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Sultan: The critics of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg have missed the boat

Sultan: The critics of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg have missed the boat

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Milo Marston

Milo Marston, 11, of St. Louis, participated in the climate strike. Photo courtesy of Amanda Doyle.

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has triggered conservatives to the point where they have called her “mentally ill” on national television and compared her to “Children of the Corn” and Nazi propaganda. Even the president of the United States resorted to mocking her on Twitter after she spoke to world leaders at the United Nations session on climate change.

That’s quite a reaction to a teenage activist trying to save the environment from catastrophic harm.

Perhaps they don’t realize that their attacks only make her message more powerful with the young people she’s inspiring.

Milo Marston, an 11-year-old in St. Louis, missed school to attend the climate strike protest last week.

“I think she’s amazing,” he said. “She’s speaking the truth. She’s convincing people to do things. She organized an absolutely massive climate strike around the world.”

Milo became interested in environmental science when he was 7 or 8. Over the years, he’s prompted his parents to become more engaged with these issues and to re-evaluate their choices. His advocacy at home has prompted discussions about reducing their household waste, evaluating whether new purchases are truly needed and even opting to buy a hybrid when they needed a new car. He even takes note of the environmental practices of the companies where they buy from, his mother, Amanda Doyle, said.

“He does make me think more about that stuff instead of being so resigned to it,” Doyle said.

He believes in the power of individuals to help bring about change. “Certainly it has a lot to do with the people in power’s decisions,” Milo said. But, “we need a lot of people to make the small decisions. We can slowly change how we act and how producers of goods act.”

That’s an 11-year-old, remember.

Still, he also believes individual actions will not be enough to stem the impending climate crisis.

“I think it will take a lot of direct structural change, like the Green New Deal,” he said. Greta spoke to these same concerns when she implored world leaders to take action.

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she said, fighting back tears. “How dare you! For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

It’s jarring — but also hopeful — to see young people speak more passionately and intelligently about climate science and policy implications than some of the adults in charge of making these decisions.

Milo brought up the president’s past tweets about freezing cold winters in attempt to discredit the fact that the Earth is warming. He took a deep sigh and spelled it out like you might for a 5-year-old.

“Weather,” Milo said. “That’s weather.”

It’s not the same thing as climate change, on which scientists have near universal agreement.

I asked him if this is the biggest issue facing his generation, and he paused a moment before answering.

“There are a lot of issues, like poverty, not everyone has access to things, and we are under kind of a corrupt government, but if we keep releasing this ever-increasing amount of carbon into the air, all that’s not going to matter,” he said.

It’s something that kids as young as elementary school have started to accept.

“In fact, I have never met a kid who does not believe this is an issue,” Milo said.

The adults attacking Greta might naively believe they can scare her — or other chlidren — into silence.

They might want to take note of her response. She took the president’s mocking description of her and made it into her Twitter bio: A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.

These kids aren’t afraid.

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