OPINION: The haters will fail

Norman McFarlane

What is it about Greta Thunberg that so infuriates the establishment that she is challenging to step up and deal meaningfully with climate change?

Could it be that the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist has skilfully taken off at the knees, the institutions dominated by old white men, the power brokers in whose hands lies the power to make and implement the decisions which could, if not avert, at least ameliorate, the imminent disaster that awaits us?

Or could it be that Greta has neatly sidestepped the skilful gerrymandering of the climate change denialism lobby by tapping into the zeitgeist of our current epoch, increasingly widespread eco-anxiety?

That double-edged sword, social media, has undoubtedly played a significant role in the explosive growth of support she has garnered for her cause, from her first solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018, to her address to the United Nations climate action summit on Monday last week.

It has also provided a platform for the stream of vitriol which has been directed at her by the alt-right, which chooses to ignore the long-settled science of climate change, first made public in the 1970s, which predicts an increasingly bleak and dystopian future for the entire planet.

Donald Trump, for example, tweeted “[s]he seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” which is clearly designed to denigrate her justifiable assertion that the assembled world leaders have “stolen my dreams, my childhood, with your empty words” added that “we are in the beginning of a mass extinction;” and demanded, “how dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions?”.

Predictably, among his support base, the attacks on Greta accelerated – Fox News guest commentator, Michael Knowles, said that Greta is “a mentally-ill Swedish child”, and although the network subsequently apologised for his remarks and said it would not invite him back, the damage had already been done, and that assertion went viral.

Although that misogynist dinosaur, Jeremy Clarkson, is by no means a thought leader, he does have a significant following from his discontinued BBCTV show, Top Gear (estimated viewership 350 million) and Amazon’s Grand Tour, in which he glorifies fossil fuel gas-guzzling motor vehicles.

Is it any wonder that he went on a public rant against Greta in his weekly column, labelling her a “spoilt brat” and telling her to appreciate what adults had done for her. That it is those very same adults who are responsible for the enduring non-response to the climate crisis, seems to escape Mr Clarkson.

It is perhaps also worth noting that Mr Clarkson’s daughter, Emily, who writes for the same publication as her father, came out in support of Greta’s activism just the day before, and in response to her father’s self-righteous tweet “Wouldn’t it be nice if she (Greta) learned some manners”, retorted, “A woman doesn’t need to be polite to make a point”.

Mr Clarkson is, of course, well known for his sexism. In a January 2011 interview, he lamented that he and other presenters could be sacked for voicing an off-air sexist opinion.

“If that’s the new benchmark, the three of us (Clarkson and fellow Top Gear presenters, James May and Richard Hammond) would have been sacked probably 100 times for the things we’ve said. So would everyone.

“It’s baffling. It’s a very baffling, worrying time if I’m not allowed to say to Richard or James something on my mind for fear I could be sacked for it.”

Which equates to Mr Trump’s disgraceful locker-room banter with Access Hollywood anchor, Billy Bush in 2005, in which Mr Trump proudly describes attempting to force himself on a married woman, several months after he married his present wife, Melania.

In a world reeling from the accreting assault on women, how can the likes of Mr Clarkson and Mr Trump think that harbouring such sentiments privately is somehow or other okay?

But the overt sexism in the backlash against Greta aside, it is the criticism that she is a “child” who is being manipulated by the “leftist” climate lobby and her climate activist parents, which is potentially the most damaging to her cause.

Well, here’s the thing. In Mr Clarkson’s own country, the age of majority, the threshold of adulthood as recognised or declared in law, is 16, so that makes Greta an adult.

As to whether or not Greta is being “used” by her parents, Malena Ernman and Svante Thunberg, is moot, since how else would one expect an individual born into a family of socially aware climate activists to think and act?

That Greta, her sister, Beata and their parents have co-authored a book titled Our House Is On Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, due to be released in March, speaks volumes.

But if the haters can build traction for the child-abuse narrative, they will succeed in their goal – to belittle Greta’s agency and to disempower her advocacy.

The other argument advanced by her detractors, is that her assertions about the approaching climate calamity are inaccurate and sensationalist.

Well, they are not. A The Guardian report dated July 10 states: “A 2013 study in Environmental Research Letters found 97% of climate scientists agreed with this link in 12 000 academic papers that contained the words ‘global warming’ or ‘global climate change’ from 1991 to 2011. Last week, that paper hit one million downloads, making it the most accessed paper ever among the 80+ journals published by the Institute of Physics, according to the authors”.

And the NASA website, in a recent article titled Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming, noted “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities” citing 18 American and almost 200 international scientific bodies.

The science is solid. Greta is right. Climate change is anthropogenic. Suck on that, haters.