Sometime last year, the world discovered its new Redeemer in the form of a European girl in two braids with a penchant for strikes. Suddenly, she was everywhere- on the cover of Time magazine and British Vogue, receiving awards and adulations from tens of thousands of people. “Move over Malala,” the world seemed to say, “we’ve found our new Messiah”. And just like that, the Greta Thunberg phenomenon happened.
I must add here that I am a teenager like Greta, albeit a bit older and I do believe in climate change. I mention this in the hope that I will not be accused of “adultsplaining” Greta or being lumped in with the deniers. My problems with Greta come from a more neglected aspect, one that stems from being a teenager.
When I first read about Thunberg, her journey from relative obscurity to global attention, there was an unease I felt. Something was unsettling about the fact that so many people, from all across the world were following this young girl, looking up to her as inspiration to lead their rebellion. Climate change awareness isn’t something new, as some people would like us to believe. It dates back to the ‘60s when President Nixon sought to establish NATO as a hub for research on environmental matters, especially acid rain and greenhouse effect.
There was already a significant climate change lobby in place already (cue Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize for a slideshow). Then, why are so many people worshipping this kid? The answer lies in one word- pedophrasty, a rather new word for the manoeuvring of heart over mind. This involves a core element- using children/adolescents to be the face of a movement so that our collective sense of rationality is abandoned, because, hey, how dare you, a grown adult argue with a child? Especially when that will make you look like a jerk.
Perhaps the oldest and the most infamous example of this would be Nayirah, whose false testimony was widely stated as a reason for the U.S. support of Kuwait in the Gulf War. Modern examples of this can be seen when a cute little Syrian girl, Bana al-Abed, blogging from Aleppo was used by people as a case-in-point whenever the Syria question came up. Or when Emma Gonzalez and others of the March For Our Lives Movement, were handed out to us as the last resistance to Orange Man Bad. What followed was a discourse devoid of nuance and no thought about the feasibility of other ideas. It was a mere tugging at our heartstrings with the oft-repeated “Oh, but these children!”
Thunberg’s catapult to fame is yet another incident that follows the same predictable pattern. Supporters of Thunberg, the overwhelming majority of who are leftists, seemed to have calculated that many a heart would melt at the sight of this young girl with Asperger’s (or to use the more politically correct term, she’s “neuro-diverse”), struggling to “change the system”. Too bad many aren’t buying it. But here Greta seems to have hogged the entire limelight. The gun-control or the anti-Assad lobby might have used child supporting actors but these were very much managed by adults at the frontline. Now, Greta’s playing the lead role, with others merely playing her loyal sidekicks.
The problem kicks in here. Having a hysterical 16-year-old to be a champion of what is an extremely complex problem is a bad, bad idea. Take her now-famous “How dare you” speech. She says:
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
She squarely blames “eternal economic growth” for our present woes, an obvious swipe at the evil capitalists who are apparently snatching away the future from us. Greta gets this wrong, big time. Today, countries that don’t have enough access to clean water are by large developing countries. The developed world breathes in more cleaner air than those that aren’t. It’s all very well for Greta who is from a Nordic La La Land to preach to other countries about giving up fossil fuels. But she doesn’t realise that the only way a poor woman somewhere in an Indian village can give up cooking by burning firewood is by convincing her that a cleaner LPG connection is economical for her, not by showing her a video of Greta shouting “How dare you?”
And let’s not forget that companies like Tesla are the ones bringing in a tangible change via persuading people to use electric vehicles or even billionaire philanthropists like Gates who pour vast amounts of money to better people’s lives. These companies and individuals exist only because of economic growth that Greta decides to vilify.
Add to this, are the adults who have been captivated by her. These are mostly millennials, the snowflakes. Many, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to AOC, have become her ardent fans, some of whom have completely forgotten what it is to be a responsible adult. Prince Harry reportedly suffers from “eco-anxiety” and has turned into a part-time virtue-signaller on climate, never mind that his family’s carbon footprint is greater than the entire of Bhutan. This is partly because most do not want to be seen as someone who debates with youngsters. That is not a “woke” thing to do, after all.
They will hail Greta for being mature enough to lead a movement but don’t consider it right to correct her because “she’s only 16 and has Asperger’s.”
But what is more worrisome is the attention Greta’s getting from the younger lot, Generation Z, the generation to which I belong. When I see classmates and school juniors hailing Greta, I’m worried because here is a girl who operates on mass hysteria. In her own words-
“I am 16 years old, I come from Sweden and I want you to panic. I want you to act as if the house was on fire.”
The tone of alarm here is undeniable, indeed, it is the message. She doesn’t want hope, she expressly denies it. Sure enough, people did panic, especially her teenaged fans. They came out in huge numbers, both in India and all across the world demanding “climate justice” with banners proclaiming that the earth is “literally dying”, asking why a certain “you” is killing them and that “the end is near” while participating in “die-ins”.
What fills them with so much dread, when we are by far the generation that has had it the best? We are digital natives, the ones most adept at technology, we have a better shot at being educated than our grandparents, the vast majority of us have never experienced war, famine or epidemics and we will live longer, healthier lives with life expectancy improving thanks to modern medicine. We should be the most optimistic generation that brims with belief and new ideas. And yet, we decide to join a cult-like movement chanting about our impending death and doom, sacrificing hope at its altar. It makes one wonder what sort of adults they would grow up to be if they don’t grow out of their gloom.
What Greta Thunberg is advocating is a radical overhaul of the system without reaching out to the other side, understanding them and engaging with their points of contention. She’s doing this with next to none to question her because of fear of castigation and vicious media-shaming. Sure, she might have her heart in the right place but without opening up to well-meaning criticism, that is of no use. The world needs more scientists and thinkers who with innovation and technology should lead us to solve what is a grave concern for the future. But until someone musters the courage to say that, we will continue to be stuck with a melodramatic teenager.