By Deepak Gopalakrishnan Sep. 26, 2019
Scientists have been trying to get their message out about climate change through research papers and summits for years now, and nobody took note. Perhaps this so-called “theatre” by Greta Thunberg – sailing to New York and an impassioned speech at the UN – is what we need to wake up and smell the dying planet.
By now you’ve surely heard of Greta Thunberg – the pigtailed 16-year-old who has swiftly become the face of youth-led climate change activism. Thunberg’s journey from a lone voice in Sweden to inspiring marches that draw millions from around the world is remarkable, summed up best by the juxtaposition of two photos, hardly a year apart.
Fifteen year old Swedish student Greta Thunberg leads a school strike and sits outside of Riksdagen, the Swedish parliament building, in order to raises awareness for climate change on August 28, 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by MICHAEL CAMPANELLA/Getty Images
Fifteen year old Swedish student Greta Thunberg leads a school strike and sits outside of Riksdagen, the Swedish parliament building, in order to raises awareness for climate change on August 28, 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden.
Photo by MICHAEL CAMPANELLA/Getty Images
Greta Thunberg with the students who met in Berlin to protest against climate policy. Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
Greta Thunberg with the students who met in Berlin to protest against climate policy.
Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
And as with any movement reaching critical mass, Thunberg’s protests has its cynics – ranging from the reasonably justified to the outrageously abusive. Conservative reporter Harry Cherry called her a “freak”, John Nolte of Breitbart labelled her supporters “Gretards”. We have seen this with other personality-led activist movements in the past: From India’s Anna Hazare to Tristan Harris of the Time-Well Spent Movement, from Malala Yousafzai to Medha Patkar. Heck, if there was social media during Martin Luther King’s time, you can hazard a guess as to what his comments section would look like (not like he did not have his share of haters).
Criticism against those championing change – your opinion of them and what they stand for aside – normally skews toward vitriol and hatred, hardly ever touching on the facts or logic. Anna Hazare’s hunger strike was called “undemocratic”, Yousafzai, a Nobel winner, is not as revered back home in Pakistan. Some think of her as a “Hungarian child of Christian missionaries working for the CIA”.
And so it is, too, now with Greta Thunberg. There are accusations of her being a child actor (apparently from Australia), just a prop being used by billionaires to push an agenda with doctored images of her posing with philanthropist George Soros doing the rounds. But here’s my question to all those asking such questions – and please pardon my French: Even if all his were true, so fucking what?
So what if she’s an actor? So what if she’s a stooge paid for by a billionaire liberal activist? So what if she was trained by her thespian parents to maximise drama and create compelling television? Does any of that change what she stands for (or even “pretends” to stand for)?
Yes, some of what she’s done might cause you to raise an eyebrow: Did she need to raft all the way from Sweden to New York? Maybe not but consider that scientists have been trying to get their message out about the impact of road and air travel on the environment through research papers and summits for years now, and nobody took note. Perhaps a little theatre, even if orchestrated, is what we need. And given the worldwide response and headline grabbing, the “stunt”, even if it was one, is clearly working. When was the last time we saw such a sustained and animated discussion over the environment?
So what if she’s an actor? So what if she’s a stooge paid for by a billionaire liberal activist? Does any of that change what she stands for?
One cynic on my Facebook feed replied to a post of support saying he needed to make up his mind about Greta Thunberg. Well, alright – but if your investigative journalism unearths she is indeed a fraud, mugging up and vomiting lines like a 10th-grade board exam student, how does that change anything inherent about climate change?
Another person brought my attention to a word I’d never heard before – pedophrasty – whose UrbanDictionary definition goes as follows: Argument involving children to prop up a rationalization and make the opponent look like an asshole, as people are defenseless and suspend all skepticism in front of suffering children: nobody has the heart to question the authenticity or source of the reporting. Often done with the aid of pictures. Alright, so radical lefties might be using an innocent, sweet girl as a prop. Again, I ask, so what?
Some prize specimens choose to tell Thunberg to leave all these discussions to grown-ups and scientists. But here’s the thing, grown-ups in positions of power are doing little and said scientists and scholars have been screaming hoarse about climate change for decades. Only last year, a bunch of the best ones in the world got together and put out a landmark report declaring that if we don’t take immediate action, the world would be in serious, serious danger by 2040. Just a few days after Thunberg’s impassioned speech at the UN General Assembly, another group of grown-ups brought out another report telling us extreme sea-level events will be an annual occurrence from 2050. And if carrying a placard and crying “shame on you” in front of world leaders will help, you can bet your carbon credits that they would have done that. For some of those scientists – the very ones authoring those reports – have been commenting on Thunberg’s posts in solidarity, support, and agreement.
As are teachers and senior professors from around the world. I suppose they all should be ignored as well?
Politicians, too, around the world are taking notice.
Let’s face it, even if Thunberg is just a paid stooge, it doesn’t matter. Just like it doesn’t matter if Amitabh Bachchan actually uses JustDial or Akshay Kumar wears Lux Cozy or rides the Mumbai Metro. We’ve all suspended disbelief when it comes to celebrities endorsing products, so surely we can do the same for a young girl who not just looks like she believes in what she’s saying, but seems to be doing a far better job “acting” than some of those said luminaries above. If we’re not questioning an ad agency for using actors to peddle products, why should we bother here? What matters is that Thunberg is talking and even if the world disagrees with her, it is paying attention to her message, and that’s what matters.
If the same words were to come out of a nerdy scientist from some lab in California, FOX News would have had the same reaction (probably swapping out “mentally ill child” for “deranged radical”). American President Donald Trump, who mocked Thunberg’s impassioned appeal at the UN by calling her a “a very happy young girl” would have found some other way to deny climate change.
But the truth is, we live in an age of packaging. Remember Alan Kurdi? That one image of a Syrian boy washed ashore garnered more sympathy for the refugee crisis than hundreds of articles, statistics, and op-eds.
Climate change is a fact, its ill effects are being felt every single day by all of us, and if the world doesn’t collectively act, it will be in even more serious danger – whether an impassioned teenager says it with tears, or a collective of scientists declare so in a PDF.
As for whether Greta is an “actor”? I’m sure she herself would shake her head at this irrelevant question, fume and spit out, “How dare you?”
Deepak 'Chuck' Gopalakrishnan is a freelance writer and marketing guy who lives in Mumbai. He runs two podcasts (Simblified, The Origin Of Things) and a satire newsletter (The Third Slip). He used to work in advertising until his soul couldn't take it anymore, and now spends all his time annoying his cats, listening to prog-metal, cycling and writing bios of himself in third person. He has an irrational love for cold water and Tabasco.