When Greta Thunberg arrived in Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), a statement of hers had already overtaken the internet: “Of course we need constructive dialogue,” she said, “but they’ve now had 30 years of blah blah blah and where has that led us?” She seemed to arrive with her mind made up: anything she could possibly hear at COP26 would just be more “blah, blah, blah.” On the Friday of the first week of the COP, Greta declared a strike. This would be more than just a continuation of the Fridays for the Future campaign; it would be a strike against COP26 itself.
The first time I met Greta was at COP24 in Katowice, Poland in 2018, right before she became famous. The encounter was captured as a brief cameo in the documentary I Am Greta. I told her about my own daughter back in Canada, roughly her same age. Two days later, during the Climate March, I looked over and there was Greta again. She had chosen to march with the World Council of Churches. I had a leisurely conversation with her dad Svante as we ambled along. Perhaps because my first encounter with Greta was from the perspective of dads-raising-daughters or of girls-being-15, I found myself in Glasgow asking the question: What is the difference between a Greta who attends her first climate summit at age 15 and a Greta who shows up at COP26 just two months shy of her 19th birthday?
Greta got her start sitting outside the parliament building in Stockholm. Now, at age 18, not only can she vote; she could run for office in Sweden. While we might call her a “young” adult, she is an adult nonetheless, and while adults strike and protest, are they allowed to bail?
I thought about how I would counsel my own 19-year-old daughter, the one I had previously told Greta about, if she was with me in Glasgow and not back at Trent University. I maybe would have told her that these COPs, as the only two weeks in the year where the world’s attention is focused on climate change, are important, and that COP26, conducted after a year’s postponement and at the moment when the Paris Agreement goes into full effect, is particularly important. I would have advised her to reserve judgement since typically it is only the second week of a COP where any work, if it does get done, gets done. And yet, the most profound advice, I would hope, wouldn’t be appeals to the responsibility of adulthood (which surely would have sounded like more “blah, blah, blah”) but rather to the responsibility of privilege.
If Greta had chosen to wait over the weekend, on the following Monday, she might have stumbled upon a panel conducted by the All-Africa Conference of Churches. General Secretary Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki of Tanzania told the audience, “We need to reignite the confidence and trust in the COP process because this is the best we have—it may not be adequate, it has not solved all our problems, but we cannot abandon it—because we don’t think we have anything better—it is not just blah, blah, because we think when people come together to talk, minds are created, opinions are shaped.”
If the dilemma of being a young adult is that you are still an adult, then the irony of a phrase like “blah, blah, blah” is that it is still language. What may sound like idle nonsense to an English-speaker might be translated as urgent faithfulness for struggling congregations in the developing world.
Lowell Bliss is the co-director of the Christian Climate Observers Program, which brings emerging leaders from under-mobilized constituencies to the climate summits. A former member of Niagara Climate Justice, Lowell attends St. James and St. Brendan’s Anglican Church in Port Colborne. The AACC panel can be found on YouTube.