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More Slats, Less Thunbergs!

Entry 2027, on 2020-02-19 at 21:40:59 (Rating 4, Politics)

I get it; there are things about the world which aren't as good as they could be. And there are things which are simply dangerous and need urgent action. When we see bad things in the world we should do something about it, right? Well sure, I would agree with that, but there are two points which need to be emphasised at this stage: first, that anyone who finds a problem should be aware that they could be wrong and might be trying to fix an issue which doesn't exist; and second, that taking "action" by complaining, protesting, etc is a very passive and probably ineffective strategy.

So let's look at the biggest issue of this type which we are faced with today: environmental damage, including climate change. There are two people whose styles I want to contrast in tackling environmental issues.

The first is Greta Thunberg. Just in case you have been living in some alternative reality and don't know, she is a young climate activist who has been prominent recently in her activism against world leaders and their failure to respond to climate change to an extent which Thunberg considers sufficient.

So she travels the world "shouting" at world leaders, using catch-phrases such as "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words" and "how dare you!"

Looking at this phenomenon, how does it stack up against my two points above? Well, I think climate change is a real issue, and I think the scientific evidence supporting it is strong enough such that some sort of action is required, so she gets a pass on that one. But what about the second point: is she just taking the easy route and protesting without offering any real alternatives? Has she got lazy and just left school to go on a talk-fest consisting mainly of un-nuanced and poorly considered points? I think she is guilty of that.

The second person I want to consider is Boyan Slat. He is a young Dutch inventer and entrepreneur who has been working on environmental issues since age 16 - the same age Greta was when she started her campaign. But, unlike Greta, he wasn't happy with mindless complaining and demanding action without offering any real way to achieve it. He actually did something, most notably inventing a system to automatically remove plastic waste from the ocean.

So, unlike Thunberg, he runs an organisation with 100 employees and with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollar, which has produced something that makes a difference. Despite initial problems, his plastic waste recovery system now works, and is particularly effective cleaning up badly polluted rivers, as well as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the pacific ocean about double the size of texas, where plastic and other waste tends to accumulate.

Eventually this technology could clean up the garbage patch, as well as many rivers, in relatively short periods of time (years or decades) without disrupting any existing living standards or economic processes.

He thinks other problems might be tackled this way as well, including climate change, but already works 7 days a week on his existing project so can't expand the idea just yet. However, other companies are working on technologies which can clean carbon from the air, so there is some room for hope there too.

But all this aside, my point here is to make a comparison between the two figures dedicated to similar causes, but tackling the associated problems in very different ways. Thunberg tours the world (using a lot of carbon-based fuels despite some superficial efforts at avoiding that) and seeking fame without really achieving any positive results.

And it has worked, because she ahs achieved a lot of fame. For example, she was announced as Time's Person of the Year in December 2019, and is on a list of "people who mattered" in science, produced by the prestigious scientific journal Nature. While Boyan Slat has been given some honours for his work, they are far less numerous and prestigious than Thunberg's. But which really deserves the greater accolades?

This seems to be a major problem, with western culture today. We (by "we" I mean western culture in general, not myself or any group I belong to) reward superficial behaviour as long as it fits in with the narrative we want to support, that is simplistic catchphrases which are ultimately meaningless, the dedicated activist who is prepared to stand up to power, and the heroic individual taking on the evil of the patriarchy and capitalism.

Why not celebrate a person getting on with finding solutions, working incredibly long hours behind the scenes, and accepting our current political/economic system as having flaws but still being worth saving. That doesn't quite fit in with that the media want to portray so gets largely ignored.

The main reason I wrote this post is because I recently listened to a podcast featuring Slat, and was impressed at his intelligence, knowledge, and realistic attitude about what can and cannot be done. Compare that with interviews with Thunberg. All I hear there is ridiculous childish screeching from a spoiled baby. Sure, she is younger than Slat is now, but he did start his work at the same age. And sure, she has autism, but that cannot excuse her excesses. If she wants to get involved with politics she needs to accept the consequences.

I think climate change can be fixed, but not in the way Greta thinks. It has got to the point where we need to start removing carbon from the atmosphere, not just taking largely ineffectual steps towards reducing carbon emissions. We need more people like Boyan Slat... and a lot less like Greta Thunberg!


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