The heroine of the environmental movement is on her way. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish celebrity protester, has finally figured out a way to bring her extremist message to the New World.
Thunberg, who has been the focus of adulatory coverage throughout Europe and in mainstream American outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, and a cover story in Time magazine, is a teenage sensation leading a movement of angry European children. Thunberg and her fans are demanding that their country’s governments act to stop global warming. What’s more, they are denouncing as sellouts even those who agree with their goal but are reluctant to adopt the extremist measures such as those Thunberg’s ally Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) put forward in the Green New Deal.
To promote her cause, Thunberg skipped school every Friday for the last year (she’ll be taking the 2019-20 school year off) and held a weekly vigil outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. Reportedly, tens of thousands of fellow students have been following her lead to play hooky.
Thunberg’s notoriety is based not only on her activism but on the example she seeks to set by leaving no carbon footprint. Unlike her fellow tree-hugging celebrities, such as Britain’s Prince Harry, Leonardo DiCaprio, and former President Barack Obama, who all attended the so-called Google Camp event on the environment at a Sicilian resort and arrived there in 114 private jets (which will pump an estimated 784,000 kilograms of carbon into the atmosphere), Thunberg not only tries to avoid plastic wrappings on food, she also takes trains to climate change shindigs, where she lectures her elders on what they should do.
Faced with the problem of how to attend such events elsewhere on the planet, she joyously announced a solution on Twitter. She was, she said, able to attend a U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York this month and another such event in Santiago, Chile, in December with the help of the owners of a sleek 60-foot sailing boat. So, thanks to the Malizia II, a $10 million luxury racing yacht that a grandson of the late Princess Grace of Monaco will pilot, Thunberg will bring her brand of intolerant scolding to the shores of America in August.
Children Can Do No Wrong
Thunberg and her movement operate with some clear advantages. Since they are a children’s crusade, they are credited with the best possible motives and not asked to fully or coherently explain their goals or how they might be achieved without doing more harm than good. Their impatience with the business of democracy in which one must persuade people rather than merely issuing diktats is similarly depicted as evidence of their high ideals rather than ignorance or anti-democratic sentiments.
As for journalists who point out the flaws in these young people’s arguments, the inconsistency in their behavior, or ponder whether children should be skipping school to pursue a political agenda, progressives denounce them as bullies picking on nice kids. Politicians who have the temerity to push back even mildly against the lack of respect and common courtesy that Thunberg and her followers consistently demonstrate must expect a tidal wave of criticism for their so-called insensitivity.
Anyone who doubts this needs only to think back to what happened when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had heard enough from a group of teenagers who lectured her about what she should do and the viral video that came out of their exchange last February, in which she attempted to teach them how democracy works.
Environmental Extremists Created Greta Thunberg
The behavior of Thunberg and the kids she has helped inspire is an understandable product of the apocalyptic rhetoric of environmental extremists. Thunberg’s extremism is a direct result of the tactics of environmentalists who realized they got more attention with wild predictions of planetary doom only loosely tethered to reality than more measured discussions about the climate.
No one should be surprised that children are behaving in this way when extremists are teaching them that the world is basically coming to an end and that we’re all going to fry as a punishment for the sin of benefiting from the prosperity the Industrial Revolution and capitalism created.
Many Americans mocked Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal plans. But Thunberg and her fans see it as a messianic blueprint to save humanity that must take priority over a lowered standard of living for humanity, economic development, individual rights, and the basics of democracy. Rather than being shocked at the children’s willingness to ride roughshod over even those who share their worries about the climate but don’t wish to get rid of modern conveniences that make everyone’s lives better, save lives, and create prosperity, onlookers cheer these children as righteous crusaders for a noble cause.
Devastating Personal Troubles
As a revealing profile in the New York Times published in February made clear, Thunberg’s personal story is not a happy one. The daughter of an opera star and an actor, she was a bright student but fell victim to the pressures of adolescence and bullying at school.
At the age of 11, she “had fallen into a deep funk. She stopped going to school. She stopped eating. She stopped growing. She spoke only to family, and, at school, only to one teacher.” According to her own account at a Stockholm Tedx talk, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and selective mutism. Thankfully, she eventually pulled herself out of this depression by focusing on her worries about the climate.
She now says that “being on the spectrum” of autism is an advantage because it allows her to see the world as a place where “almost everything is black and white.” Making it clear that her activism is a form of life-saving therapy, she has told The Guardian, “I feel like I’m dying inside if I don’t protest.”
While Thunberg’s achievement in surviving her devastating personal troubles is to be applauded, it has bred in her an absolutist attitude that is far from attractive. She bullied her mother to give up her career because it involved air travel, and forced her parents to adopt a vegan diet although she publicly complains that her mother sometimes sneaks cheese into the house for late-night snacks.
Thunberg, who, as the Times noted, doesn’t smile much, is happier now that advocacy on the climate has given her life meaning, but her primary means of communication is lecturing. Like the kids who told off Feinstein, Thunberg has no patience for any discussion about the havoc that might ensue if her absolutist views were enacted. Nor did she seem to bother much with trying to persuade her listeners when she stood vigil during her weekly truancy sessions, dubbed “Fridays for the Future,” which other kids on the continent began to emulate.
A Love-Hate Relationship with the Left
The same is true even when interviewers fawn all over her, such as the time Fareed Zakaria on CNN treated her as a role model rather than an angry teenager armed with only a rudimentary understanding of science and none of economics and democracy. Her politics appears to be a matter of people listening to her and then doing as she says.
But not all environmentalists are thrilled with her celebrity. Many understandably see her emphasis on personal behavior and people giving up meat, cheese, plastic, and air travel as bound to undermine their cause. They want the sole focus to be on governments, not the forlorn hope that people living in the 21st century will be content to live like they are in the 19th because Thunberg tells them it will save the planet.
But it’s likely these concerns will be forgotten in the collective mainstream media swoon for Thunberg when she sails into New York sometime later this month and lectures Americans to ditch their comforts in order to be counted among the righteous. However, it would be a mistake to focus the discussion about her activities on whether she’s wrong about the imminent doom of the planet if we don’t stop eating cows and using airplanes.
Few are noting the children’s profound hostility to the democratic process, something that necessitates treating opposing views with respect and bothering to answer criticisms. It’s not just that Thunberg is helping to distort the debate about the climate, but that the spirit of her activism is indicative of the way the left treats discussion of any issue, whether it is health care, guns, or taxes.
Greta Thunberg’s liberal cheerleaders fail to see that validating an approach that sees the only way to achieve objectives as shaming and silencing opponents does more long-term damage to democracy than anything their political opponents do.