Unless you’ve been hiding under a glacier for the past year, you will definitely have heard of Greta Thunberg, the planet’s newfound hero.
She rose to fame when she inspired and incited a strike at her school in 2018. She also met with various UK leaders in a bid to kickstart more climate action and recently arrived in Manhattan after sailing across the Atlantic on a zero-carbon yacht. When it comes to going green, she puts us all to shame.
My sheer admiration for the pig-tailed Swedish teen is even larger than the carbon footprint of Harry and Meghan’s private jet (before it was offset by Elton John, of course). And rightly so. But despite reverent support from across the globe, mostly from young people, she has received an equally, if not larger, barrage of abuse and mockery.
For example, she’s been branded as “deeply disturbed,” “freakishly influential” and “strange.” Despite her rising profile, her Asperger’s syndrome and mental health issues have been used persistently to discredit her, and if that’s not enough, the head of the Leave campaign had to take it one step further.
Arron Banks’ tweet in reference to Greta’s trip threatened that “freak yachting accidents do happen in August,” showing complete disregard for the safety, confidence and motives of a child out to change the world. His words got me thinking, and I’ve started to wonder whether Greta Thunberg is really the best individual to spearhead the campaign against climate change, and whether her somewhat extreme actions are the best way forward.
Greta Thunberg’s youth and lack of letters after her name make her relatable and a refreshing change to the scientific jargon that has dominated the fight against climate change thus far. Nonetheless, the ghastly abuse she receives exemplifies that the strengths which make her popular also make her an easy target. An inexperienced 16-year old is easier for a climate change denier to discredit than someone renowned and established like David Attenborough. ‘Greta, the saviour of the planet’ makes a wonderful story, but threatens to present the whole movement as idealistic fiction.
Make it Relatable
My misgivings mentioned up until now are by no fault of Greta’s own. But I do think that she could adjust is her somewhat combative tone. She’s pointed the finger and repeatedly blamed older generations for the climate crisis, widening the generation gap and alienating a large proportion of the population. No one likes being blamed, and it doesn’t solve anything. In fact, it is likely to make older generations pursue business as usual with heightened ferocity.
Also, Greta’s own example isn’t exactly realistic for the majority of people. Unfortunately, most aren’t privileged enough to be gifted a zero-carbon yacht to sail across the Atlantic with, nor can they afford to spend 2 weeks travelling just to prove a point. By setting such high standards, I fear Greta makes ‘saving the planet’ seemingly unattainable for the general population. “What’s the point?” they’ll retort, before clicking to book a flight or turning the key in an ignition.
The Right Methods?
Aside from this, I have extreme reservations with the fundamental idea of a school strike. Controversial, perhaps, but I’m pretty sure a large number of protesters joined in without a single thought about the climate, motivated instead by a day off school. But even those with best intentions are dismissing education, a highly sought-after privilege and something not available to millions across the world. And most of my knowledge about the climate and environment has come from school anyway, so it seems counterproductive to be skipping school when education is a driving force behind climate change awareness.
Although Greta has stressed that the focus should not be on her actions, she has inevitably been canonised and ‘support for Greta’ has become synonymous with ‘environmental action.’ Regardless of how it looks, it’s not the same thing. Joining a school strike is not tackling climate change if you’ve also booked long-haul flights to Japan for your summer holiday. Retweeting Greta’s latest post doesn’t negate the shameful mileage on your car. While it’s great that we have a figurehead for the movement, it is important she does not become a distraction from the cause at hand.
Undoubtedly, Greta Thunberg has been instrumental in bringing greater publicity to the climate crisis, and she has very clearly inspired her own generation to become guardians of our planet. But this has not come without sacrifices. Divisions have widened between generations, a 16-year old has been abused and climate change deniers remain as rife and stubborn as ever.
We must all take responsibility in treating the planet with care. Climate action, or lack thereof, should not be used as a weapon to demonise populations or political parties. Instead, we must unite. And perhaps if we stopped talking about Brexit, this might be possible… but that’s a topic for another blog post!