Featured Image: Greta Thunberg outside Swedish Parliament (August 2018) by Anders Helberg
Greta Thunberg has seen the future and it scares the hell out of her. Her fear is genuine and unaffected. That makes it contagious. From her humble beginnings waving a cardboard sign outside the Swedish Parliament, Greta has become Time’s 2019 Person of the Year. After watching Greta’s speech to the UN on climate change Open Democracy‘s Paul Tyson reports “I wept. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I did not know what to do with myself in response to the power, urgency and truth of what she said.”
Greta is the daughter a childfree generation never had, a geeky but courageous young lady speaking truth to power. Her passion reminds them of their youthful zeal and her hopes hearken back to a time when they once cared about the future. They can live vicariously through her triumphs and defend her against the bullies who would take her down. It’s not surprising that Greta has been greeted with adulation normally reserved for spiritual leaders. As Time‘s 2019 award describes her:
Thunberg is 16 but looks 12. She usually wears her light brown hair pulled into two braids, parted in the middle. She has Asperger’s syndrome, which means she doesn’t operate on the same emotional register as many of the people she meets. She dislikes crowds; ignores small talk; and speaks in direct, uncomplicated sentences. She cannot be flattered or distracted. She is not impressed by other people’s celebrity, nor does she seem to have interest in her own growing fame. But these very qualities have helped make her a global sensation. Where others smile to cut the tension, Thunberg is withering. Where others speak the language of hope, Thunberg repeats the unassailable science: Oceans will rise. Cities will flood. Millions of people will suffer.
In advertising terms, Greta Thunberg has strong positive appeal with a few desirable demographic groups. And when you’re living in a globalist plutocracy (spoiler alert: you are), every political and economic act hinges on reaching your target market. There is no reason to doubt Greta’s sincerity. Her awkward blunt honesty has made her a global icon. It also makes her a valuable tool for those with their own agendas.
Greta’s demands are simple. She wants us to act as if our house is on fire. She wants legislators to listen to scientists on global warming. She reminds us that the climate and ecological emergency is right here, right now and warns us future generations will never forgive us if we don’t do something. When pressed for specifics, the best she has been able to come up with is, “No one knows for sure. But we have to stop burning fossil fuels and restore nature and many other things that we may not have quite figured out yet.”
Anthropogenic climate change is definitely real. Using our water systems as cesspools and waste dumps is certainly a bad idea. Pumping gigatons of pollutants into a complicated ecosystem will definitely result in all sorts of unintended complications. But we do not know precisely what will happen, nor when. We can predict the next five days of weather with 90% accuracy and get a 7-day forecast right around 80% of the time: after that accuracy drops off to around 50%. Any speculations about climate over decades or centuries is at best educated guesswork. Unfortunately, educated guesswork is not nearly so exciting as “NEW YORK CITY FLOODED BY 2050!!” (Or, a few decades earlier, “NEW YORK CITY UNDER ICE BY 1990!!“)
Wiser mentors might respond to a scared 15-year old with Asperger’s by telling her that while these problems are real, their effects will take course over her lifetime and she has that lifetime to make positive changes. They might acknowledge she has a point when she talks about “fairy tales of eternal growth.” They would certainly warn her of the blowback and abuse she would inevitably face as a public figure. More cynical mentors fed her fears, and the fears of her supporters, to further their agenda. They would weaponize her sincerity for their own gain and use her vulnerability to silence inconvenient questions as bullying.
Over the past several decades we have spent a great deal of time looking for “green” alternative sources of energy. Many of these efforts have done little save transfer funds from public to a few wealthy private coffers. Solar panel startup Solyndra cost taxpayers over $500 million in its 2011 bankruptcy. By 2016 the wind industry had sucked up $176 billion in government subsidies. Efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable ethanol soaked taxpayers for over $30 billion between 1978 and 2012 and cost over $3.5 billion in higher grocery prices in 2016. And many who are praising — and funding — Greta’s crusade stand to profit handsomely from new green energy initiatives.
Greta’s “school strike” has sparked a good deal of discussion about the environment. Much of that conversation has revolved around suggestions like eating vegan, buying fair trade products and other ideas which will do more to pad the bottom line at Whole Foods than to fix our poisoned planet. Those arranging Greta’s speeches before the UN, Congress and Parliament see her as a useful tool. If she posed any threat to the money they make from pollution, she would be branded a threat by the governments who now tolerate her scolding and castigated as an ecoterrorist by the journalists who now call her a hero. Those who get a warm fuzzy glow defending Greta from bullying critics might better turn their attention to those rich and powerful people who are using Greta, and her followers, to prop up the very system which terrifies her.