Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg says that we can combat the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis simultaneously.

The world needs to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and climate change simultaneously, and guard against people who try to use the current crisis to delay action on cutting carbon emissions, Greta Thunberg has urged.

The Swedish climate activist, who revealed last week that she and her father are likely to have had covid-19, said the response to the outbreak revealed societal shortcomings, as well as our ability to change in the face of a crisis, but had also proved that we are able to act fast.

“If one virus can wipe out the entire economy in a matter of weeks and shut down societies, then that is a proof that our societies are not very resilient. It also shows that once we are in an emergency, we can act and we can change our behaviour quickly,” she said in a conversation on New Scientist‘s Big Interview podcast.

Some politicians have called for climate action to be put on hold while governments grapple with the coronavirus, with the Czech Republic’s prime minister Andrej Babiš saying the European Union should “forget about the Green Deal now”.

Thunberg said: “People will try to use this emergency as an excuse not to act on the climate crisis, and that we have to be very careful for.” She said she understood the emergency the world was facing now, but it wasn’t an excuse to shelve action on emissions.

“People don’t want to hear about the climate crisis [now]. I completely understand that, but we have to make sure that it’s not forgotten. We need to treat both of these crises at the same time, because the climate crisis will not go away,” she said.

The campaigner and the Fridays for Future movement, which she kick-started with her first school strike in 2018, have made their weekly protests virtual during the pandemic.

Students have been good at staying off the streets, said Thunberg, and although young people tend to have milder symptoms of the disease, “we still stand in solidarity with those in risk groups and I think that is a very beautiful thing.”

Thunberg has had mild symptoms of covid-19, with some tiredness and a cough, but said that the more intense ones that her father experienced fit with the symptoms of the illness exactly. Neither have been tested, as Sweden is only testing the most severe cases.

2019 was incredible for Thunberg: she was nominated for the Nobel peace prize, travelled to North America and back by boat and addressed world leaders at the United Nations in New York.

The 17-year old said she always found herself going back to the science of climate change in her speeches because it wasn’t something that could be contested. “It’s not something you can have different opinions in, it’s just pure science. In that sense, it’s very much black and white.”

She has focused on the “carbon budgets” put forward by the UN climate science panel in 2018, which attempt to estimate the carbon emissions that can be released into the atmosphere without breaching global warming thresholds, such as 1.5°C and 2°C rises in temperature. She said these budgets are insufficient because they don’t account for tipping points, such as the collapse of ice sheets in West Antarctica, but are still the “most reliable roadmaps” humanity has.

Thunberg said she has taken heart from small successes, including the rejection of expanding an airport in Bristol, UK, and rewilding projects. But she noted that the bigger picture of steadily rising global emissions was negative: “Yes, we need to see the victories, but we can’t only focus on the victories because we close our eyes to the actual crisis.”

Criticism from politicians, including Donald Trump, was a “milestone”, she said. “We need to see that as a victory, when they criticise us like that. But also it’s just so hilarious when grown-ups like that feel so threatened by children.”

Thunberg said she was frustrated that media coverage focused on her rather than the many other young climate activists around the world, but she understood it. Her rise as a public figure has been “very hard” for her parents, she said, because they saw both the positive and negative sides of it. One of their key influences on her was “to always think of others and to be a humanitarian”, she said.

On her life after education, Thunberg hopes the world will have taken serious action on carbon emissions so she can pursue a job other than as a climate activist. “All I know is that I want to do something and I want to be somewhere where I can make the most difference, try to make the world a better place, but I don’t know where that will be,” she said.

Original source: https://www.newscientist.com/

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