Real News climate correspondents Dharna Noor and Dimitri Lascaris discuss the UN Climate Summit, the past week’s climate justice demonstrations, Greta Thunberg’s presence and attacks against her, and the promise of this movement.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner.
The Real News is part of a consortium of media groups called Cover Climate Now. It was co-founded by The Nation, the Columbia Journalism Review in partnership with The Guardian newspaper. Our climate bureau team, led by correspondents Dharna Noor and Dimitri Lascaris, who is also a Real News board member, covered this week’s demonstrations that were part of a global climate strike initiative created by FridaysForFuture. Millions took part in thousands of demonstrations across the globe. The UN held a UN Climate Youth forum. What happened this week and what does it portend for the struggle to save our planet and our future? We’re joined by our Real News Climate Bureau team members, two of them anyway, Dharna Noor and Dimitri Lascaris. And good to have you both with us.
DHARNA NOOR: Thanks for having us.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you.
MARC STEINER: So let me just begin with the very top of the news here, and that’s Greta Thunberg. And let’s just start with that and then we’ll move onto the other issues. Let’s look at this quick montage of the speech that went viral and seemed to grab the world’s attention.
GRETA THUNBERG: You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. 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 money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you? You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.
MARC STEINER: So let me begin, Dharna, I’ll go to you first and then Dimitri, please chime right in. I want to talk a bit about the power of this moment. Not just Greta Thunberg, who’s become the public face of this, but this week has really sent a message. It’s been a very powerful movement week across this country and across the globe. So I’m just wondering if you could reflect on that for a moment for us and see what this week has meant.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, absolutely. I think overall, the climate summit at the UN was disappointing, but I think one thing that I found really, really powerful not just from the summit, but also from the weekend prior was the power of these youth movements that are really raising expectations of climate leaders and civic leaders who are making climate policy. Like you said, Marc, on Friday there was a youth-led climate strike that brought over four million people to the streets in 150 countries. We’ve never seen anything like that before. This time they asked adults to join in too. I was at the one here in New York.
And I think when Greta Thunberg speaks, she’s not just speaking for herself. She’s speaking on behalf of a movement with hundreds of youth-led organizations who are really saying, “not only are we not going to believe you anymore when you say that you’re going to lower emissions by 50% by 2070 or whatever, we’re also going to ask more than that. We’re also going to ask for something better than something like a carbon tax or cap and trade that has not been shown to really lower emissions. We’re going to ask for more than market-based solutions and technical fixes like geoengineering. We’re going to ask for things that actually take the problem with the seriousness that it deserves.”
“We need solutions at the scale of the problem,” I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said. So really powerful moment. I watched it at the UN summit in a big media tent with a whole bunch of TVs and a whole bunch of other reporters and it was like everything just stopped. Time just stopped, everyone stopped running around and just stared at her on the screen giving this really important and damning speech.
MARC STEINER: That’s amazing. Everybody stopped and watched that. We were riveted to this across the globe and across this country as well. And Dimitri, talk about your reflections on that and also how that fit into what you saw analytically with the UN Climate Summit itself.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: For me personally, Marc, I’ve now watched that speech three times and every time I’ve watched it, to me it’s heartbreaking. Because I have two children who are a little bit older than Greta Thunberg and they’re becoming increasingly anxious about the climate crisis. And I’m feeling increasingly powerless as a parent and a father to protect them because forces are at work here that seem to be beyond our control. But what I think is most encouraging about this week is that there’s been a shift in tactics.
Dharna talked about the size and number of the protests around the world. That’s certainly important and remarkable. But this week they actually turned their initiative into a strike. And the problem that we confront is that the people within positions of power and influence in this world are blocking action to resolve the climate crisis. And the way you get their attention is by hurting them in the pocketbook. And so what the climate movement is now doing is it’s literally bringing economies to a halt for periods of time. And this was a very, very small taste of what can actually be done.
But when we actually bring the economy to a halt in major economies around the world and we do it repeatedly for significant periods of time and the people in positions of wealth and power begin to feel the effects of that personally and financially, I think then we’re going to start to see some real change. For the moment, we haven’t. This climate summit, I was at COP 21 where they signed the Paris Climate Accord, for the Real News. I was at COP 23 two years later in Marrakesh. And having been at now three major UN-sponsored climate conferences, I have the impression that the vast majority of world leaders view this as nothing more than a marketing opportunity, a way to burnish their credentials as champions in the climate change fight. I’ll give you one example. I was in the UN General Assembly yesterday. I must’ve seen 15 leaders come up to the podium. And every single one of them without exception talked about their credentials as champions in the climate fight without mentioning any of the things that they’re doing in order to undermine the battle.
And the last person who spoke was the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who was crowing about the fact that in 2028, in a decade, they’re going to stop producing energy from lignite in Greece, which is like coal. What he didn’t say, and what many know, and what the mainstream media isn’t talking about is that the Greek government is actively promoting offshore drilling in the Aegean Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean. And the same thing is true of Turkey. Erdogan spoke in the General Assembly yesterday. He was crowing about the number of trees they planted in Turkey, but he’s deployed his navy offshore of Cyprus in order to secure control over offshore oil deposits and begin drilling there. So the fact of the matter is that these leaders are talking out of both sides of their mouth and until they and those who influence their policy making— namely people of wealth and power— feel the economic effects of this immediately, we’re not going to see, I have to say, the kind of dramatic changes that we need.
MARC STEINER: Dharna, before I show this other clip, do you have anything to add to that?
DHARNA NOOR: I agree that I think it’s really important that we shift to trying to hit governments and corporations where it hurts, which is in the pockets. I do think that the strike movement has a lot of potential. I will say that I think most of the folks who participated in this strike were not—In order to have a real strike of that nature, and I talked with Jane McLeavy about this recently. I think there’s going to have to be a lot more of a concerted effort to really bring workers movements and unions and non-unionized workers into this fight. But I do think that it’s important that we’re taking this on and that kids are taking this on with that tactic in mind. In terms of using the UN summit as a marketing opportunity, yeah, absolutely. I think we saw that from lots and lots of people. It’s really easy to do that especially these days because the standards for so many of these leaders are so low. Trump showed up to the summit for 14 minutes, which was a joke. And it’s funny and horrible or whatever.
But the problem then is that anything you do that’s more than show up for 14 minutes makes you look like a hero. The Prime Minister of China, who didn’t speak himself, but had a representative there made a dig at Trump and said “at least we showed up. At least we’re sticking to our promises that we made in the Paris Climate Accord.” But everyone knows, anyone who’s been paying attention to this for any amount of time knows that that is nowhere near good enough to avoid catastrophe. So I think by raising our expectations, we also need to remember that we need to raise our expectations beyond what middling politicians are putting forth and really demand something transformative.
MARC STEINER: So as we close here, I want to show this very quick montage from Fox News attacking Greta Thunberg. But it’s more than just attacking her. This is about doublespeak and what the opposition is doing. We’ll close with this.
MICHAEL KNOWLES, FOX NEWS: The climate hysteria movement is not about science. If it were about science, it would be led by scientists rather than by politicians and a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international Left.
GRETA THUNBERG: The world is waking up, and change is coming whether you like it or not.
MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS: Anyone else find that chilling?
“CHILD OF CORN” CLIP: A time of tribulation has come. A test is at hand. The final test.
MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS: I can’t wait for Stephen King’s sequel “Children of the Climate.”
MARC STEINER: So if you take that and you take some of these images that’ve been popping up around the internet from the conservative media and other places making this tantamount to Nazis, that she’s being used as Nazis used children, and all the things have been popping up on the net. And then you layer that in with the efforts of Big Oil and others to push back here in a more subtle way to all of this. Talk about what the coming struggle means after these demonstrations and the summit are over, and what all this portends for the future. Dimitri, just in case we have to dash quickly, let me let you start first and then we’ll conclude with Dharna.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: I think the real irony here, Marc, is that when virtually the entire scientific community is telling us and has been telling us for decades that we are heading down a path of rendering this planet largely unlivable for the human species and countless other species. And that the situation is spinning out of control. And you are, through the dissemination of that kind of propaganda, blocking public support for action to deal with the climate crisis, I think it’s fair to say that you’re the one who’s mentally unstable. I’m reminded of the phrase that Noam Chomsky recently uttered in talking about the leadership of the Republican Party. When he made this comment, he was talking largely about the Republican Party’s fanatical opposition to any kind of meaningful action on the climate crisis. He called them criminally insane. I think they actually would potentially fall within the definition of criminal insanity, these people. They are leading us down the path of extinction. And if that is not radicalism, if that’s not extremism, if that isn’t mental instability, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, however though, I think that these sneers, because that’s what they are, of somebody as honorable and extraordinary as Greta Thunberg, are going to backfire. People are starting to see through this, and particularly young people are starting to see through this. They’re not buying it and I think they’re going to end up alienating more of the youth than they would’ve in the past and sway far fewer of them than they will. Because the evidence is accumulating before our eyes. A part of the Bahamas was literally obliterated by a hurricane just two weeks ago. A category five storm just sat there stationary for an excess of 24 hours and laid waste to that island. These kinds of things are unavoidable. They can’t escape our consciousness anymore. That’s how near to our day to day existence the climate crisis is becoming. So I think ultimately the Fox News propagandists of this world are going to fail.
MARC STEINER: Dharna?
DHARNA NOOR: I guess I’ll just add to that by saying a lot of these conservative critics have been saying that part of the problem with Greta Thunberg’s speech and her generally is that she’s making an environmental crisis unnecessarily political, which is just absurd to me. If there’s anything that politics have dictated, it’s the climate crisis. As seen by, as she said, the fact that the people who are suffering most are already the most vulnerable. These are crises that line up together and combine for an even worse effect. People who are suffering economically, people who are the subject of racism and colonialism are suffering worse at the hands of fossil fuel companies and other industries. So to say that she’s wrong to make this a political crisis is kind of incredible because obviously there are people who are profiting off of this. And it’s going to take real politics and real economic action in order to change that model.
Just a comment on the—I think it’s incredible to see that people have been saying that because she wore two braids in her hair they’re likening her to a Nazi as though the Nazis were so fond of Communists, which is something else that they’re calling her. More generally, I agree with Dimitri that we’re going to need to see this kind of action on a bigger level in order to really see it mean anything. Something like a climate action summit at the UN is probably not going to come out with any of the solutions that any of us are looking to see. But I think kids are taking other tactics and seeing what they can do, too. Yesterday Thunberg and 15 other kids from 12 different countries, I believe, also essentially said that they were filing an official complaint with the United Nations, the Rights of the Child. They had this big press conference at UNICEF yesterday and basically said “we’re suing all of these governments essentially because we’re not being given our right to life and our right to pursue life.” So while, again, I think that the UN summit was not anything on the scale of what we need, there were some glimmers there of what it would look like if we really did take this thing as seriously as we need to.
MARC STEINER: Well, Dharna Noor and Dimitri Lascaris, I want to thank the two of you and our Climate Bureau and all the people who put these programs together this week for us. Great work, this is an important discussion. Obviously, we’re going to keep pushing this really hard to save our future and our planet and our children. Thank you both so much for the work you do, for being with us today. Travel safe and we’ll talk soon.
DHARNA NOOR: Thanks.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Marc.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. You know we’re going to stay on top of this for all of us. We have to. Take care.