December 13, 2019

Greta Thunberg named TIME person of the year; jointly scoops Waterstones book of the year


Thunberg: a new kind of activist (Anders Hellberg via Wikicommons [CC BY-SA 4.0])

You might have heard there’s an election on today in the UK*.

Brenda from Bristol: NOT ANOTHER ONE!

Yes, Brenda, another one. Because that’s just how we roll over here now, election after election, a perpetual state of voting, vote vote vote, all day long. I can’t remember the last time I got up in the morning and didn’t go the polls, personally. Honestly at this point we might as well just do one every week.

So it’s been another few weeks of campaigning which has been by turns frantic, embarrassing, hopeful, surprising and tear-jerking (I’ll let you ascribe those adjectives to whichever politician you please). Boris Johnson going in a big fridge to avoid an interview with Piers Morgan seemed like a pretty apt way to round things off yesterday. And now we wait to see who, if anyone, wins**.

Brexit has of course been the main issue across all parties—it’s simply impossible to escape, the black hole down which every statement, policy, and argument disappears. We can’t have a conversation about the NHS, because Brexit. We can’t have a conversation about inequality, because Brexit. Nothing is certain anymore, because Brexit. And after three years of noise, the whole sorry debate has only really highlighted one thing: that this country is paralysed by cultural and ideological divisions which don’t ever look like being resolved. Never before have we felt more like a small, lonely island.

The one issue which should have dominated, of course, is the climate crisis. Here at Melville we’ve been doing our bit to get the word out, with our own edition of The Climate Report, Dr. Gary Fuller’s seismic examination of air pollution, The Invisible Killer, and our forthcoming plan for practical change, Solomon Goldstein-Rose’s The 100% Solution, all adding to and helping to shape the conversation. But there’s been one figure at the heart of climate activism since last year: Greta Thunberg.

Beginning with her series school of strikes in Sweden in 2018, 16-year-old Thunberg’s message quickly took root in the hearts of young people across the world. She sailed to New York in August this year to speak at the Global Climate Strike, and—having traversed the Atlantic by boat again—most recently delivered a typically grave and eloquent speech at the COP25 Climate Conference in Madrid. She was, deservedly, named TIME Magazine‘s Person of the Year this week, and her manifesto No-One is Too Small to Make A Difference was also jointly named book of the year by Waterstones.

We should point out here that Thunberg has consistently said that the accolades coming her way mean nothing without direct action on climate change. Indeed, reacting to the TIME news on Twitter, she thanked the magazine but said that she:

“share[s] this great honour with everyone in the #FridaysForFuture movement and climate activists everywhere.”

For those of us who haven’t seen it in a while, that’s what committed activism looks like: selfless, driven by neither personality nor opportunism nor cheap soundbites—and clearly and solemnly focused on the biggest and most dangerous issue of the day. It’s something that, as we enter another period of desperate political uncertainty, we should all expect from our global leaders as a bare minimum. Whether we get it remains to be seen.



*Indeed, it was happening at time of writing. Boy, this current affairs writing malarkey is tricky.

** You now know who won, if anyone, of course.

Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.