The ‘Greta effect’: Can Thunberg’s activism actually change policy?

In Canada and Austria, there are some signs that the young Swedish activist is already reshaping the political landscape.

The ‘Greta effect’: Can Thunberg’s activism actually change policy?
Agencia Makro / Contributor
  • Greta Thunberg is the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who recently criticized United Nations members for failing to do more on climate change.
  • Since her speech and the global climate strikes last week, Austria's Green Party saw a surge in support, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saw a drop in support among young Canadians.
  • Thunberg has received waves of criticism since her speech.


After inspiring global climate strikes and chiding United Nations members over their inaction on climate change, activist Greta Thunberg has successfully conjured a new sense of urgency over climate change, especially among young people across the globe. Still, it remains unclear whether the activism she's inspired will actually change climate policies.

In Europe, there are some early signs that nations might soon have a better chance of passing significant emissions regulations, possibly due to a "Greta Thunberg effect," as Bloomberg suggests. The most striking evidence comes from Austria, where results from an election on Sunday showed that support for the Green Party had tripled, scoring 14 percent of the vote. Austria's conservative People's Party remains in power, but the surprise results position the Greens as a potential coalition partner.

"The thematic development really helped the Greens, I'm thinking here of Greta Thunberg and the climate protests," Social Democrats Managing Director Thomas Drozda said in an ORF television interview. "This is an area where the Greens have had credibility for the last 20 or 25 years."

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who posted to Instagram a photo of herself speaking with Thunberg, is seeking to position herself as a leader on climate change in her nation and the European Union. In July, Merkel said Thunberg and other young activists are speeding up efforts to pass climate policies in Europe.

"The seriousness with which Greta, but also many, many other young people, are telling us that this is about their lives, and that their life spans extend further, has led us to approach the matter more resolutely," Merkel said.

In September, Merkel and several other E.U. nations endorsed a climate package that aimed to end greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but the effort was blocked by Poland.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also seemed to want to position himself as a leader on climate action. But in the wake of a meeting he had with Thunberg, during which the 16-year-old activist said he wasn't doing enough on climate change, Trudeau's support among young voters dropped by more than 10 percent, according to polling data from Nanos Research.

"I think we're going to call this the Greta Thunberg effect," Nik Nanos said on CTV's "Trend Line" podcast. "What's it like to have Greta Thunberg tell the prime minister … 'You're not doing enough?'"

But while Thunberg has been criticizing world leaders over climate inaction, the young activist, who's been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, has been attacked and slandered online and in the media. The bulk of these attacks come from right-wing critics, who have generally gone after her indignant tone, or suggested that she's being exploited by the politically motivated adults around her.

On the more extreme side, internet trolls have photoshopped images of Thunberg, including one that depicts her with the American financier George Soros, another that suggests she supports the Islamic State, and one doctored photo showing her eating lunch next to starving children.

Of course, not all of Thunberg's critics were unreasonable or malicious. For example, Reason's Nick Gillespie suggested that the activist's "histrionics" were counterproductive to developing good climate change policy. Jake Novak, writing for CNBC, took issue with the fact that Thunberg "and the adults guiding her, are seeking to shift almost all the focus from personal responsibility to governments and big corporations to enact environmental reform." This, according to Novak, represents a "shift from the 'Think Globally, Act Locally,' environmental philosophy of the 1980s and 1990s," and threatens to turn environmentalism into another "wedge issue that politicians often use to motivate their base of voters."

But the sheer volume of Thunberg's critics and supporters shows that she's succeeded in starting a new conservation on climate change.

"Speaking as a climate change scientist who has been working on this issue for 20 years and saying the same thing for 20 years, she is getting people to listen, which we have failed to do," Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development in Bangladesh, told NBC. "I thought it was the most powerful speech I've ever seen."

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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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