Review: Greta Thunberg – A Year to Change the World

Greta Thunberg, BBC Picture Library

The BBC series following the teenage climate campaigner around the world shows Greta Thunberg’s real power lies in her tenacity, sincerity and willingness to listen to others, says Ann Link 

Watch the series on BBC iPlayer here.   

Greta Thunberg – A Year to Change the World is a three-part TV series following the young climate campaigner as she takes a year off school to explore the science of global warming and challenge world leaders to take action on climate change.  

The BBC to its credit has chosen to show these programmes at peak viewing time. I strongly recommend watching them.  

I knew that Greta Thunberg’s effect has been enormous, but previously found it difficult to see how or why. You wouldn’t imagine that a schoolgirl sitting down alone would be so powerful. As she says, her favourite story as a small child was the Emperor’s New Clothes, when the only person to point out that the Emperor was naked was a child. A child speaking as she does, and not giving up, has made a huge difference.  

These programmes follow Greta through a year of travelling around the world to talk to scientists, visit campaign groups and attend conferences. She looks about 12 at the beginning, travelling through north America with her father, and older as she reflects on the year now.  

The first episode shows Trump ridiculing her. She says: “People call me a brat, an idiot, but for reasons I don’t understand, they listen when I talk. But I don’t want that. I want you to listen to the science.”  

Her father says that, at first, he was nervous for her when she gave speeches, afraid that she might not do herself credit. They are open about her autism, which can make it difficult to cope with large crowds – but she does cope. She speaks simply and often emotionally – appearing angry and sad at the United Nations.  

She visits glaciers and talks to the experts: the whole series is interspersed with cameos from leading scientists. She gives the example we need of really listening and allowing their message to come through. I feel that with most other interviewers, the bad news is somehow normalised or made to seem like a blip, or the whole thing is wrapped up with a small message of hope, in case the audience panics.  

In the second episode, she visits coal miners in Poland. She finds they are open to change and see that their old jobs need replacing with something new. They praise her for her UN speech.  

She is able to go to the summit of rich nations and companies at Davos, because by now, millions follow her updates. She travels without her father but with friends by train to the Swiss Alps, where she visits the site of an avalanche of boulders just nearby: a scientist explains that this is because of meltwater entering cracks in rocks and refreezing, making fractures. The height at which the average temperature is 0 degrees has climbed 500 metres in the scientist’s lifetime: around 50 years.  

In London, the UK is trying to establish itself as a climate leader. People expect a silver bullet, and so the government is investing in carbon capture and storage. Greta visits a pilot carbon capture project at a Drax power station in Yorkshire and asks questions. The technology being trialled is catching 1 tonne of carbon dioxide per day. This is one-thousandth of the daily total produced being produced by the power station – and it is allowed to escape as no system is yet ready to store it 

There are many other examples of such encounters. When I reflect on the impact of Greta Thunberg, I think it is because she connects absolutely with the facts, and the danger we are in. She is absolutely sincere, not able to drift away from reality as I feel I often can. Whatever the reasons in her individual character, she is a gift we will be grateful for, if we do manage to avert the worst of global heating. This requires major reduction in carbon emissions now, and not in 2050. 


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