference in the climate fight by altering our lifestyles in a way that lowers our impact on the emissions curve. Out of respect for Greta Thunberg, the climate strikers, and all future generations, we need to do more than just swoon at their courage and determination. We need to actually listen to what they’re telling us and try to do whatever we can to put their advice into practice.

Greta suggests that ‘cathedral thinking’ will be needed for avoiding climate disaster, that we have to ‘lay the foundation when we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.’

We can only change what is within our control; our individual outlooks and personal choices and behaviour. That is the foundation we each need to lay without knowing ‘exactly how to build the ceiling’. If we all start by doing that, by trying to live our lives with the emissions curve as the primary instigator, with some luck and a whole lot of determination, maybe we can figure out how to build the whole cathedral.

There is dormant hope all around us, but we actually have to start acting if we want to bring it to life. I really hope we do.

Originally published at on June 22nd, 2019.

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Freelance writer for hire with a passion for sustainability. Check out for my blog and for details about my writing services.

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