Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been likened to Joan of Arc, and a Church in Sweden calls her a “successor” to Jesus Christ. In September she was named as one of four winners of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, known as Sweden’s “alternative Nobel Prize” for “inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts.” Multitudes adore her, thrilling to the state of alarm she inspires in them, and can’t get enough of her fierce climate jeremiads.
Will her present sanctity endure, or is she merely enjoying her 15 minutes of fame?
Greta speaks with adult assurance, but she is still a child in her belief that if only she can adequately communicate her sense of urgency to adults apparently oblivious to the existential crisis her own uncorrupted and uncluttered mind beholds with such clarity, the scales will fall from their eyes and they will fix the problem! For it is in the nature of children to believe that adults are both powerful and competent to deal with emergencies, and that it is merely a question of will. (A few years ago, I was trying to explain some war or other to my then nine-year old granddaughter, who finally asked with a touch of impatience and extreme puzzlement, “Why don’t they all just decide to stop fighting?”)
Greta’s story has the added dramatic dimension of her mental-health issues, which are known and yet unmentionable, such is the deference expected to her authority. A commentator on Fox News—as right-wing as it gets for mainstream media in the U.S.—referred to Greta as “mentally ill” and was promptly banned from any reappearances.
Yet Greta and her family have never made a secret of her sometimes grave problems. On the contrary, her parents wrote a book about them, Scenes from the Heart, in which Greta’s depression, anxiety attacks, high-functioning autism, selective mutism, OCD, and life-threatening anorexia are all detailed. (Her younger sister Beata suffers from her own set of hobbling afflictions). If “mentally ill” is a bit harsh, surely “mentally unstable” is fair comment?
Greta’s mother Malena Ernman (a former singer, whose face is on the cover of the book) claims Greta’s autism is her “superpower.” Greta told Germany’s ZDF TV broadcaster in February that if she were not autistic, “I would simply have continued to live and think like everyone else.” She added that her black and white view of the world makes it “more realistic.” As climate change is so complex it has defied reliable prediction by the finest computer models in the world, Greta’s assumption is absurd. Yet one doesn’t see much rebuttal to anything she says.
For such is the public awe she inspires, Greta has become untouchable. She must be acknowledged as a world leader, but her age and frailty require would-be critics to pull their punches. One may call Donald Trump “crazy” with impunity, but we are supposed to avert our eyes from facts that are not only pertinent to Greta’s alarmism, but which may put her at risk of a breakdown under the relentless pressure such celebrity entails. If we don’t, we are accused of bullying a vulnerable child.
As Meghan Murphy points out in a column in Spectator USA: “I worry about a child being positioned by adults as a leader. Indeed, I think it constitutes both inappropriate pressure, and an unfair lie. If we are not permitted to think or speak critically about a leader, they cannot be a leader. We cannot have leaders that we are not allowed to hold to account. It is unethical and manipulative to prop someone up as a leader we must listen to, but also refuse to allow anything less than blind, unquestioning adoration.”
She is right. When untouchable children front for a cause, it gives the adult actors with a political agenda behind them an enormous advantage. Greta’s family crisis and the climate crisis are presented as inextricably bound up with each other, both indices of a global disorder. This should strike any rational observer as a bizarre thesis, but in an era where categorization is discouraged and “fluidity” is the new normal, it has a culturally seductive appeal.
I can understand why her parents should approve of her doomsday crusade. Activism has given Greta a purpose and a positive antidote to depression. She’s eating. She’s talking. She is receiving daily megadoses of validation. In fact her whole family has found Greta’s activism a unifying and tonic experience (Greta’s father Svante manages Greta’s career full time now). That’s nice for them. But why other parents should be happy to see their own children infected by Greta’s panic and dread puzzles me. Even if you believe her dire prognostications, terror is not a good base for rational choice and for young people it will impede the urge to do their own independent research on the subject.
Greta’s affect—her humourlessness, intensity and pharisaical self-righteousness (“How dare you!” comes so easily to her lips)—is so mesmerizing it is considered impertinent to ask if she is factually correct in her assumptions. Such a sanctified air accompanies her progress through our streets and institutions that it seems an act of lèse-majesté at this point to wonder aloud if a girl of eight can possibly have been exposed to enough information to form an independent judgment. It is surely doubtful that, once having embarked on the path of alarmism, a child of her single-mindedness would have had the inclination or curiosity to seek out dissenting views to the narrowly-focused scenario she absorbed in elementary school.
Does Greta even understand that credible, mitigating information exists? Is she aware of sites like wattsupwiththat.com or yourenvironment.ca or realclearscience.com that offer data-based information stipulating that the climate is changing, but painting a non-catastrophic picture concerning the rapidity and degree of warming? I doubt it. Greta does not want reassurance. Extreme anxiety is Greta’s comfort zone, what the briar patch was to Bre’er Rabbit in the old Uncle Remus folk tale.
It is our obligation as adults—parents and teachers—to ensure our own children do not succumb to climate hysteria. They must be aware that Greta is not omniscient, and we must expose them to sober voices with a trustworthy pedigree in climate research. For example, Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and a credible, longtime evidence-based dissenter to climate alarmism, does not dispute the climate is changing, but promotes a combination of solutions, including adaptation.
Lomborg had the temerity to challenge Greta’s first principles—such as “people are dying [from climate change]”—in a recent op ed for the Globe and Mail. A century ago, weather-related disasters killed half a million people a year. Today, in spite of warmer temperatures, only 20,000 people a year die from weather-related events, a reduction of 95%, Lomborg says.
Lomborg also gently chided Greta for her “blinkered” first-worldism when she says that young people won’t forgive us if we don’t end fossil fuels by 2028 (which is impossible without total societal breakdown). Less coddled people, when polled about their priorities, cited health, education, jobs, corruption and nutrition as their leading concerns. Only fossil fuels can help them achieve those goals. In fact, he says, most of the world’s young people will never forgive us if we foreclose on their opportunities for the health and education entitlements Greta takes for granted.
Many of Greta’s fans would like to believe that she is a self-ignited comet, but the facts paint a more politicized picture. In the May edition of Standpoint Magazine, journalist Dominic Green illuminates a fascinating political back story to Greta’s trajectory that involves “a shadowy cabal of lobbyists, investors and energy companies seeking to profit from a green bonanza.” Worth a read.
Finally, we must also remind our children that climate alarmism has an embarrassing history of failed predictions by so-called experts who variously assured us that over-population and/or the coming ice age would starve us to death, if the demand for electricity didn’t boil dry the entire network of U.S. rivers and streams. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has published an article with a cornucopia of examples, “Wrong Again: 50 years of failed eco-pocalyptic predictions.” I recommend it to anyone who feels a Thunbergian fever coming on.