During a recorded video conversation, climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg asked congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the media’s role in helping to tackle climate change. Her worrying answer proved the urgent need for change.
What happens when two of the most influential female leaders in politics video call each other? Climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just showed us – and the outcome was, predictably, pretty awesome.
In a frank but warm conversation set up by The Guardian, Thunberg and Ocasio-Cortez discussed climate change, leadership and diversity.
To recap: Thunberg is the teenage environmental activist famous for missing school to protest about climate change outside the Swedish parliament and inspiring the youth movement against climate change; Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest ever congresswoman and representative for New York’s 14th district, whose story was filmed for the hit Netflix documentary Knock Down the House.
Both know what it’s like to break the “white, middle-aged, middle-class, male” mould so prevalent in politics, and the barriers faced in making change happen on a national – potentially global – scale. Ocasio-Cortez has also shown her support for tackling the climate crisis by submitting the Green New Deal to the US House of Representatives, delivering a rousing speech alongside it.
“What is too much for me, is the fact that in 1989 – the year that I was born, the year that many of us were born… that politicians were first informed by NASA, that congress was first notified by NASA, that climate change was going to threaten my life and everyone here’s life to come and they did nothing,” she said.
With this in mind, Thunberg had an important question for Ocasio-Cortez about “climate denialism” in the US.
“I have heard about how bad the situation is in the US with climate denialism, but I find it very hard to believe,” she said during their video call conversation. “It’s bad here in Sweden – but I have seen reports of how little the US media mentions the climate crisis and how it is treated. How bad is it really?”
Ocasio-Cortez replied saying that things have actually improved after being “historically very, very bad”. She explained how ExxonMobil (one of the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas companies) knew the reality of the climate crisis as far back as the 1970s and soon started funding media and lobbying campaigns to hide the truth.
“They knew they couldn’t fund campaigns outright saying climate change is not real. But they could fund campaigns sowing confusion,” she explained. “So they would run campaigns saying we need to see more science, to sow doubt around the consensus. For a very long time it worked, and it got very bad. We came very close to acting on the climate in 1989, but the lobbying was so powerful that they effectively prevented action – we had almost 40% of Republican voters not believing that climate change was settled fact.”
Ocasio-Cortez continued to say that she believes the number of deniers has now dropped, especially in the wake of the New Green Deal push. She also said that the focus now is making climate change a priority and the media’s part in taking responsibility for this.
“We have historically had an issue with media coverage of the climate crisis – I think they don’t realise that not covering it is just as bad as denying it,” she said. “We have issues because much of our media is profit-driven, and if it doesn’t drive ratings they will not cover it as much. But we simply don’t have a choice. We have to do this.”
Thunberg then said that, although only 2% of Sweden’s population don’t believe in the climate crisis, it’s still not treated as a priority there either.
However, with two incredible females like Ocasio-Cortez and Thunberg now leading the climate crisis conversations in the media, we should hopefully see more engagement and action in turn.