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Why They're Really Scared Of Greta Thunberg

HuffPost UK logo HuffPost UK 26/04/2019 Alan Grant

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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

There is something odd about the reaction to Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist and campaigner who has become the face of the ‘school strikes’ movement, from some parts of the British political landscape.

While the environmental lobby and those with a green tinge, whether that be written with a lower case or capital ‘g’, are often the butt of the joke or dismissed for whatever reason, the reaction to Greta has taken a particularly harsh and unlettered form.

a woman wearing a blue shirt © ASSOCIATED PRESS

Since the school strikes and following the media appearances that have made her a household name, Greta has received a significant amount of criticism for her actions from, more or less exclusively, the political right. Spiked! editor Brendan O’Neill courted controversy after branding her a “weirdo” and referring to the impressive following that she has established as “cult-like”. Meanwhile, that mischievous scamp Toby Young launched an esoteric attack based on Greta’s mother, Malena Ernman, having performed at Eurovision. Furthermore, Ross Clark of The Spectator has published a series of questions that he demands Greta be asked before being allowed on the BBC, complete with some unpleasant comments about her hairstyle, among other things.

In my view, there are two interesting points to note about the criticisms levelled at Greta.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrives to address journalists during her visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 16, 2019.    REUTERS/Vincent Kessler © Reuters Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrives to address journalists during her visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The first is that they don’t appear to be about what she is saying rather than who she is as a person and her style of delivery. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with those kinds of criticism – personal taste is personal taste after all – but the unwillingness to tackle Greta’s arguments about climate change in favour of going after her as a person suggests, at least to me, that her detractors think she’s right on the substantive point. Naturally, modern political discourse being the football for the unfit, with the same level of fanatical devotion to a ‘team’, that it is – they tend not to say that but it is a pretty noticeable gap.

"Fridays for Future" activist Greta Thunberg visits the Senate in Rome, Italy April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi © Reuters "Fridays for Future" activist Greta Thunberg visits the Senate in Rome, Italy April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Secondly, attacks on Greta are pretty scattered and inconsistent; as if assembled in a panic. This is a common consequence of the the first point and leads to a situation in which certain commentators see the other side (the left in this case, but not always) with a new standard bearer for one of their hot political issues and must scramble for any and all arguments to rebuke them. This lack of consistency is, of course, exacerbated by the point above – that Greta is right on the subject of climate change – and by the fact that most people, in the UK at least, acknowledge this meaning that is is now uncool or impolite to be so ignorant as to deny the impact of man-made climate change.

However – and this is more a matter of speculation than a direct attack on any of the above, or indeed any one specific commentator and can be thought of as a criticism of the broader right – I get the impression that Greta Thunberg, and the thousands of school-age kids that stand behind her, frighten the life out of a particular middle-aged (or approaching it) and middle-class establishment (or, even worse, faux rebellious) type of person who takes up a disproportionate amount of space in our political conversation and that the reaction to her is driven by the fear of knowing that losing their place to her and those like her is inevitable.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses journalists during her visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 16, 2019.    REUTERS/Vincent Kessler © Reuters Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses journalists during her visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Greta Thunberg is a very young, non-British, girl on the autism spectrum. She is smart, eloquent, engaging, passionate, and, most impressively of all, is seemingly without compromise of deference. It is as if she was created in a a laboratory under the brief of scaring the ‘gammon’ of our society by showing them their own increasing irrelevance and pointlessness in a society gone digital, multi-national, multi-ability, and diverse.

From where I sit, Greta Thunberg not only acts as a ticking clock for our climate but also does the same for a complacent boomer, or boomer-adjacent, generation whose fear of change has them locked in a pitched battle against both time and the forces of progress... and she reminds them that they are losing and why.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg cries at the end of her a speech to the environment committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 16, 2019.   REUTERS/Vincent Kessler © Reuters Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg cries at the end of her a speech to the environment committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

While I have not met, nor expect to meet, Greta, she seems like the kind of individual that remains completely unbothered and unphased by the type of criticism she has been subjected to. This is, of course, to be encouraged in anyone, especially a young girl, but is doubly true in her case as it will help to confirm the doubts in the heads of her detractors – that while they were the future once, she and her classmates are what it looks like now.

This will surely haunt them in their nightmares and might spur them into action and reconsideration... you never know.

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