Opinion: Why Hasn’t the Greta Thunberg Effect Hit Thailand?

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 23, 2019. Image: Associated Press

Why do some people feel so threatened by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg?

One part of the answer is that she’s just 16, with no formal expertise on what she believes to be impending global climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

Patriarchy and paternalism were turned upside-down when Thunberg began to take time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament every Friday in August last year.

This week saw Thunberg, who inspired school climate strikes in major cities around the globe, including Bangkok, be invited to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit – or rather, in the eyes of some, to preach, frown and even lash out at world leaders.

There are those who say she is aggressive, a climate fundamentalist that sees things in black and white, and will make unnecessary enemies with her approach.

But say all you want about Thunberg. The discussion about climate change that has been generated by this girl, who has over two million followers on Twitter, is spreading faster than the Amazon fire.

There is something about being a child. It’s children and the child in us adults that dare to dream idealistically – unweighted by cynicism, not jaded by years of disappointment, and not limited by our professional and domestic demands.

The value of keeping the child in our adult hearts alive cannot be overlooked, for without it there will be little passion left for thinking beyond one’s comfort zone. Thunberg dares to dream and act, while many adults have become too cynical and lethargic in the face of borderless problems such as climate change.

Alas, so far Thailand is feeling little impact from the Greta Thunberg effect. Last Friday, when Bangkok held its Climate Strike protest, only 150 or so showed up, mostly expats and foreign students with signs in English. When it comes to climate change, Thailand seems stuck in a gigantic, single-use plastic bubble.

Thunberg reportedly convinced her parents to become vegan and give up flying in order to reduce their carbon footprints. In contrast, many Thai vegans are only vegan because they want to go to heaven, to be reincarnated into a good life, or because they pity the animals. Few think about their carbon footprint.

Thunberg has dragged many adults around the world out of their comfort zones, but the bubble in Thailand seems almost impenetrable. Not only are children still being treated as children here. Even adults are infantilized in a land where political leaders think they know best and simply expect citizens to comply.

It will probably take the city turning into a waterworld metropolis before adult Bangkokians start acting.