Greta Thunberg recently held her last protest as a high school student. Starting in 2018, each Friday the teen would skip school to raise awareness that our climate is changing due to human exploitation of the earth’s resources.
Greta’s Friday protests were replayed by millions of young people around the world. Children, youth, and adults from 160 countries joined in for perhaps the largest organized protest against climate change before or since, three days before Greta was invited to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit.
At the summit, Greta told policymakers, “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you.”
The Cop28 UN climate talks are scheduled later this year in Dubai, hosted by a country whose economy depends on oil and gas production. The head of UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc, will chair the talks. His company has plans underway for a massive expansion of its fossil fuel production capacity.
Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, reaching a new high in 2022. And the most visible fallout is an increase in extreme weather. Droughts, fires, floods, and violent weather are now a regular feature on the evening news. Even the least knowledgeable about the subject can sense that something is wrong.
Greta Thunberg, along with numerous scientists and environmental activists, have challenged world leaders entrusted to take action to set a direction of phasing out the use of fossil fuels altogether. Otherwise, we may soon reach a point where extreme measures are insufficient. The poorest among us already suffer the most from inaction, and “We are still rushing towards the cliff,” Greta warns.
When we choose to be fearless and hold up a mirror that exposes greed and hypocrisy, the world will respond violently. We can anticipate pushback that feels like a crippling attack, from name calling to childish tweets. When we stand up to power, we can expect an unpleasant reaction.
According to a study published by Global Witness, the deaths of environmental activists from unnatural causes are rising rapidly. Over the past ten years, an environmental activist was murdered every two days, usually in smaller, poorer countries, where exploitation of natural resources promises economic benefit.
We read in Matthew that the whole city of Jerusalem was thrown into an uproar when Jesus arrived. Can you imagine a similar scene today? I can picture breaking news interrupting regularly scheduled programming and thousands glued to their iPhones wondering whether the reserve was activated just in case. Jesus’ picture and soundbites are on repeat to convince the public to consume more media coverage. And, of course, to patronize the advertisers paying for the cost of coverage. It would be a media extravaganza.
And just when His followers thought that it might be wise to bring it down a notch, Jesus too k the volume to full power. He goes into the Temple courts and seals His fate with those who have benefited from the exploitation of the poor. All around Him, I can hear angry voices. “This man must be stopped,” shouted anyone caught in the crosshairs of Jesus’ divine view of injustice.
Matthew tells us that Jesus went into the Temple and drove out all those buying and selling livestock. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the stools of those who sold pigeons.
Jesus went into the Temple and drove out those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the stools of those selling pigeons.
Can you imagine the scene that day in the Temple courts? Loose change bouncing along the stone floors? Businessmen get out of His way, wondering if he is armed, whether the members of His gang are itching for a fight, and knowing that they want to go home that day. They must have wondered when the Temple police would arrest Jesus. I bet it was loud and upsetting to a lot of people.
It must have been the lead news story, given that the whole city was in uproar. No wonder.
Jesus knew that what He was doing would attract attention. A lot of attention and attention that would not end well in terms of His safety. But Jesus knew something else that we sort of know but don’t always know in a way that affects our actions. Jesus trusted in God, and He trusted that God was always on the side of justice.
Jesus taught His followers about divine justice and why exploiting is wrong. Jesus taught that benefiting from systems that exploit the poor, or anyone else, is not a part of the Kingdom that Jesus presides over. So Jesus turned over the tables, both literally and metaphorically.
The merchants sitting at the tables participated in systems that exploited the poor. Still, Jesus knew that the power behind the systems was watching others do the works that filled their pockets. In their case, holding onto power by claiming a religious exemption. “You hypocrites!” said Jesus. “You clean the outside of your cup and plate while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness.”
By the end of the day, the authorities knew what had to be done. Rather than enact positive change, they would silence Jesus.
When you and I turnover tables. When we let our voices be heard that we want real solutions that reduce the harm we’re doing to our earth. When we challenge the systems that benefit us because they cause harm. Our children notice and thank us, but those who benefit from unjust systems will also take notice. And the tweets will begin, but they will be only one weapon in the arsenal of the powerful. Some will go to great lengths to stop us. And some of the violence will come from people who claim to know us.
The powerful seldom wait for the voices challenging them to quit on their own. They respond with force because their power depends on silencing voices challenging their prosperity.
Scientists estimate that without drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our earth will soon reach a tipping point. And it may be too late. In the meantime, the damage disproportionately affects the poorest among us. But there is no doubt that we’re all negatively impacted.
Each of us has a voice. Some of us use our voices through speeches. Others are writers. Many of us can project pleasing melodies and harmonies. Many of us paint, carve, or build, while others research, investigate or construct policy.
God hears our voices as praises of thanksgiving.
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Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by Angela Hunt. Daughter of Cana. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.
Betsy Reed. “Greta Thunberg: not phasing out fossil fuels is ‘death sentence’ for world’s poor.” © The Guardian, June 14, 2023. Retrieved from: link
Nicole Hassenstab. “The Cost of Environmental Activism.” © American University, October 28, 2022. Retrieved from: link