Eye on Ivy Editorial Writing Contest Winner: Class A

Below is the editorial that earned top honors in the first Quill and Scroll Editorial Writing Contest for Pakistani students, Class A, which included students in grades 9 and 10, co-sponsored by Eye on Ivy. The contest prompt asked students to show how Pakistani teens could emulate Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and make an impact in fighting global climate change.

Pakistani youth: Be like Greta

By Lyba Mehmood

Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, was  born on January 3, 2003. She is recognized for pressing world leaders to take rapid action to mitigate climate change. Thunberg rose to prominence due to her youth and blunt speaking style, which she uses to criticize world leaders for failing to take what she believes sufficient action to address the climate catastrophe, both in  public and to political leaders and assemblies. 

Thunberg began her campaigning by convincing her parents to make lifestyle  changes that would lower their personal carbon impact. She began spending her  school days outside the Swedish Parliament in August 2018, at the age of 15, holding a placard reading “Skolstrejk for Climate Change” to urge for stronger action  on climate change (School strike for climate). Other students soon joined in on the  protests in their own neighborhoods. Under the banner of Fridays for Future, they organized a school climate strike. Following Thunberg’s speech at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes broke out around the world every week. In 2019, there were a number of coordinated multi-city PR campaigns. 

Her sudden rise to world fame made her both a leader in the activist community  and a target for critics, especially due to her age. Her influence on the world stage  has been described by The Guardian and other newspapers as the “Greta Effect.”  She received numerous honors and awards, including an honorary Fellowship of  the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, inclusion in Time magazine’s 100 most influential  people, being the youngest Time Person of the Year, inclusion in the Forbes list of  The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (2019), and three consecutive nominations  for the Nobel Peace Prize (2019–2021). 

In August 2018, Thunberg began the school climate strikes and public speeches for which she has become an internationally recognized climate activist. In an  interview with Amy Goodman from “Democracy Now!” she said she first got the idea  of a climate strike after school shootings in the United States in February 2018 led  to several youths refusing to go back to school. These teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, went on to organize the March  for Our Lives in support of greater gun control. In May 2018, Thunberg won a  climate change essay competition held by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.  In part, she wrote “I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in  the greatest crisis in human history?”

She was declared Time magazine’s person of the year in the same month that  Donald Trump told her to “work on her anger management issues.” Greta Thunberg  has attracted international attention since her lone demonstration outside the  Swedish Parliament in August 2018. Her “school strike for the climate” has now  grown into a global movement that has brought more than 10 million people onto streets worldwide to demand action on climate change. 

In the same time that Greta Thunberg has become a household name, public concern about climate change has reached record highs in the U.S. But what role has Thunberg’s personal influence played in this? Do her speeches appeal to diverse audiences, or is she simply preaching to the choir?

Based on a nationally representative survey of over 1,300 U.S. adults, Americans who report being more familiar with Greta Thunberg also feel more confident that they can help mitigate climate change as part of a collective effort. They are also more willing to take action themselves, by contacting elected officials or giving time and money to campaigns. We call this the Greta Thunberg Effect. 

Seeing or hearing Greta Thunberg once doesn’t instantly turn someone into a  climate activist. Nonetheless, we discovered a potentially important pattern of  associations. Those more familiar with Thunberg were more likely to think their actions were effective and meaningful and were more intent on doing something  about climate change. Our model seemed to show this might be the case because  people who knew Thunberg’s story, how her lonely stand inspired millions around the world to join her, were more likely to recognize the potential for ordinary people to make a difference. 

Photo by Carlos Roso on Unsplash

In her public appearances, she’s often surrounded by young people and her demands for climate action align most strongly with liberal policy preferences. Because people tend to listen more to those they identify with, we thought that young and left-leaning people would be more strongly influenced by her. 

Young people are likely to be most receptive, but Thunberg’s influence defies generational and political divides. Surprisingly, the Greta Thunberg Effect seems to  be similar across age groups and the political spectrum for U.S. adults, though it was stronger among liberals than conservatives. We didn’t survey children and  teenagers, but we expect them to be most strongly influenced by Thunberg’s school  strikes. 

“No one is too small to make a difference”

Pope Francis, James Hansen and Jeff Bezos have all tried to spur momentum on climate action using their religious, academic and financial authority. Greta  Thunberg lacks any such elite status, so how has she been able to succeed? 

Given the prevailing sense of doom about climate change, empowering people to  take action requires an ability to convey that change is possible. In her speeches,  Thunberg proclaims that “there is still time to change everything around.” Her  Fridays for Future campaign are also founded on the empowering message that  anyone – even school students – can make a difference. 

Most importantly, Thunberg’s actions are consistent with her words. Her fiery  demands to world leaders, whether at the United Nations or the U.S. Congress, demonstrate that anyone can, and should, challenge powerful institutions and  people.

What does this mean for climate action? 

How can we be sure that our findings reflect Greta Thunberg’s own effect and not the influence of climate activism more generally? The short answer is that we can’t.  But to help isolate Thunberg’s influence, we asked our study participants to rate their support for climate activism and found that familiarity with Thunberg remained relevant even when controlling for this. 

Of course, there are other things that could explain why people may want to take action on climate change, such as their prior support for environmental reform or their having heard about climate change in the news. But much of this is already  captured indirectly by political ideology in our model, which is one of the most important predictors of what a person reads and how much they support climate action. So, while there are many reasons people might want to tackle climate  change, being familiar with Greta Thunberg appears to have a unique influence on the extent to which they feel empowered to make a difference. 

But what if the Greta Thunberg Effect is actually operating the other way? Did we instead find that people who are already more likely to act on climate change are just more familiar with Greta Thunberg? We can’t be certain because this type of  study can’t prove cause and effect, it can only show associations. But statistical tests showed that this reverse explanation did not explain the data as well as our original one. Of course, reality may be more complex than what our models can capture. A positive feedback loop, where both explanations operate in tandem to  inspire climate action — is also possible. 

Future research can build on our findings using controlled experiments, but the patterns in our data at least suggest that Greta Thunberg is a particularly inspirational leader in part because she’s a convincing example that sudden, big change is possible.

Now, how can activists amplify their own impact? Considering how politicized climate change is, one answer might be appealing to people across  the political spectrum by highlighting aspects of their identity that they tend to  share with the wider public. The Greta Thunberg Effect suggests that calls to action may be able to mobilize broad segments of society, regardless of age or politics. 

We should talk about climate change. We don’t change what we never discuss. You can form local climate discussion groups to start the conversation, reach out, help  and support vulnerable people and take collective action. 

We need activism, not pessimism. It takes courage to focus on a positive and action-oriented approach. Go work for or volunteer with a local organization working on climate change issues.

Please reconsider piling your plates with excess food the next time you’re at a wedding or party. Currently, 40% of the food in Pakistan goes to waste while 43% of our population is considered food insecure. What most people don’t realize is  that food waste is also a big contributor to climate change. Methane (a powerful  greenhouse gas) is emitted from rotting food in landfills. You can also help by  donating excess food to a charity or initiatives like the Robinhood Army and ‘Rizq  that help redistribute it to the needy. 

Reiterating a cliché here, but it’s important: save energy. In a country like ours, where electricity supply is intermittent and already a luxury, we must be extra mindful and turn off lights and appliances when not in use. This can be as simple as unplugging your charger when your phone/laptop is fully charged. Plugged  devices still consume phantom power and add to your bill and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Write about and share your ideas and work. Every climate story (whether of  suffering or success) matters. It gives other people permission to share theirs. 

The list of recommendations shared here is in no way complete; it only serves as a reminder that climate action can be initiated at different scales. Taking action can also help with eco-anxiety (a new type of psychological condition where you feel  extremely worried about the worsening state of our planet and climate). 

Feeling anxious about the environmental crisis may not be a bad thing in small doses, if it motivates you to avoid the catastrophic future. Remember that a series of small steps implemented by many leads to a large impact and change. At this  point, we need everyone doing their part to deal with a problem as complex and imminent as climate change. 

We can plan and take shorter trips to the market, parks, and malls by combining  outings on a more weekly basis. We can turn the thermostats up more in the summer and down more in the winter to save more energy. Wear more clothes at  night when you go to sleep if you need to stay warmer. Socks really help. Reduce as much water-waste as you can. Do fewer dish loads, wash loads, lawn and plant watering. Take shorter showers. Try to save, store and eat all the food you buy. Freeze foods if possible. Consume easier on the environment foods like rice, beans  and wheat. They are all cheap, healthy and environmentally-friendly. EAT LESS  MEAT! Meat, especially beef, is creating a climate crisis all over the world. Our  underground aquifers are being drained and will never be replaced. Purchase more  efficient lighting bulbs like LED’s. Recycle the old, wasteful incandescent. Drive  more fuel-efficient vehicles with greater mileages. Diesels. Electrics. Upgrade your home with more renewable energies, like solar.

Invest in as much weatherization as you can afford. Insulate. New windows. If you  can afford it, upgrade to the most ENERGY STAR energy -efficient appliances. 

Inclusion and promotion of the youth has been prioritized by the government, culminating in such initiatives such as Clean Green Pakistan and the Prime  Minister’s Green Stimulus Programme. Reflecting this priority, during the launch of the survey and report, Mr. Malik Amin Aslam, Special Assistant to Prime Minister  said, “The incumbent government is very cognizant of this youth potential, and has  made it its top priority to engage youth in its developmental interventions.”

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