Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Photo courtesy Shane Balkowitsch
"Standing For Us All," the iconic wet-plate-process ambrotype photograph taken of Greta Thunberg by Shane Balkowitsch in North Dakota, on Tuesday 5 October 2019, graced myriad magazine covers, including this HPR one--and the original photo is now in DC's Library of Congress.
By Alfred Robert Hogan
“I am Greta.”
I am also Luisa Marie Neubauer, Vanessa Nakate, Holly Gillibrand, Massimo Paciotto-Biggers, Arshak Makichyan, Howey Ou, Tokata Iron Eyes, Autumn Peltier, Helena Gualinga, and Licypriya Kangujam.
Invoking the famous “I am Spartacus” 1960 film scene, with the late great actor Kirk Douglas and others, I too am a climate advocate, in sync with all those wonderful young activists. However, I most closely identify with ace teen environmental champion and fellow vegan Greta Thunberg. Though she and I were born 43 years apart, in Stockholm and Boston respectively, we “kindred spirits” share an uncanny Venn diagram overlap of interests, values, perspectives, and even disabilities, or as she calls them, her “superpowers.” Our clear-eyed 20/20 vision is neither mired by sellout compromises nor enmeshed in the social games so many seem quite fond of.
Again and again, Greta has robustly challenged the movers-and-shakers, like those private jet-setters who gathered at the swanky annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2020: our house is still on fire, and if that is not abundant reason to constructively panic, neither she nor I can fathom whyever not. Ever brilliant and blunt, the self-described “science nerd” urged her audiences to promptly end their investments in fossil fuels—in 2020, not in 2021, or in 2022, or in some other elusive far-off fuzzy future. Back at the Stockholm global climate strike march on Valentine’s Day 2020, she reiterated those demands. Then, the serious COVID-19 pandemic, probably linked to horrific animal agriculture practices in Wuhan, China, slowed the world down for two years or so.
Greta's latest magnificent masterpiece, her new, just-published, two-year-long "pandemic project" book aptly titled The Climate Book, collects powerful explanatory essays from some 100 climate scientists, climate activists, and climate thinkers, from all around the world. And as she has so often done before, she spot-on calls for new media, new politics, new economics, and new society.
Yet, for more than 65 years, U.S. politicians have shamefully and shamelessly ignored such calls. In November 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson received an environmental report researched over 15 months by a science advisory panel chaired by Prof. John W. Tukey, which included the section “Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuels—the Invisible Pollutant.” Yet, rather than acting, LBJ and that Congress essentially shrugged—as did, to varying degrees, all their Republican and Democrat successors. In July 1977, presidential science advisor Dr. Frank Press sent a confidential memo to his boss, POTUS Jimmy Carter, warning about the prospective trend line of global warming and fossil fuels. Carter read that memo--yet failed to act, urgently or otherwise. And Carter was the most STEM-oriented POTUS since Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, back in the early 19th century. While Carter did take the energy crisis rather seriously, addressing Congress on the subject as promised, three months into office, he did basically nothing on the looming No. 1 climate crisis/6th mass extinction.
Sadly, committing to fully de-addicting the USA from coal, oil, and gas, even on a gradual 10-year plan, could have set a world-inspiring example. But instead, fossil fuels usage skyrocketed. And the Keeling atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a key bellwether measurement, soared past the maximum safe level of 350 parts per million in 1987, now dangerously even topping 420. (The longtime pre-Industrial Revolution 280 level of 1750 would be a vastly better goal to set.) In the worst-extreme case, Earth could eventually become an uninhabitable orb, with clouds breaking apart and oceans boiling away.
For decades now, clarion wake-up calls abounded—1952's London Smog coal-fueled disaster, 1969’s Santa Barbara offshore oil spill in California, 1973-1974’s Arab OPEC oil embargo and resultant gas lines and even-odd-day gas rationing, 1979’s oil and gas “shortages” and Three Mile Island nuclear plant disaster, 1986’s Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the USSR, 1989's Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, 1991’s Kuwait oil fires, 2010’s BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, 2011’s Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, et cetera ad nauseum. For decades now, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize--has issued myriad ever-alarming, mostly ignored, and little-covered reports. Indeed, no U.S. president ever addressed Congress and the people about the climate emergency. Not once. No climate emergency bill ever passed Congress. Not one. Most other countries followed similar reckless-oblivion paths. (Even anti-environment right-wing POTUS George H.W. Bush, in his February 1990 State of the Union Address, asked Congress to upgrade the 1970-founded Environmental Protection Agency to full Cabinet status, in time for Earth Day 1990. They failed to do so. So has every Congress in the 32 years since then.)
It did not need to turn out this way. In 1897 and 1898, a small fleet of quiet, clean electric Hummingbird taxicabs drove around London. As the 20th century dawned, 38 percent of U.S. cars were electric, 40 percent ran on steam-power, and only 22 percent used pollution-spewing internal-combustion gas engines. From 1909 to 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft zipped around Washington in her Baker electric automobile, and other First Ladies rode in electric cars till 1928. Electrified trains provided much long-distance transport--and electric trolleys could even take you from Maine to Wisconsin for a time.
But the pervasive corruption that director Frank Capra well-portrayed in his 1939 film masterpiece “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”—typified by the Taylors and Paynes—has long beset Washington, and most of our world, heavily beholden to fossil fuels, animal agriculture, military-industrial complex interests, and similar anti-environment powers-that-be. Their puppets—Donald J. Trump, Justin Trudeau, Scott Morrison, Emmanuel Macron, Jair Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, and their ilk—are merely recent manifestations. To break through such uber-greedy ignorance, journalists, politicians, and citizens alike must seriously educate ourselves. We must upgrade behaviors, elect pro-climate leaders, and finally treat this crisis like World War III on steroids, with survival of Earth’s biosphere at stake.
Photo courtesy Shane Balkowitsch
A clearly delighted Greta Thunberg (in blue top) and her Father Svante Thunberg (wearing mustache) enjoy watching with a handful of others as Shane Balkowitsch adeptly uses his field darkroom to develop two iconic photos of the then 16-year-old Swedish climate activist.
Greta may not yet be a scientist—but her ancestor, Swedish physicist-chemist-astronomer Svante A. Arrhenius, the 1903 Nobel chemistry laureate, was a renowned one. And unlike most "world leaders," she has thoroughly absorbed the United Nations IPCC reports, she does know her periodic table and national capitals and so much else, and she possesses a rare gift for synthesizing and conveying scientific findings. And she can readily define the Keeling Curve and albedo effect, terms that stump so many. World leaders should heed her carefully chosen word--and those of the myriad scientists she highlights, read the irrefutable evidence, and quickly enact the drastically transformative anti-global warming measures long overdue—or voters will soon find those who will.
To give our home planet, our Spaceship Earth, a livable future, we must all emulate the world’s moral and environmental pacesetter, Greta Thunberg. We should all symbolically say, “I am Greta,” and follow her sterling personal example, and her eloquent pleas to “unite behind the science.”
Science journalist and media historian Alfred Robert Hogan, M.A., is researching and writing an in-depth bio book about Greta Thunberg, Fridays For Future, and the No. 1 climate emergency science. Hogan, who was tapped by his Florida fifth-grade science teacher to teach hour-long environmental primers to several science classes on the original Earth Day in April 1970, has been vegetarian since mid-June 1980 and vegan since Friday 1 January 1993, and also stopped flying in October of that year. He has been in the core group striving to ramp up Green TV (US) since August 2021.