[Vision2020] Guardian 6-29-19: When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez met Greta Thunberg: 'Hope is contagious'
starbliss at gmail.com
Tue Jul 9 18:21:13 PDT 2019
Beautiful Dreamers! But they know what they facing in advocating for the
dramatic changes needed to prevent extreme climate change, thus I do not
think they are naive.
Conversation copied below absent (I hope) annoying advertisements.
Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett
One is America’s youngest-ever congresswoman, the other a Swedish
schoolgirl. Two of the most powerful voices on the climate speak for the
by Emma Brockes <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/emmabrockes>
In the course of their conversation, Ocasio-Cortez and Thunberg discuss
what it is like to be dismissed for their age, how depressed we should be
about the future, and what tactics, as an activist, really work.
Ocasio-Cortez speaks with her customary snap and brilliance that, held up
against the general waffle of political discourse, seems startlingly
direct. Thunberg, meanwhile, is phenomenally articulate, well-informed and
self-assured, holding her own in conversation with an elected official
nearly twice her age and speaking in deliberate, thoughtful English. They
are, in some ways, as different as two campaigners can get – the politician
working the system with Washington polish, and the teenager in her socks
and leggings, working from her bedroom to reach the rest of the world.
There is something very moving about the conversation between these young
women, a sense of generational rise that, as we know from every precedent
from the Renaissance onwards, has the power to ignite movements and change
A*lexandria Ocasio-Cortez* It’s such an honour to meet you!
*Greta Thunberg* You, too!
*AOC* Thank you. I’m so excited to be having this conversation. I remember
first hearing your speech a few months ago – I was hanging out with a
friend in Harlem, who said, “Have you listened to this young woman?” And I
heard your speech and was thrilled, because here in the United States, even
when I was running, people were saying there’s no need to convey this kind
of urgency [about the climate], and it’s radical, and it’s unnecessary. To
hear you articulate the belief that I’ve had as well is so exciting and
validating. So I wanted to thank you for your work and your advocacy.
*GT* Thank you so much for standing up and offering hope to so many people,
even here in Sweden <https://www.theguardian.com/world/sweden>.
*AOC* One of the things I’m interested in hearing from you is that often
people say, “Don’t politicise young people.” It’s almost a taboo. That to
have someone as young as you coming out in favour of political positions is
manipulative or wrong. I find it very condescending, as though, especially
in this day and age with the access to information we have, you can’t form
your own opinions and advocate for yourself. I’m interested in how you
approach that – if anyone brings that up with you?
*GT* That happens all the time. That’s basically all I hear. The most
common criticism I get is that I’m being manipulated and you shouldn’t use
children in political ways, because that is abuse, and I can’t think for
myself and so on. And I think that is so annoying! I’m also allowed to have
a say – why shouldn’t I be able to form my own opinion and try to change
But I’m sure you hear that a lot, too; that you’re too young and too
inexperienced. When I see all the hate you receive for that, I honestly
can’t believe how you manage to stay so strong.
*AOC* I think the thing that people sometimes don’t realise is that here in
the United States, because of the gap between the rich and the poor, people
really identify Wall Street as a very potent political force. With our
rules, politicians are allowed to accept campaign contributions on a level
that is probably beyond what happens in other parts of the world.
But what people don’t recognise is how strong the fossil fuel lobby is. The
Koch brothers in the US have essentially purchased
entire Republican party, but people forget they made their money off oil
and gas. That is where their fortune comes from. And I think that’s what
we’re up against. So the severity of the pushback indicates the power that
we are challenging. You can look at that with despair, or you can look at
it with hope. That’s how strong we are: we’re so strong that we’re able to
take this on credibly and actually build a movement against it.
*GT* Yes, I mean, the oil lobby is huge in the US, and we also have that
kind of lobby in Sweden. Not as much, but...
*AOC* What is the most effective tactic in gaining attention for the
environmental movement? What have you done, or what have been the practices
that have been most galvanising?
*GT* I think this whole movement in which I just sat down in front of the
I think that had a huge impact, because people saw it and were moved, and
became emotional. Millions of children around the world, striking and
saying, “Why should we study for a future that may not exist any more?”
This is not only me, but everyone in the movement.
*AOC* Another question I have for you is that a lot of people talk about
Sweden and other Nordic countries as an inspiration. People say that
[advanced thinking around the climate crisis] could never happen in the US,
because we’re a multiracial democracy – the fact that Sweden and other
places are more homogenous means they’re able to get along better. That
because of the racial diversity here, and issues with immigration and so
on, there’s no way we can come together in order to combat this. I’m
interested in what you say in response to that.
*GT* Many people, especially in the US, see countries like Sweden or Norway
or Finland as role models – we have such a clean energy sector, and so on.
That may be true, but we are not role models. Sweden is one of the top 10
countries in the world when it comes to the highest ecological
to the WWF
if you count the consumer index, then we are among the worst per capita.
In Sweden, the most common argument that we shouldn’t act is that we are
such a small country with only 10 million inhabitants – we should focus
more on helping other countries. That is so incredibly frustrating, because
why should we argue about who or what needs to change first? Why not take
the leading role?
*AOC* We hear the same exact argument here. And this is the United States
of America! People say, “Well, we should wait for China to do something.”
There’s this political culture of people trying to say America First – that
the US is the best nation in the world, yet at the same time they’re
saying, “Well, China’s not doing it, why should we?”
And I think it’s the same argument: are we going to choose to lead, or are
we going to sit on our hands? It seems as if they take pride in leading on
fracking, on being the number one in oil, in consumption, in single-use
plastics. But they don’t seem to want to take pride in leading on the
environment and leading for our children.
*GT* Yes. I mean, countries like Sweden or the US, since we are rich
countries, need to go first. Because people in poor countries need to be
able to raise their standard of living. We have a duty to lead when we
already have, basically, everything.
*AOC* Yes. People think of leadership as this glamorous, powerful thing. To
be a leader is to come first, to set the agenda. But what people don’t
realise is that leadership is also enormously difficult. Leadership is a
responsibility. Leadership is not fun. Leadership is about doing things
before anybody else does them. Leadership is about taking risks. Leadership
is about taking decisions when you don’t know 100% what the outcome is
going to be.
It’s enormously easy to follow – it’s the easiest thing in the world. And
there are detriments to following. You are too late. You do not control
your destiny. You are not in control, period. You are often under the thumb
of someone else. But it is enormously easy because you don’t have to
determine the future. It seems as if, really, it’s a decision on whether
we’re going to lead or not.
I wonder what, to you, is encouraging, and what keeps you going? There’s a
school of thought – I personally disagree with it – that says if you
educate people too much [about the climate] they’re going to think it’s too
late and they’re going to wallow in despair and not act at all. So I’m
curious, given how daunting the issue is, why aren’t you so filled with
despair that you’re staying on your couch every day, and just waiting for
the apocalypse? *[Laughs]*
*GT* Before I started school striking, I was like that. I was so depressed
and I didn’t want to do anything, basically. But what I find encouraging is
having all these people who are fighting on different sides in different
ways, to create a better future and to make us avoid catastrophic climate
The school-striking children, when I see them – that is very hopeful. And
also the fact that people are very unaware of the climate crisis. I mean,
people aren’t continuing like this and not doing anything because they are
evil, or because they don’t want to. We aren’t destroying the biosphere
because we are selfish. We are doing it simply because we are unaware. I
think that is very hopeful, because once we know, once we realise, then we
change, then we act.
*AOC* I had a similar tipping point, although it had more to do with income
inequality. Many people know that several years ago I was working in a
restaurant, and I had gone to college, and I had worked on so many things,
but my family had fallen in to a lot of misfortune – my father had gotten
sick and so on. And I was working in this restaurant and I would go, day in
and day out, and I was so depressed. I felt so powerless, and as though
there was nothing I could do that could effectively counter the enormous
number of societal structures that are designed in the US to keep the
working class poor, and to keep the rich, richer.
I was really wallowing in despair for a while: what do I do? Is this my
life? Just showing up, working, knowing that things are so difficult, then
going home and doing it again. And I think what was profoundly liberating
was engaging in my first action – when I went to Standing Rock, in the
Dakotas, to fight against a fracking pipeline. It seemed impossible at the
time. It was just normal people, showing up, just standing on the land to
prevent this pipeline from going through. And it made me feel extremely
powerful, even though we had nothing, materially – just the act of standing
up to some of the most powerful corporations in the world.
>From there I learned that hope is not something that you have. Hope is
something that you create, with your actions. Hope is something you have to
manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be
contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope.
*GT* Yeah. I know so many people who feel hopeless, and they ask me, “What
should I do?” And I say: “Act. Do something.” Because that is the best
medicine against sadness and depression. I remember the first day I was
school-striking outside the Swedish parliament, I felt so alone, because
everyone went straight past, no one even looked at me. But at the same time
I was hopeful.
*AOC* It’s true that people don’t know when those small actions can
manifest into something. I’ve seen it even in office. There’s so much
cynicism about, how powerful can this be? Just me showing up?
I think sometimes we’re so obsessed with measurement. What does me standing
outside of parliament with a sign do? It doesn’t lower any carbon emissions
immediately. It doesn’t change any laws directly. But what it does is make
powerful people feel something, and people underestimate the power of that.
It is becoming harder and harder for elected officials to look people in
Just this morning I was sent a picture of an older gentleman from the
midwest, which has just seen some catastrophic flooding
we’re starting to see flooding in the US where there was never flooding
before. In the midwest there’s a disaster package that’s not getting
passed, and he was just there with a sign saying, “Do you care about me?”
He stood outside the congressional building, knowing that members are going
to have to pass him by, and it’s very much inspired, I would say, by the
actions that you’ve taken.
The biggest weapon people have is to try to make you think that you don’t
matter. It is to say, “This doesn’t change anything.” Because if you can
convince people that it doesn’t matter, then they won’t do it and people
can go on as though it’s business as usual. We are no longer at the point
of preventing [climate disaster] from happening entirely – we are now at
the point of minimising the damage. And as these floods and storms are
here, I think more and more people are going to be willing to stand up for
*GT* I have a question. I have heard about how bad the situation is in the
US with climate denialism, but I find it very hard to believe. It’s bad
here in Sweden – but I have seen reports of how little the US media
mentions the climate crisis and how it is treated. How bad is it really?
*AOC* I would say that it has historically been very, very bad. But it’s
actually getting much better.
In the 1970s, Exxon
internal science that not only definitively proved that climate change was
but they themselves, the oil company, invested in modelling to see how bad
it was going to be. Some of their models were so sophisticated that, back
in the 70s, they were predicting
weather patterns as far out as 2012 – and many of them were accurate. They
knew exactly what was happening.
So what they did, starting the year I was born, around 1989, was to start
funding a lot of media and lobbying campaigns
They knew they couldn’t fund campaigns outright saying climate change is
not real. But they could fund campaigns sowing confusion. So they would run
campaigns saying we need to see more science, to sow doubt around the
consensus. For a very long time it worked, and it got very bad. We came
very close to acting on the climate in 1989
but the lobbying was so powerful that they effectively prevented action –
we had almost 40% of Republican voters not believing that climate change
was settled fact.
But I think because of our advocacy and our movement, those numbers have
been dropping precipitously in just the last few years. And in the last
year especially, with our push for a Green New Deal, connecting everything
that is happening to climate change. People who cover increasingly worse
hurricanes as though they are accidents, or just things that happen – now,
every time a storm comes, we talk about climate change. The other piece of
it is not just acknowledging that it’s real, but prioritising it as a top
issue. We just received some very encouraging numbers yesterday – a year or
two years ago, only 20% of Democratic voters, the more liberal voters in
the country, saw climate change as a top issue. With our action, and the
youth organising that’s going on now, it has surged. We’ve seen in very
early voting states, something like 70% of Democratic voters think that a
Green New Deal should be a top issue, and that they would support
candidates who support it, and not supporting it is a red flag for many
voters. I think we’re moving, but it takes this radical action to move it.
We have historically had an issue with media coverage of the climate crisis
– I think they don’t realise that not covering it is just as bad as denying
it. We have issues because much of our media is profit-driven, and if it
doesn’t drive ratings they will not cover it as much. But we simply don’t
have a choice. We have to do this.
*GT* I saw very recent numbers, I think it was yesterday, that suggested
about 2% of Sweden’s population don’t believe in the climate crisis. Here
it’s not as acceptable to not believe in it. Everyone accepts that it’s a
fact. But still we aren’t talking about it, and it’s not a priority. We are
just treating it like any other issue.
*AOC* Why do you think young people have been more powerful and persuasive
on this issue, in particular?
*GT* Many reasons, but I think the main one is that it is our future that
is at risk. Most of us know that this is going to affect us in our
lifetimes – it’s not just something that might happen in the future. It’s
already here and it’s going to get worse, and many of us understand that
this is going to make our lives much worse. And also that as young people,
we aren’t as used to the system. We don’t say, “It’s always been like this,
we can’t change anything.”
*AOC* I’ve always said to people that youth is a mindset. And young people,
we tend to come in and almost take that mindset for granted because as you
said, we haven’t seen the world before, this is our first path, and so we
have a tendency to question all of the nonsensical things that have just
gone on for reasons of outdated logic. I have three- and four-year-old
nieces and nephews, and they’re always asking, “Why, why, why, why?” For a
lot of people it can be somewhat irritating. But I think sometimes it’s
irritating because they don’t have the answers.
You can be much older and still part of a youth movement, if you refuse to
do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. I believe
that young people just have a natural distillation of the world that is so
pure. I’ve always felt that social movements, and youth movements in
particular, should continue to be the moral compass that guides our vision.
*GT* Yes, it always reminds me a lot of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Everyone
believes in this lie, that only a child dares to question.
*AOC* Right. When I was first running [for office], people often mocked me
as a child. I’m much older than you! But I was still very young for someone
who was running for such a powerful seat. People would say, “But don’t you
know this is how it’s always been done? He has so much money, and power.
There’s no reason you should challenge someone in your own party – we
should challenge people in other parties.” And so on and so forth. And they
were all veiled ways of saying I was too inexperienced, too naive, too
young, and too powerless.
I think the mere refusal to accept that can change our world. That’s
exactly what you’ve done.
*GT* I think we’ve both done that.
*Thunberg says that she is planning to **travel to the US in August, so **she
can attend the UN Climate Action summit on 23 September
*GT* I don’t fly for climate reasons so it’s not 100% yet, but we are
figuring it out. It’s very hard, but I think it should be possible.
*AOC* That’s incredible. I’m so excited to follow that. Let us know how we
can help from over here. I think one of the things that we need to start
communicating is that this a global struggle, and it’s not about what is
Sweden doing, and what is the US doing – it’s about what are all of us
doing, as one movement? I think the power of that is very real. I wish you
well, and I know many members of Congress who would be thrilled to meet you.
*GT* Thank you so much.
*AOC* Thank *you* so much, Greta. Be sure to let us know when you have an
arrival date. If you land in New York, we will give you a Queens’ welcome!
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