Since she first stood alone in front of the Swedish parliament last August protesting insufficient action in fighting climate change, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg has literally become the poster child for a worldwide student movement. Holding a “school strike for climate change” sign, the then 15-year-old said she was refusing to attend classes until Swedish politicians acted.
Her actions led last week to an estimated one million or more students in over 100 countries to boycott classes to prompt what they say is urgent action needed to rein in harmful climate change.
“We are facing the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” said Ms. Thunberg. “If your house is on fire, you don’t sit down to talk about it. I want people to panic.”
She did admit that “I am not a scientist. I don’t have the proper education.” She is quite correct in that regard. It is not just that she is blissfully ignorant of many climate facts, but what she does supposedly know is just so wrong. If she were to return to the classroom, her lessons should serve to calm her fears.
For example, in Science class she would learn that worldwide surface measurements reveal that, while the planet is in the midst of a warming trend of several hundred years, the Earth has not warmed at all since she was born. Her teachers could also assure her that our current temperatures are not at all unusual nor unprecedented, but very similar to previous warming trends over the last several thousand years.
Moving on to Biology class, she could explore how plants rely on carbon dioxide (CO2) as the basic building block in the process of photosynthesis. She would find that, rather than being a pollutant, CO2 is fueling plant growth and that an increase in this gas is leading to higher crop productivity and a “greening” of the Earth.
Later in the morning, she would join her classmates for History lessons. There, a review of human life dating back to the earliest of the great civilizations would reveal that the several previous warming periods (called climate optima) directly correlated to fantastic periods of human prosperity and advances. Ms. Thunberg would have to unlearn what she has been told about the theoretical dangers of increasing temperature, as actual experience clearly would show her that the cold periods were associated with famine, pestilence and mass depopulation.
During Health class, she would find that she has been incredibly misled about the health implications of rising temperatures. Contrary to what her handlers have told her, the real killer is cold, not heat. As many as 20 times as many people die around the globe from cold-related issues as from heat. Rising temperatures will save lives.
While still in Health class, her teachers could provide the students with information on one of the biggest pollution-related killers: the indoor air pollution associated with stoves and fires inside homes. Replacing the wood- and dung-fired stoves in homes with the clean-burning fossil fuels that Greta so dislikes would reduce the estimated 1.6 million people who die every year from the associated respiratory illnesses.
Finally, in her Economics class, she might learn that the fossil fuels that she wants to ban are providing reliable, abundant and affordable energy to the planet’s growing population. Her teacher might also tell the class that the poorest pay the highest percentage of their meager incomes for energy, so the higher energy costs associated with the renewable energy would harm those unfortunates the most.
I am quite sure that Ms. Thunberg has a big heart and wants the best for Earth and humanity, but it is time for her to go back to school to learn what she doesn’t know and to unlearn so much of what she has been taught.
Gregory Wrightstone is author of the new book, Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You To Know. Wrightstone is a geologist with more than 35 years of experience researching and studying various aspects of the Earth’s processes. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America.