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Greta Thunberg Needs No Defense: Why We Must Keep Climate Striking

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a session at the Congres center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 21, 2020.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a session at the Congres center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 21, 2020. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)

While President Trump dismissed Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and scientists as "perennial prophets of doom" at the World World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, climate strikers in drought-stricken southeast Australia were posting photos on Twitter of Biblical rounds of dust and hail storms, in the aftermath of mega fires that covered an area the size of some European countries.  
 
You don't need "heirs to foolish fortune tellers," as Trump mocked scientists in Davos, to know how this climate story will unfold.  With an estimated one billion animals lost in the Australian fires, placing some species close to extinction, and personal damage estimates now ranging up to $100 billion, our climate crisis is telling its own story to the inhabitants on this planet.   
 
As climate strikers, we're just the messengers of that story. And far from being prophets of doom, Thunberg and the millions of climate strikers around the world have become the only people with the courage  to "tell it like it is."
 
Serving as global witnesses, not prophets, climate youth activists with the "Fridays for Future" movement from the flood-ravaged zones of central Africa and Indonesia, to the burning forests of Brazil to the Congo, and across the world, are not predicting the weather, but simply holding up signs that mirror the realities of spiraling environmental degradation, displacement and injustice in our communities.  
 
From indigenous youth occupying the office of the Minister of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources this week in Canada, to holding a sit-in in Kolkata, India against the meeting of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, to striking in front of my own university town's coal-fired power plant, climate youth activists are also showcasing the frontline causes of CO2 emissions and environmental destruction. 
 
The problem is not Trump's belittling of youth activists to make the headlines.  The real problem is that he's not the only leader on a local or global level to misconstrue the efforts of climate youth activists as an excuse for their own inaction or a complete disregard of science in policy decisions.  
 
We understand this first hand in Iowa.  Our Iowan farmers have dealt with the wettest 18 months on record, as record flooding slammed our state from the Missouri to Mississippi Rivers.  But when our state Department of Natural Resources released its annual greenhouse gas emissions report two weeks ago, as required by law, not a single media outlet or politician from either party noted that CO2 emissions had increased by 3.38% in the last recorded year, from 2017-2018, even as our state's extraordinary wind energy productions topped national charts.  Even worse: Due to our growing factory farms and unsustainable agricultural practices, state projections are on track for Iowa to increase CO2 emissions from 137.40  to 145.79 metric tons carbon dioxide by 2030.
 
This is why we must still go on climate strikes in Iowa: According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2018 landmark report in 2018, 2030 is deadline for all government institutions to cut CO2 emissions by 45% to stem rising temperatures to 2.7 degrees (Fahrenheit) to avert irreversible tipping points for climate mayhem.  
 
That's clearly not happening in Iowa--and if it can't happen in Iowa, with its record wind energy production, or if it can't even be discussed in Iowa, which receives far more national attention due to our first-in-the-nation caucus, then it probably won't happen in the rest of the country.   
 
That's not just a prophecy of doom--it's a tragedy. 
 
Here's the point: Climate strikers like Thunberg need no defense from Trump's attacks. They need more defenders.  And they need adults to listen to the science and actually do something, as Thunberg told the same Davos crowd this week--just as she warned members of the US Congress last fall.  Offering a copy of the IPCC report to American lawmakers instead of her own prepared speech, Thunberg simply implored,  “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists. I want you to unite behind the science and I want you to take real action.” 
 
As adolescents, we are "perennially"--to use Trump's word--lectured about doing our homework, especially in science and math.  In Davos this week, as she has done all year, Thunberg asked the same of global leaders.  In a line: Do the math, as well as the science. 
 
"In Chapter Two, on page 108 in the SR 1.5 IPCC report that came out in 2018," she told a Davos panel, "it says that if we are to have a 67 percent chance of limiting the global average temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we had on January 1st, 2018, about 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit in that budget."
 
As CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2019, we are rapidly using up that budget. 
 
On the same day the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded that CO2 emissions levels had reached 415.79 ppm, a new atmospheric record in our human existenceTreasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin heaped more scorn on Thunberg at Davos  "After she goes and studies economics in college she can come back and explain that to us."
 
Thunberg's response on Twitter put the Secretary's comments in context: "...it doesn’t take a college degree in economics to realise that our remaining 1,5° carbon budget and ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and investments don’t add up." 
 
A businessman like Trump, bankruptcies notwithstanding, should understand budgets.  So should all politicians and policymakers.  So should all adults, for that matter.   
 
And until they do, and act accordingly, keep climate striking, ye prophets of courage.

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