Thinking like Greta

There is a new term that has entered our language - “the Greta effect.” This refers to the impact of Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish climate activist who was named the 2019 Person of the Year by Time magazine.

Greta has made it clear that we are in a climate crisis and the time to act to avert disaster is now.

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A significant contributor to climate change is the airline industry. The fact that more people, especially in Europe, are shifting from air travel to rail travel is being attributed to the Greta effect. Airlines worldwide are feeling the pressure.

There is a Swedish term which is also becoming popular today -“flygskam." This translates to “flight shame."  

Are people really choosing not to fly because they feel shame? Doesn’t it have more to do with a growing mindfulness among those who care about the future of our planet? I don’t have anything against people flying but if I have an alternative choice which reduces my carbon footprint, I will take it. People in Europe, for example, have a very accessible and efficient rail system which is largely electric, so while air traffic drops, rail traffic is increasing.

Along with airplanes, however, cars and trucks are major contributors to global warming.  We do need vehicles for many things, but when we observe ourselves objectively, we recognize that we have been duped by advertisers and the mainstream media into a love affair with the automobile. Sure, they are convenient and comfortable, but one’s car is also their status symbol. As a result, we overlook other viable means of transportation which leave almost no carbon footprint. This is not good and it is destroying our planet.

With my own growing awareness of climate change, I can no longer watch the traffic report on the Vancouver morning news without thinking, “I wonder how much all those cars are contributing to climate change.”  I then think of all the cities where the same climate disaster is played out every day.

When visiting Toronto last summer, I was astounded by the growing urban sprawl. What was more disturbing, however, was how poorly it was planned. Very few of the new homes were built near rail lines but there was a constant expansion of the highway system. I had to ask myself, “What are we thinking?”

It is important to make our voices heard in climate protests and to lobby for changes in public policy which will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We must hold our politicians, land developers and urban planners accountable as they make decisions that impact how environmentally friendly our communities will be.

The most significant change we can make, however, is to ask ourselves some challenging questions every day which will reduce our dependence on the automobile:

• Do I really need to drive?  

• Could I walk, ride a bike or take mass transit?

• Is this the most efficient car I can use?

• Is there any way to carpool?

• On a very practical note, have I ever thought of how much money this car is costing me?

• If I am a young person being driven by my parents, do I really need to be dropped off right in front of the door where traffic is most congested? 

The fact is driving is stressful and exhausting and it is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Walking is wonderful, relaxing and good for our health. Taking mass transit is even more relaxing, a tremendous opportunity to read a book or even take a nap.

If we keep doing what we are doing, we will destroy our planet. Air travel and the automobile culture are contributing significantly to our own demise. The Greta effect is simply a growing mindfulness of these facts, and with mindfulness comes the awareness to make better decisions.


— Gerry Chidiac is a champion for social enlightenment, inspiring others to find their greatness in making the world a better place.  For more of his writings, go to


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