Patronising the young has always been the default position of older people in power. Ryan Tubridy got a drubbing on social media last week for making comments on his radio show about the teenager’s effect on him, saying watching Greta at the UN climate summit made him feel “a little uncomfortable” before adding that he thought she should be at home watching a movie.
Later, the broadcaster clarified his position saying his concern for Greta “came from the heart”.
The thing is, Mr Tubridy, Greta is in the business of making people — including grown men — feel a bit uncomfortable. Because under their watch, the future of Greta’s generation is under threat.
We’re all culpable, from those of us who unthinkingly buy drinks in plastic bottles and promptly dump them after use instead of re-using them, to big business that mines the earth for fossil fuels.
At long last, I’m beginning to feel eco-guilt which means that I’ll do my bit on the domestic front to try and rescue the planet. It won’t amount to a hill of beans but if we all do what we can, no matter how small and seemingly inconsequential, then there will be some hope, some way of navigating a future that won’t end in meltdown.
Greta Thunberg is certainly too young to have the burdens of the world weighing on her but you couldn’t have picked a better candidate for the role she has assumed. She is, quite simply, a brilliant communicator.
Her “How dare you....” speech was hugely impressive, accusing the establishment of stealing “my dreams, my childhood.”
She is a clear speaker, deadly serious about what she has to impart and doesn’t seem intimidated about addressing the world’s power brokers.
Some people, she has written, “mock me for my diagnosis. But Asperger is not a disease. It’s a gift. People also say that since I have Asperger, I couldn’t possibly have put myself in this position. But that’s exactly why I did this. Because if I would have been ‘normal’ and social, I would have organised myself in an organisation, or started an organisation by myself. But since I am not that good at socialising, I did this instead. I was so frustrated that nothing was being done about the climate crisis and I felt like I had to do something.”
But instead of taking on board what Greta has to say and acting on it, there are people out there, mostly right wing men, who see the teenager as a threat.
As Martin Gelin wrote in the New Republic, Thunberg has attracted a “tsunami of male rage.” On Fox News recently, Michael Knowles, a conservative troll and a podcaster, described Greta as a “mentally ill Swedish child” who is “being exploited by her parents and by the international left.” There’s John Nolte of Brietbart who calls Greta’s supporter ‘Gretards.’ He said that she needed “a spanking or a psychological intervention.” Charming, eh? Trump is in there too, mocking Greta. As a climate change denier, it must gall him that Greta, as Newsweek put it, is the true leader of the free world.
Research has shown that for these men and their ilk, it is not the environment that feels under threat but rather the old world order where women knew their place and men got on with the job of making money — and to hell with any polluting emissions that activity might cause. Writing in 2012, sociologists at Michigan State University and Oklahoma State University, Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap, found that conservative white men “are likely to favour protection of the industrial capitalist order which has historically served them well. Indeed, they are likely to want to return to an earlier era of significantly less governmental regulations.” This is borne out by a recent poll that found that almost every group in the US is concerned about the climate crisis, except older Republicans.
Climate change has a disproportionate impact on women and girls around the globe. More likely to be displaced and therefore poor or working in sub-standard garment factories, for example, they are susceptible to the destabilising effects of climate change. Women and girls are also to the fore in leading the movement around the world to try and make the planet a safer place in which to live.
To quote Greta at a speech she gave at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in April: “Everyone and everything needs to change. So why waste precious time arguing about what and who needs to change first?......The bigger your carbon foot-print, the bigger your moral duty.”
None of us can afford to shirk.