TIME magazine announced Greta Thunberg, 16, as its person of the year on Wednesday. Thunberg is a Swedish climate activist who gained international attention this year with scathing criticism of world leaders for their inaction on the climate crisis.
"Thunberg has become the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet—and the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Hong Kong to the halls of Congress in Washington," Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal wrote.
Since 1927 when Charles Lindbergh was named TIME’s first person of the year, the magazine has featured the most influential person, group, movement or idea of the previous 12 months. Last year, it was "The Guardians," a group of journalists who have been targeted or assaulted for their work. In 2017, it was "The Silence Breakers," the group of people who came forward to report sexual misconduct. President Donald Trump was selected in 2016 and Germany’s Angela Merkel in 2015.
Thunberg becomes the youngest person to be recognized, blossoming on the world stage when she began organizing school strikes and protest marches to call attention to a climate crisis that she says older generations are not taking seriously enough. She has famously called out world leaders for debating scientific facts and failing to stop a global warming trend that will affect the world's children more than it affects anyone who's currently in power.
Thunberg’s recognition is a watershed event and if you are involved in agriculture you should take notice. And let’s be clear, whether you believe in climate change or think it’s a hoax is irrelevant. What matters is that climate is an issue gathering world-wide attention and is rapidly becoming the motivational force behind how a generation of people are living their lives.
I recognize many of you harbor some strong opinions about climate change, but please, don’t send them to me. There is no argument – pro or con – that I haven’t already heard, and such arguments are pointless because this movement is not about what you or I believe but about your customers.
Indeed, over the past decade we have witnessed a seismic shift in the way consumers buy all goods and services. Modern Americans have always demanded quality, only now quality means much more to younger consumers. For many quality means products must meet certain criteria for sustainability and environmental impact. Repeatedly, we’ve seen studies that show consumers believe our food system is broken – or at least in need of change. One criticism is that American diets are the most resource-intensive on the plant.
American farmers and ranchers can argue their production systems are the most efficient on the planet. True enough, but that doesn’t always resonate with younger consumers – especially those trained to believe cows are the root cause of climate change. To those young consumers – many of whom are becoming vegan – arguing that climate change is a hoax or sustainability is hogwash is simply irrational.
If you’re wary of how new environmental regulations or land use restrictions may impact your farm or ranch you must become more involved in the process. That doesn’t mean making the hoax argument at every opportunity because that ship is dead in the water with millennials. No, arguing with your customers about what they want is not a winning strategy.
Ultimately, the global movement on climate change will require that you make some changes to your operation, to quality control and resources management. It’s likely that future farmers and ranchers will be required to submit to a third-party audit of their operation to verify compliance with certain environmental and animal welfare standards.
I’m not campaigning for those changes. But the world is rapidly shifting to views similar to Greta Thunberg’s.