This blog post is part of the ‘Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration Series’ headed by Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance & Integration Prof. Katharine Sarikakis, and curated by Wagner Piassaroli Mantovaneli und Markos Mpadanes.
by Theresa Steffner
We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.
(Greta Thunberg 2019)
With this statement, the sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg addresses adults. Adults in the sense of politicians, journalists and also every single citizen of Europe. The goal of the Fridays for future movement and the nationwide activism of so many students is global climate justice and stopping climate change. Why Greta is the perfect face of climate change?
© fridays for future
She is a child.
Greta is a sixteen-year-old girl and that poses one reason, why we pay so much attention. Within the Kindchenschema awareness is created. The cuteness of children faces activates positive response and care giving behavior (Sprengelmeyer et al. 2013).
Children have an innocent aura, can be seen as vulnerable citizens and therefore are in need of protection. Greta Thunberg for example is always in company and in protection of her father. It is our responsibility to protect children, but also to listen to what they have to say. And right now, they stand up for climate change. Many of the protesters are too young to vote yet, but still they take part in political actions. They want to wake us adults up as we are all EU-citizens.
In her article “Gretas Welt” Karin Ceballos Betancur points out, how impressive it is seeing a young girl in the spotlights of the media. At the climate summit in Davos she perceives Greta as an introverted and quiet girl, who does not want to draw all the attention she gets. When she was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with Asperger and today, she comes all the way from Sweden environmentally friendly by train and sleeps in a tent. It moved Betancur personally, as journalist and as a human (Betancur 2019).
She is a symbol for the future.
Children are future citizens. They symbolize future, hope and at the same time they symbolize responsibility (Buschmann 2002). Right before the European elections, Greta and many children are holding up the mirror to political rulers. Every single one of us can do his or her part stopping climate change, but in times of this climate crisis the children urge the politicians to provide solutions. As stated in her quote at the beginning of this post, Greta addresses adults to care about the future of not only children, but all of us.
I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.
(Greta Thunberg 2019)
In an UNICEF Debate, Esther Abarakwe, head of the Nigerian youth climate coalition, states that children are the key stake holders in climate discussion and climate change is affecting them now, tomorrow and in the years to come. Pictures of climate strikes and the fact that many children did not go to school to stand up for an issue, makes us feel connected to them. And as we feel connected, there is a whole lot of emotion coming up (UNICEF 2012).
She moves us emotionally.
Not only due to the fact that Greta is a child, and a symbol for the future, emotion is caused. We did not recognize how important stopping climate change as a political issue is for children. Their voices have not been heard before and now, we not only hear them, we read them, watch them, share, like and comment them on diverse platforms. We all are engaged and this engagement causes emotion (Beckett 2016).
Furthermore, we do not only understand what the children stand up for, we do empathically understand it. According to the concept of empathy, we can imagine how other people feel and connect to them through our own experiences (Jeffers 1994). In this regard, we do not have to imagine how it feels to be in Greta’s or in any child’s position – we all are in the same position, standing in front of the same problem.
Viewed from the media perspective, we are facing the question how emotion and empathy affects journalists and their articles. Journalists were never allowed to be emotional, but nowadays this is changing. Emotion is entering journalism and journalists are not any more detached observers. In terms of climate change, they are not pro or con, they just state that it has a role. However, the issue and the active engagement of the public poses a chance to use emotion as a tool.
In summary, it can be said that Greta is in fact the perfect face for climate change:
She is a child and therefore worthy of protection. She is the future and therefore a beacon of hope. She moves us emotionally and therefore we empathize with her.
Links and references:
Beckett, C., & Deuze, M. (2016). On the Role of Emotion in the Future of Journalism. Social Media + Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116662395
Betancur, Karin Ceballos (2019). Gretas Welt. Available at: https://www.zeit.de/2019/06/klima-aktivistin-greta-thunberg-klimaschutz-schuelerin [Accessed 10 May 2019].
Buschmann, Gerd. (2002) Das Menschenbild (in) der Werbung Beobachtungen eines Theologen zu einem Kapitel Medienanthropologie. http://www.ph-ludwigsburg.de/fileadmin/subsites/1e-evth-t-01/user_files/buschmann_werbung.pdf
Sprengelmeyer R, Lewis J, Hahn A, Perrett DI (2013) Aesthetic and Incentive Salience of Cute Infant Faces: Studies of Observer Sex, Oral Contraception and Menstrual Cycle. PLoS ONE 8(5): e65844. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0065844 [Accessed 10 May 2019].
Thunberg, Greta (2019). Greta Thunberg “Unser Haus steht in Flammen” auf dem 2019 Welt-Wirtschaft-Forum in Davos. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrF1THd4bUM [Accessed 10 May 2019].
UNICEF (2012). The Debate: Climate change heats up threats to children. Available at: https://www.unicef-irc.org/research-watch/Climate-change-and-children/ [Accessed 10 May 2019].