There are many awareness issues celebrated in April, but I would like to focus on just two – Autism Awareness Month and Earth Day (April 22) – and combine them through introducing you to my newfound heroine, Greta Thunberg.
Greta is a 16-year-old Swedish girl with Asperger’s, which is a developmental disorder on the Autism spectrum. She is a passionate environmentalist, with tremendous zeal and courage in communicating her agenda to politicians on a global scale. She is urging them to make an immediate and drastic change to current environmental policies so that we do not experience a human-induced environmental catastrophe in our lifetime.
Greta learned about the greenhouse effect in elementary school. It interested her so much that she started conducting research on her own. Eventually, Greta realized that the adults in charge of environmental policy refused to make policy changes to save our environment not because they didn’t have the necessary scientific information, but because of political inertia. Environmental policymakers were lackadaisical, apathetic, lethargic and nonchalant about the scientific information available to them to make change.
This realization was so devastating to Greta that she went into a deep depression. She stopped eating, speaking, and going to school as she lost hope for the future. Thank God Greta eventually realized that she did have something to live and fight for. She decided that even as an introvert with Asperger’s, she had a voice and she would use it. Greta says she was inspired by Rosa Parks, who too was introverted and quiet, but who nevertheless started a movement by sitting down and refusing to get up on that bus one day in Montgomery, Alabama.
Greta’s protest involves skipping school on Fridays to demonstrate peacefully outside the statehouse in Stockholm, Sweden. What began as one lone teenager has now become a worldwide phenomenon with its own hashtag #FridaysForFuture. Due to the impact of her work, Greta spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in 2018, and I encourage you to watch her inspiring speech here.
For Greta, having Asperger’s means her brain is wired differently than other teenagers her age; she sees things as back or white, and solutions are very obvious to her. She is not interested in usual teenage girl activities like partying, makeup and boys, but is very focused and determined to solve the problems that matter to her. Greta has become a vegan because of the impact that meat production has on the greenhouse effect and has asked her parents to follow suit. She has also stopped flying and chooses to take the train instead – even for international meetings and speaking engagements – because fossil fuel emissions from airplanes are devastating to the environment. And she has convinced her mother, who is a famous opera singer, to stop flying all over Europe to give concerts and become home-based in Stockholm. This is indeed practicing what you preach!
Greta speaks with no religious overtones that I can detect, but the words from Psalm 24:1 come to mind when I think of her work: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”
My question for you today is, what are you doing to protect the earth? Are you a good steward of our planet’s resources? Are you trying to live a sustainable lifestyle by reducing, reusing and recycling? Are you eating less meat and more vegetables? Do you turn off the water when brushing your teeth, buy fuel-efficient cars, opt for e-receipts, use cloth grocery bags, or decrease your use of plastic bottles and straws?
I invite us all to make 2019 the year where we commit to taking better care of OUR earth. Where we become more informed about our environment and how to love it better, and worry less about what “they” are doing and begin to understand that change begins with us.
I will end with a quote by our 26th president Theodore Roosevelt, from his speech “Conservation as a National Duty, given at the White House in 1908:
“We have become great in a material sense because of our lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation. These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight; we have to, as a nation, exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!”
Here’s to the bright future that I believe we can all create through collectively deciding to be better stewards of our planet.