EDITORIAL: The two sides of 2019, personified

Staff report
Editorial cartoon

Every year has its share of good and bad. But seldom can the two sides of that coin be summed up so succinctly by a pair of public figures. In 2019, however, that was the case.

In the words, deeds and mission of young environmental activist Greta Thunberg, the world saw an example of positive energy, hopefulness and concern for the greater good.

In the words, deeds and mission of President Donald Trump, the world saw quite the opposite.

That we know the name Greta Thunberg at all is a tribute to her single-mindedness, energy and spirit. The Swedish teenager (she’ll turn 17 on Friday) has devoted her young life to advocating for more immediate action on a very immediate problem: Global climate change.

Her message is simple: The adults who are in a position to address the real and growing threat of an unceasingly warming planet are ignoring the issue, leaving Greta and her generation to grow up in a world that will be increasingly unhealthy, inhospitable and downright dangerous.

What started as a one-person campaign in front of the Swedish Parliament has blossomed into a worldwide call to action.

Fearless and focused, Greta traveled to the United States (on a carbon-neutral sailboat) to speak before Congress and at the United Nations Climate Action Summit to press her point. A cross-country campaign of rallies and demonstrations followed, punctuated by a global climate strike on Sept. 20 that encompassed some 4 million demonstrators. She then sailed back across the Atlantic to speak at the 25th UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Through it all, the diminutive activist stayed on message, pressed government and world leaders to act rather than simply talk and refused to be put off or patronized.

“(S)he has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change,” wrote Time magazine in naming Greta its 2019 Person of the Year. “She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act.”

In other words, she could not be more different than the president of the United States — and not just on the issue of climate change.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the climate march during the COP25 U.N. Climate Conference 2019. Thunberg is the youngest ever Time Person of the Year. (Clara Margais/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

Whereas Greta, a young person with no real station or political power, has emerged as a global force for good on a vital issue, Trump is largely the opposite: someone with the largest political pulpit on the planet who squanders his voice on pettiness, vitriol and self-promotion.

The president’s 2019 transgressions, fabrications, insults and offenses are too numerous to catalog and, frankly, are becoming simply tiresome. His daily social media rants are not only mean-spirited and spiteful, they are the height of cowardice. A president too timid to confront political enemies face-to-face, let alone testify before Congress, fires off Twitter messages by the score that prop up baseless conspiracies, heap scorn on critics, and seek to justify his reckless, pointless, lawless behavior.

Greta Thunberg spoke before a congressional committee. President Trump refused.

Greta Thunberg uses nothing more than a young woman’s voice and a steely resolve to rally millions to move in a positive direction on a pressing global issue. President Trump uses the nation’s highest office to enrich himself and belittle opponents.

Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year. President Trump was impeached.

In 2020, we need much more of the type of energy Greta Thunberg brings to the world. And much less of the negativity and deceit spawned by Trump.