As a teenage student in the mid-70s, I used to be an ardent fan of the elderly Greta of 1935 starrer ‘Anna Karenina’ fame. Now, as an elderly person, I have become an instant fan of the teenage student Greta for her resolute will to save the climate. If Greta Garbo’s stunning performance as Leo Tolstoy’s Anna stirred the traditional mindset of the first half of the 20th century, Greta Thunberg’s irate rhetoric at various global platforms has been shaking the rigid mindset of world leadership in this very first half of the 21st century.
Yes, the teenage Greta, the highly impactful sensation on the contemporary environmental scene, is kindling hope amidst us for safe and secure human surroundings. The 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s anger at the indifferent attitude of the global decision-makers towards climate crisis while delivering her extremely charged emotional speech at the UN Climate Summit in New York in September rocked the humanity with concerns of imminent ecological cataclysm.
I was wrong when I used to think that wisdom comes with advancing age but Greta has proved me otherwise. She hit the nail on the head when she highlighted the crux of the issue for a possible solution and probable salvation of the humankind from the present climatic tumult. She raised two focal instruments, namely the role of political masters who frame policies and decide the course of action and the science, which would throw light for the right approach to act upon.
She repeatedly sought the heads of national governments to pay heed to what scientists have been reiterating with their research findings as to how the environment is turning uninhabitable for humans due to humans themselves as nothing positive has substantively been on the cards.
Then the dilemma that arises is whether the decision-making processes in socioeconomic realms could be scientifically followed or not? Because, science is the cause and the socioeconomic manifestations are the effects felt by society, that may or may not be convenient to people. This can be explained by the science-truth test. Science is truth and truth is rational, which would or would not be compatible with the social perception of the people. This is due to the gregarious tendency of humans.
At the same time, fundamental traits such as selfishness, ego, and competition vary from person to person, and so the scientific process gets disrupted due to group’s inexplicable behaviour. As analysed about the fate of truth, people tend to avoid it if it is detrimental to their prospects. As we see practically, truth sometimes never reveals. At times, it reveals itself through a chance encounter of various circumstances and what has been revealed may also off and on turn out to be unpleasant. Rather, most of the times, the untruth seems to be acceptable depending upon selfish choices.
Truth Be Told
The 18th century English poet William Blake said, ‘A truth that is told with bad intent, beats all the lies you can invent’. A Wharton School study found that ‘individuals with altruistic intentions are perceived to be more moral, more benevolent and more honest even when they lie.’ A doctor might lie to her patients about the dreaded condition of the disease — just to help them recover better. Such a response does take place when the situation is casual and if there is no emergency.
But science is clear that emergency will emerge as and when humanity and life happen to be on the brink of massive devastation. Thus, emergency requires everyone to stick to the truth and be uniformly good because being good on the part of self alone does not yield full results. It is like adherence to traffic rules by a lone driver and not by others. If all road users follow suit, safe traffic ensues.
Similarly, the art of being truthful and good must entail not only a single person or a single collective or a few nations but also the whole of the world because pollution, extinction of species, water wars, etc, have no individual or national boundaries. Simon Anholt, a British researcher, advocated for good which needs to be contributed by each country without any exception for the betterment of the world. It is here in this context that Greta’s clarion call for the world leaders has become the most indispensable demand for safe climate to live in.
Greta’s insistence that political leaders should listen to scientists reminds me of the fact that even scientists would commit blunders now and then if not often. It was the dynamite, the most notorious weapon of 19th century invented by none other than Alfred Nobel, the benefactor of Nobel Prizes, that caused unprecedented human suffering during many wars in Europe for which he was once branded by a French newspaper as ‘the merchant of death.’
It was the letter, signed by none other than Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of all times, that convinced the then US President Franklin Roosevelt to develop atomic bombs, which eventually caused irreparable human tragedy at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
As we are aware, dynamite and atomic bomb are avoidable creations in view of larger collective good for their negative consequences are far more damaging than the positive results that accrue. Hence, knowing what is to be avoided becomes vital.
Lebanese-American thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb said, ‘negative knowledge (what is wrong) is more robust to error than positive knowledge (what is right).’ It is on this critical aspect that Greta started goading the world leaders so as not to continue practising such policies that have been scientifically confirmed as catastrophic to the planet. And hers is no small endeavour during the current trying times and it calls for a Nobel to acknowledge her conviction for such a universal noble cause.
(The author is former DG Cyber Crimes, Bhopal)