Don’t Fall for the Conservative Trap on Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg has a wonderful talent for making people angry. If you’re not angry at her, you’re angry on her behalf. Only to be expected given the Swedish teenager has made it her life’s work to attack the privileged and powerful of the world for their inaction on climate change, an issue that Thunberg believes is fairly important, given its potential to, you know, ruin the whole world for everyone.

Thunberg’s recent speech to the United Nations has inflamed the right-wing, with conservative commentators around the world tearing into the youngster with rare ferocity. She’s stupid, naive, a mentally ill child, an “annoying little brat” in the words of ex-footballer and self-appointed climate expert Sam Newman. Even worse, she’s being exploited by sinister forces who wish to use an innocent young girl to push their malign political agenda. The attacks have been relentless and ubiquitous: name a pundit of the right, and you can bet they’ve had their say on the foolishness of Greta and the wickedness of lefties in twisting her to their ends – from Andrew Bolt to Amanda Vanstone. Even Donald Trump has had a dip.

Naturally, this has brought out the protective instincts on the other side of the political divide. The moral bankruptcy of people who would engage in vicious character assassination of a mere child has been pointed out by many. Further, progressives have been quick to psychoanalyse the right, trying to explain the antipathy towards Thunberg in terms of old white men’s fear of strong women and anxiety about their own irrelevance in a changing world. “See how threatened they are by a teenage girl!” is the cry. “How pathetic!” This article, titled, “Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering for certain men?” sums up the mood on the left.

And so the debate continues, one side insisting that a sixteen-year-old has no place on the world stage and those allowing her to campaign should be ashamed of themselves, and the other maintaining that the sixteen-year-old is brave and inspiring and has every right to stand up and say her piece however she can.

One side is right. One side is wrong. And the longer the debate goes on, the happier the wrong side gets, and the more hopelessly off course the right side becomes.

Because Greta Thunberg is brave. Greta Thunberg is inspiring. Greta Thunberg deserves enormous praise and none of the vitriol being poured on her. But none of that matters at all. For all of Greta Thunberg’s impressive attributes, she has only one characteristic that should be of any significance to us, and that is: she is right.

Greta Thunberg is right, and that’s all any of us need to be saying right now. We need to say she’s right, and repeat what she’s saying, and keep repeating it as loudly and as often as possible until the governments of the world actually start taking action to address climate change, which, if you haven’t noticed, is getting pretty damn urgent.

There’s one part of Thunberg’s speech to the UN that everyone has been focusing on. The bit where she said, “How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” Impassioned and evocative, isn’t it? But the part of the speech we should actually be talking about went like this:

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

“Fifty per cent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your carbon dioxide out of the air with technologies that barely exist.

So a 50 per cent risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences. To have a 67 per cent chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on January 1, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes.

You see, that’s the main game. Uncontrollable, catastrophic climate change that cannot be averted without rapid, drastic action – not action by individuals, not a few people buying energy-efficient fridges and recycling, but action by governments on a global scale. That is the need, and it has become a desperate one.

That’s the message Greta Thunberg is sending the world, and it’s a message that a lot of people don’t like, because their wealth and power depends on no action being taken on climate change. The positions to which they have become accustomed rely on the world sitting on its hands and making no significant changes to the way things run.

That’s why they attack Greta Thunberg. Maybe a lot of men are triggered by teenage girls speaking up. Maybe they’re not. Maybe old white men hate it when a young woman shows poise and confidence. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s even true, as some are saying, that a young girl in the public eye outside of a sexual context infuriates the patriarchy.

But that’s not why they’re ripping into Greta. No, they’re ripping into Greta for one simple reason: she is trying to bring about action where they want there to be no action. They don’t need another reason.

What’s more, they’re doing it incredibly effectively, because their attacks have had exactly the effect they were intended to have: they’ve got the opposition falling over themselves to defend the honour of a teenage Swede, instead of devoting their energy to supporting the cause that teenage Swede is trying to push.

It’s a simple and ingenious strategy: when you know playing the ball will see you lose the game, play the man. The climate deniers know the science, the experts, and reality, in general, are all lined up against them, so they choose to shift the debate sideways: let’s not argue about what to do to rescue the human race from catastrophe, let’s argue about whether teenage girls should be seen and not heard.

The reason they play the man isn’t to win an argument. It’s to get their opponents to play the man too. And the left is being extremely accommodating to the right’s desires because they are following the script perfectly. Writers and commentators who could be bellowing in the public square about carbon emissions and government inaction are penning earnest think pieces on men who get triggered by girls.

It’s time to start playing the ball again. The fact is, none of the arguments about Greta Thunberg’s character matter. Climate change is an existential threat to civilisation. Compared to that, the problems of one Swedish teenager don’t amount to a hill of beans. They can attack her, they can smear her, they can question her sanity, but as reprehensible as that is, it’s just not important. Greta Thunberg, the person, herself, is not important. What’s important is what she’s been talking about all this time: a planet that’s heating up and a species that doesn’t seem to care.

Please, stop falling for the climate deniers’ trap. They want you denouncing attacks on a child and waxing lyrical about how inspired you are by today’s youth. What they don’t want you doing is making a big noise about climate change and putting pressure on the government. So that’s exactly what you’ve got to do.

If you admire Greta Thunberg and want to support her, just keep saying: she’s right. And don’t take your eyes off the goal.