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The climate change debate should revolve around science.

How much is the world's temperature rising? What's causing it? Most importantly, how fast should we address this problem and how much should be sacrificed in short-term economic gains?

The reason a solution remains elusive isn't because old people live in a fairy-tale world, as 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg suggests at her now-famous United Nations speech. It's because climate change is viewed as a political problem, with all the baggage that entails, rather than one with a scientific or technological answer.

Perhaps this was inevitable ever since Al Gore got involved after losing the 2000 race for president. Maybe there's an alternate universe where Gore wins Florida and Texas Gov. George W. Bush leads a crusade to save the planet.

That's not the world we inhabit right now.

We live in a world where a teenager takes the microphone and tells an older generation: "How dare you. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money. You are failing us."

Here's another inconvenient truth: Despite fawning worldwide media coverage, Thunberg's speech does not belong with great oratory of the past.

Imagine a world where Martin Luther King Jr. stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Instead of saying, "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred," he points a finger at white America and says, "You have failed us."

Imagine that Winston Churchill, instead of invoking "Our Finest Hour" after the Dunkirk evacuations, tells the House of Commons, "We are on the brink of extinction."

What if Americans suffering through the Great Depression turned on the radio and heard President Roosevelt say that their dreams of future prosperity were nothing more than a fairy tale?

Maybe Thunberg got the science right, though some will debate whether mass extinction is imminent. But she did little to advance the cause of rolling back climate change. In fact, she set the movement back, not because of what she had to say but because of how she said it.

An inability to uplift and offer hope, while still outlining a critical problem, means both sides retreat to their rhetorical corners. Now, she's added a generational wedge to go along with the one between the political left and right.

In terms of tone, Thunberg's performance brought up memories of a tantrum at a U.N. General Assembly nearly 60 years ago. At least she didn't pound a shoe on a desk, but she did imply that capitalism would be swamped instead of buried this time.

Time proved Khrushchev wrong. We'll see how it goes for Thunberg. Climate change is a problem that must be taken seriously, but it might be time for a new spokesperson.

-- The St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press

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