At the end of each calendar year the Oxford Dictionary and TIME magazine reveal their choice for Word and Person of the Year. Typically the two have nothing in common with one another. Not so this year. If we didn’t know otherwise, we could imagine that the two publications were in cahoots with one another as they came to their final decisions for 2019. As it turns out, the word to person pairing is as classic as peanut butter and jelly.
The announcement this week of the teen age Swedish climate activist, Great Thunberg, as TIME’s Person of the Year on the heels of Oxford Dictionary’s earlier announcement of Climate Emergency as their Word of the Year is as perfect a combo as a climate justice activist could hope for. [Note: Collins Dictionary named climate strike, the word of the year.] Coincidentally, the day on which this post is written is also the concluding day of COP 25, the final United Nations “climate summit” of the decade.
It turns out that TIME’s timing was impeccable, for on the day it named her it’s Person of the Year, Greta also addressed world leaders and diplomats at the summit. One of the world leaders that did not hear her address was the President of the United States who in November had already proudly withdrawn our nation from the Paris Climate Accord (of 2015). Nevertheless, he could not keep from tweeting from the oval office his disdain for Greta. The very next day he took to cyber bullying the 16 year old with Aspberger syndrome (on the autism spectrum disorder) who single handedly inspired a global youth climate movement. This was two days after Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro had branded her a “little brat.” (In both cases, Thunberg responded by making the verbal barbs part of her Twitter bio.).
Greta, herself, looks at her disability as a “superpower.” [Hint: Don’t fail to click that link!] It enables her, unlike so many others, to laser focus on the facts of the greatest threat to life on earth (the Climate Emergency), sound the alarm and persistently urge people in power to actually do something about it post-haste. That was her MO once again as she addressed the summit this week, laying out the facts and pounding home the science: “We no longer have time to leave out the science. For about a year, I have been constantly talking about our rapidly declining carbon budgets, over and over again. But since that is still being ignored, I will just keep repeating it.”
Had Presidents of the USA, Bolivia and a few other nations listened to Greta’s address at COP 25, these are some of the highlights they would have heard from the Person of the Year about the Word of the Year:
- “In chapter 2, on page 108, in the SR 1.5 IPCC report that came out last year, it says that if we are to have a 67% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we had on Jan. 1, 2018, 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit in that budget.”
- “And of course, that number is much lower today, as we emit about 42 gigatons of CO2 every year, including land use. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining budget will be gone within about 8 years.” [That point is visually illustrated by the Carbon Clock created by Germany’s Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.]
- “The approximate 67% chance budget is the one with the highest odds given by the IPCC. And now we have less than 340 gigatons of CO2 left to emit in that budget to share fairly. And why is it so important to stay below 1.5 degrees? Because even at 1 degree, people are dying from the climate crisis. Because that is what the united science calls for to avoid destabilizing the climate, so that we have the best possible chance to avoid setting off irreversible chain reactions, such as melting glaciers, polar ice and thawing arctic permafrost. Every fraction of a degree matters.” [The IPCC 1.5 report found that average global temperature rise of 2 C, compared to 1.5 C, would expose 420 million more people to severe heatwaves and 10 million more to risks brought by rising seas, while nearly wiping out all the world’s coral reef and expanding Arctic summers without sea ice to once per decade, compared to once a century. The planet has already warmed 1 C since the late 1800s, and is on pace to reach 3 C by the end of the century. An analysis by the Washington Post this year found about 20% of the planet has already warmed by 1.5 C.]
“So there it is again,” Thunberg said. “This is my message. This is what I want you to focus on.” She added: “So please tell me, how do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic? How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this without feeling the slightest bit of anger? And how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know.”
Better yet, why not watch the Person of the Year deliver her full address by clicking HERE.
“Thunberg is not a leader of any political party or advocacy group. She is neither the first to sound the alarm about the climate crisis nor the most qualified to fix it. She is not a scientist or a politician. She has no access to traditional levers of influence: she’s not a billionaire or a princess, a pop star or even an adult. She is an ordinary teenage girl who, in summoning the courage to speak truth to power, became the icon of a generation. By clarifying an abstract danger with piercing outrage, Thunberg became the most compelling voice on the most important issue facing the planet.”
In the face of the reality of the 2019 Word of the Year (Climate Emergency) we are challenged entering a new decade to emulate the 2019 Person of the Year and “Make the World GRETA Again!”
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.” ~ Greta
“But this was the year the climate crisis went from behind the curtain to center stage, from ambient political noise to squarely on the world’s agenda, and no one did more to make that happen than Thunberg.” ~ TIME’s Editor-in-Chief