|It's gettin' hot in here|
Greta Thunberg (2003–) is a Swedish advocate for the radical change necessary to avoid climate change catastrophe. She has presented her message in many important forums including the United Nations, where she has made a significant impact on the global narrative of climate change. Her emotional pleas for change and her anger directed at those who have "ruined the Earth for the next generation" have found positive reception. Thunberg has received numerous awards, media coverage, and messages of admiration from world leaders. While for the most part she is accepted as brave and intelligent with a promising future, representative of her generation, she was also met by vicious resistance from right-wing climate change deniers who have politicized and depicted her as a vile dangerous demon attempting to hoax the world into economic decline.
Thunberg started off by taking Fridays off school and protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament, Riksdagen, with her trademark sign "Skolstrejk för klimatet" ("School strike for the climate"). Her supportive family and some of her schoolmates joined her, and those of other schools, and thanks to social media combined with news coverage, the trend quickly spread across Sweden and around the world. She is a supporter of Extinction Rebellion and donated the proceeds from a multimedia project. Thunberg has taken full advantage of social media and her ability to advocate to the younger generation. She encouraged students to strike all over the world which resulted in a mass global strike in many countries.
Thunberg has inspired a number of other activists of her own generation, many of them young women who are now prominent in their own right, such as Germany's Luisa Neubauer and the US activist Alexandria Villaseñor.
She maintains that politicians and other decision makers should look at what science says about the global climate crisis and act accordingly.
Hysterics from wingnuts
The idea that a teenage girl advocating for a better future could be a demonic threat to the very heart of society is not new. Of course, the reaction to Thunberg from the climate change denialists is also what you expect, containing the atypical blend of conspiracy theories and doctored memes, personal attacks, "jokes" about her being in a "freak yachting accident", and a particularly stupid pundit invoking Godwin's Law... because she wears braids.
The viciousness of personal attacks quickly reached batshit-insane levels in October 2019 when an effigy of Thunberg was hung on a bridge in Rome. Hanging by the neck was a sign, written in English saying "Greta is your God". While not only bizarre and confusing, it is a threatening response to Thunberg's advocacy and a sign of how afraid people are of the personal cost required to change our policies. Resistance to Thunberg coincides with countries and regions that have high rates of denialism, and also coincides with oil-producing countries such as the United States, the province of Alberta in Canada, Russia and the Gulf countries (such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar). There is also a less extreme but still ridiculous and dangerously politicized climate change denial in Hungary, Italy, Australia, and Brazil where Thunberg has been maligned by the media or far-right populist politicians.
Michael Knowles, of The Daily Wire, went too far, even for Fox News (kind of), calling Thunberg "a mentally ill Swedish child" and accusing the "international left" and her parents of "exploiting a girl with many mental illnesses…" Laura Ingraham couldn't be left out of the being a horrible person competition, a few hours after Knowles' remarks, comparing footage of Thunberg's address to the UN, to a clip of Isaac Chroner, the child cult leader from the 1984 horror film Children of the Corn, who murder all the adults in their town.
favorite classical liberal "skeptic" Sargon of Akkad had some opinions in a video, You Have Nothing to Fear from the Cult of Greta Thunberg summed up as, "She doesn't know what she's talking about" and "cult like deification of Greta, is getting real creepy" and that she should be ignored, right?). Other choice quotes include, "Well everyone's pro-science. Science is how we work out what's true about the world … No one is opposing this [climate science], what they are opposing is the framing of what's happening." and "Obviously she's a puppet, obviously she's a puppet of her parent, she's 16; she can't not be". He also thinks Trump handled it the right way: "just ignore the child". Shocker, he brings up socialism, communism and the freaking Soviet Union.
One of the most illogical statements came from Pastor Robert Jeffress, "Somebody needs to read poor Greta Genesis, Chapter 9, and tell her the next time she worries about global warming, just look at a rainbow. That's God's promise that the polar ice caps aren't going to melt and flood the world again."
The wingnut reactions extend beyond Greta to her family, too. There have been rumors circulating the internet that her family has a background in Satanism, mostly because her mother, the famous opera singer Malena Ernman, appeared on the cover of Vi magazine with the caption "Everyone sells their soul to the devil sometime". Greta's grandmother, Mona Andersson, also starred in the 1964 black and white film, 491 which was the first-ever film to feature gay teen rape and bestiality which led to the film being banned in Sweden and Malaysia. Her
great great grandfather second cousin thrice removed was Svante Arrhenius, a famous Swedish chemist, physicist, and eugenicist, (whom Greta's father Svante Thunberg had been named after) was also the discoverer of the greenhouse effect and actually believed that it would be a good thing.
“”And no, autism (as well as ADHD, ADD, Tourette’s, OCD, ODD etc) is not a "gift". For most it is an endless fight against schools, workplaces and bullies. But under the right circumstances, given the right adjustments it CAN be a superpower.
Greta has revealed that she has Asperger syndrome, a nebulously-defined subtype of autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that involves strengths and challenges.
While one might focus on Thunberg's arguments and the amazing feat of garnering the world's attention at such a young age, others seem obsessed with her autism in an attempt to blame her entire "irrational message" on a mental disorder. Thunberg doesn't view her condition as a major hindrance to her life. While admitting that she has struggled in the past, she now considers her Asperger's syndrome as a superpower.
Greta's autistic traits have impacted the clarity and strength of her message. She's known for her simple blunt honesty, and she cannot abide hypocrisy, two autistic traits that help her fight against anti-science politics. Autistic people tend to have unusually intense passions that allow them to harness powerful focus. Greta credits her autism for her clarity of mind and determination in pursuit of change.
In 2018 she wrote: "I have Aspergers syndrome so, for me, most things are black or white. I look at the people in power and wonder how they have made things so complicated. I hear people saying that climate change is an existential threat, yet I watch as people carry on like nothing is happening."
While some people with the best of intentions have treated Greta like she is superhuman, autistic people (including the very remarkable ones) are still regular human beings and have daily struggles associated with the disorder. Greta is still a teenager who experiences normal human things like emotions, struggles, and hard work. Pretending that she's some type of superior being doesn't make sense and has some unsavory implications such as downplaying her achievements, talent, and hard work.
On nuclear power
She has a relatively nuanced position on nuclear power, writing: "Personally I am against nuclear power, but according to the IPCC [the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change], it can be a small part of a very big new carbon free energy solution, especially in countries and areas that lack the possibility of a full scale renewable energy supply - even though it's extremely dangerous, expensive and time consuming. But let’s leave that debate until we start looking at the full picture."
Much of the critical responses to Thunberg's activism are straw men and personal attacks. Instead of engaging with what she says, her critics way too often focus on other issues such as her age and sex (eg, hysterics that she's a "little girl with mental problems"), her attitude, other baseless charges such as claims that she is being "manipulated", and, when all else fails, typical wingnut boogeymen ("George Soros!" "Antifa!"). Engaging with what she actually says seems very rare indeed. This is not a new phenomenon when it comes to environmental activists (an unfortunately typical debate strategy of climate change denialists is to poison the well), but Greta has handled the hysterics admirably, brushing the hysterics off with bemusement and keeping the focus on the consensus science. Meanwhile, her ability to articulate and communicate the climate science, and getting people to listen, has earned widespread support from scientists and academics in the field.
One less ad-hominem oriented criticism involving her tone is that it is heavily reliant on "weaponizing shame". While some would argue that the very inaction of governments (up to the point of flat out embracing climate denialism in some cases) justifies this, some critics do find this approach too confrontational and divisive (though climate change politics has unfortunately always been nasty and divisive).
Her UN speech on September 23, 2019, where she criticized leaders only able to talk about "money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth", resulted in criticism from those who believe that, contrary to her opinion, it will actually be ingenuity and economic growth that will be the ultimate driving force for a solution to the climate change issue. On the other hand, other commentators agree with Thunberg that the current capitalism paradigm needs adjustment in order to handle climate change, and reforming capitalism to be more "stakeholder" oriented (which includes awareness of climate change) was a major topic of the 2020 World Economic Forum at Davos.
Another criticism is less on her and more on the media (and a criticism that Thunberg agrees with): the media tends to disproportionately focus on just her, which is detrimental not only the message, but also to activists in other countries (many of them from developing countries far more on the front line when it comes to climate change). In addition, similar to Al Gore, this over-focus has given climate denialists a convenient boogeyman to attack. Another criticism is that occasionally the praise for Thunberg has devolved into "virtual canonisation" — another criticism that Thunberg would agree with, as she wants the focus to be on climate change, not her.
“”The go-to way to dismiss what an autistic person is saying in our society is to point out that we are autistic.
|—Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network|
While many of her critics don't name autism specifically, their criticisms target autistic traits (or, colored from bias knowing Thunberg is autistic, exaggerate traits that may not even be present). Monotone or odd voice, muted or odd facial expressions, direct language, strong emotions, getting overwhelmed or distracted in busy environments, and other traits are all common in autistic people, though every person is different. Tragically, being attacked for autistic traits is a common thing that autistic people, especially outspoken autistic activists, have to endure.
People, mostly the vile right-wing climate change denialists, have also claimed that Thunberg is mentally ill. This ignores that (1) autism is a developmental disorder and not a mental illness, and (2) mentally ill people can still be right about things. She has been armchair diagnosed with illnesses ranging from depression to OCD by the leader of the far-right People's Party of Canada. After harsh backlash, however, he has later shrugged out a notpology while still maintaining his denialist stance and neglecting her achievements by accusing her to be a "'pawn' of the climate movement".
Fox News, in an uncharacteristic moment of decency, decided to stop booking Michael J. Knowles after he called Thunberg a "mentally ill Swedish child," among other things. (You'd think that if a child were mentally ill, it would be a reason to be extra kind to them, not to bully them.)
"It's absolutely unconscionable to attack someone for their disability, especially when that person is a child," Bascom stated.
Part of Thunberg's mass appeal is her ability to put forth points with eloquent simplicity (whether in Swedish or English). She cuts through the rhetoric of large and powerful but slow-to-move international organizations, states, and the like with direct statements, such as:
- "You say you love your children above all else, and yet you're stealing their future in front of their very eyes."
- "Why go to school and study for a future which might not exist?"
- "We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. […] And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself?"
- "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?!"
- No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (2019, ISBN 978-0-14-199174-0)
- Scenes from the Heart/Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis (2020, Penguin, ISBN 978-0-143-13357-5)
- The Climate Book (2022, Penguin, ISBN 9780593492307)
- "The right keeps attacking Greta Thunberg’s identity, not her ideas" by Anna North, Vox, 2020 January 23
- Zhao, Christina. Newsweek. (September 23, 2019). Fox News Guests Fight On-Air After One Called Greta Thunberg a 'Mentally Ill Swedish Child': 'Relax Skinny Boy… You're Despicable' (Full video on YouTube)
- Media Matters for America. (September 23, 2019). Laura Ingraham compares Greta Thunberg and youth climate activists to Stephen King's “Children of the Corn”
- Sargon of Akkad. YouTube (September 26, 2019) You Have Nothing to Fear from the Cult of Greta Thunberg
- Jensen, K Thor. Newsweek. (September 25, 2019). Evangelical Pastor to Greta Thunberg: Don't Worry, God Promised Not to Flood Earth Again
- Facebook post by Greta Thunberg
- Greta Thunberg became a climate activist not in spite of her autism, but because of it - Vox
- How Greta Thunberg's autism helps give her a singular focus - CBC
- Greta Thunberg is right: Autism is her superpower. Those who mock her should learn from her - Salon
- Greta Thunberg has likened her Asperger syndrome to a 'superpower' — some Fortune 500 employers appear to agree - Market Watch
- Greta Thunberg Says Asperger's Is Her Superpower - Refinery 29
- For people with Asperger's, a role model emerges in Greta Thunberg - NBC News
- How Climate Activist and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Greta Thunberg 'Destroys' Asperger's Stigma - People
- Don't Call Greta Thunberg "Superhuman"
- On Nuclear power
- "Don’t Listen to Greta Thunberg", National Review, September 24, 2019
- "Greta Thunberg branded a 'little girl' with 'mental problems' in Coffs Harbour school newsletter", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1 Oct 2019
- David Vance, [https://twitter.com/DVATW/status/1162408880804171777 Tweet, 16 Aug 2019
- "Piers Morgan Claims He 'Worries' About Greta Thunberg and 'Thinks She's Being Used'", The Independent, October 26, 2019
- "Putin says Greta Thunberg is a 'kind and sincere girl' but claims she's being manipulated by others", Business Insider, October 3 2019
- "Do Photos Show Greta Thunberg with George Soros, ISIS, and the ‘Antifa Terrorist Organization’?", Snopes, 24 September 2019
- "Why the right’s usual smears don’t work on Greta Thunberg",Vox, September 26, 2019.
- "I’m a Scientist and Greta Thunberg’s Speech to Congress Inspires Me", Union of Concerned Scientists, September 20th
- "Climate scientists say Greta Thunberg's efforts are building real momentum", NBC News, September 28, 2019
- "School climate strike children’s brave stand has our support", The Guardian, 15 February 2019
- "Greta Thunberg weaponized shame in an era of shamelessness", Monica Hesse, 2019 September 25, Washington Post
- "As Australia Burns, a Climate Change Denier Rallies the Troops", Damien Cave, 2020 January 22
- "The Greta Thunberg effect: ‘Hero and villain’ of 2019", Kevin O'Sullivan, Irish Times, 2019 December 23
- "Transcript: Greta Thunberg's Speech At The U.N. Climate Action Summit", 2019 September 23, NPR Staff, NPR.org
- "Greta Thunberg and Prince Harry Are Wrong. Our Ingenuity Is the Earth’s Ultimate Resource", Ryan Bourne, Conservative Home, 2019 October 2, reprinted by the Cato Institute
- "The Delusion and Danger of Infinite Economic Growth: How economists came to ignore the natural world", Christopher F. Jones, New Republic, 2019 October 1
- "Why we need the 'Davos Manifesto' for a better kind of capitalism", Klaus Schwab, 2019 December 01
- "Too much of a Greta thing? Activist urges focus on others", Frank Jordans and Aritz Parra, AP News, 2019 December 9
- "Thunberg Isn’t the Only Young Voice We Should Be Listening To", Mythili Sampathkumar, New Republic, 2019 December 2
- "Greta Thunberg’s attackers are morally bankrupt, but her deification isn’t helpful", Julian Baggini, 2019 Aug 19
- "The Dangers of Depicting Greta Thunberg as a prophet", The Conversation, 2019 December 12
- Attacks on Greta Thunberg expose the stigma autistic girls face - Vox
- Maxime Bernier Attacked Greta Thunberg’s Autism. Naomi Klein Says Autism Made the Teen a Global Voice of Conscience - Common Dreams
- Fox News Won't Book Guest Again After "Disgraceful" Comments About Greta Thunberg - Hollywood Reporter
- Fox News apologises to Greta Thunberg after pundit called her 'mentally ill child' on air - The Independent