Greta built on the work of many activists that went before her, many of whom were people of colour. Her status as a young, white female has allowed her to break through the noise and capture the world's attention.
Greta is articulate, educated, and most-importantly, white. These are the perfect ingredients for the leader of a social movement.
The youth climate movement had many prominent leaders challenging polluters and climate offenders in court and on the streets across the globe. People like Autumn Peltier, Ridhima Pandey, Mari Copeny and Isra Hirsi are all working tirelessly to oppose climate change and environmental destruction wherever it occurs. Greta's message is not new. Indigenous communities have been saying them for hundreds of years. Many of the young activists that went before her were children of colour, from indigenous communities on the front lines of the battle for our planet. As non-white activists, unfortunately, they did not capture global attention. The fact is, a non-white face does not resonate with the developed world in the same way as a white one. Her whiteness is part of the reason why she is such a threat. She unlocks new, important avenues for the climate change movement. In the decades since the industrial revolution, Northern hemisphere countries, with majority white populations, have been the worst climate offenders. Yet southern hemisphere countries, with majority non-white populations, have been the overwhelming victims of rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns and resource destruction. Race is an unavoidable part of the climate crisis. Without white people on board, we cannot tackle the issue. Greta goes some way towards engaging white people. For this reason, among others, she is a central pillar of the climate change movement.
Greta's race is not a benefit to the movement. Nor is it a key component of her likeability or influence. It is a hindrance to the movement. If we are to have any hope of limiting the impacts of climate change, we will need to persuade developing countries to embrace sustainable development. In the shadow of colonialism, this is not going to be an easy task. How do you persuade swathes of the developing emerging African continent to eschew fossil fuels? The entire continent contributes less than 3% of total emissions. It has been the closest thing to blameless in causing the climate emergency. Yet it will have to take sustainable paths to development if we are to keep emissions down. This smacks of 'White Saviourism' and 'colonialism 2.0'. Putting a white girl at the front of the movement will do nothing to help endear the climate change movement and its objectives to developing nations' populations and governments. To help the movement appeal to countries like India, Brazil, and other large developing nations, the movement will need to put minority voices at the forefront.
[P1] Greta's message is not new, young indigenous leaders and activists have been saying the same messages for centuries. [P2] They were non-white. [P3] If the message is the same, but the youth movement is only now uniting and mobilising, Greta's race must be a key component of her appeal.
[Rejecting P3] For the movement to gain momentum and appeal to developing nations, it needs minority voices at the forefront. Therefore, Greta will not be the force for change the world needs.