Thunberg—along with her younger sister—has been given a diagnosis of autism and A.D.H.D. In interviews, she sometimes ascribes her unusual focus, and her absolute intolerance of adult bullshit on the subject of climate change, to her neurological condition. “I see the world a bit different, from another perspective,” she told my colleague Masha Gessen. In 2015, the year Thunberg turned twelve, she gave up flying. She travelled to London by train, which took two days. Her voice, which is young and Scandinavian, has a discordant, analytical clarity. Since 2006, when David Cameron, as a reforming Conservative Party-leadership contender, visited the Arctic Circle, Britain’s political establishment has congratulated itself on its commitment to combatting climate change. Thunberg challenged this record, pointing out that, while the United Kingdom’s carbon-dioxide emissions have fallen by thirty-seven per cent since 1990, this figure does not include the effects of aviation, shipping, or trade. “If these numbers are included, the reduction is around ten per cent since 1990—or an average of 0.4 per cent a year,” she said. She described Britain’s eagerness to frack for shale gas, to expand its airports, and to search for dwindling oil and gas reserves in the North Sea as absurd. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before,” she said. “Like now. And those answers don’t exist anymore. Because you did not act in time.”
The climate-change movement feels powerful today because it is politicians—not the people gluing themselves to trucks—who seem deluded about reality. Thunberg says that all she wants is for adults to behave like adults, and to act on the terrifying information that is all around us. But the impact of her message does not come only from her regard for the facts. Thunberg is an uncanny, gifted orator. Last week, the day after the fire at Notre-Dame, she told the European Parliament that “cathedral thinking” would be necessary to confront climate change.
Yesterday, Thunberg repeated the phrase. “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking,” she said. “We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.” [Continue reading…]