Greta Thunberg’s trolls are clutching at straws to discredit her.
The 16-year-old climate change activist has long been a target for criticism, but it’s never been more pronounced than it is after a week that gave her a massive boost.
Right-wing commentators have gone as far as to share a month-old photo of her on a boat — which had a single plastic water bottle behind her — as apparent proof of her hypocrisy:
In a similar vein, critics seized on a photo of the activist having lunch while riding a train, noting she used plastic containers and had processed foods.
“Oh she looks so frightened about the immediate climate catastrophe. As she sits there on a train, surrounded by plastic containers and processed foods. A picture paints a thousands words. This tells you she knows nothing about what she speaks of,” the caption read.
Many social media users have responded, pointing out that a lone plastic water bottle does not negate the argument that climate change is real, and a pre-packaged meal doesn’t negate the work she’s done to publicise the issue. Also, plastic pollution and climate change are completely separate environment issues.
But what’s also been observed across the media is the conservative right’s failure to silence the movement.
If anything, her voice has only grown louder and stronger, with over 500,000 new Twitter followers gained this past week alone.
THE RISE OF GRETA THUNBERG
In the space of a year, Greta Thunberg has gone from a lone protester to speaking at Davos, the European Union, the US Congress and this week the United Nations.
But it’s over the last week that her profile was given its biggest boost yet following a fiery address to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.
In her impassioned speech, the 16-year-old told the world’s leaders they had “stolen my dreams and my childhood”.
“How dare you,” she said. “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us for hope. How dare you!”
Last Friday, on September 20, millions of people around the world took to the streets demanding action on climate change.
Sixteen young people aged eight to 17, including Ms Thunberg, submitted a formal complaint against five countries to the United Nations under the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child.
Their petition alleged the governments of Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey were in violation of the Convention through “knowingly causing and perpetuating the climate crisis”.
“A scientific consensus shows that the life-threatening risks confronting the petitioners will increase throughout their lives as the world heats up to 1.5°C and beyond,” reads the petition. “If the respondents continue their current emissions pathways, the world would warm enough to threaten the lives of billions of children worldwide.”
VISCERAL RESPONSE TO THUNBERG
The response to Ms Thunberg has been deeply polarising, with a visceral response from far right figures in the US, Europe and Australia.
The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles made global headlines after referring to the 16-year-old as a “mentally ill Swedish child”, arguing she was being globally exploited by the left.
Chris Hahn, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, issued a furious on-air response, saying: “You’re a grown man and you’re attacking a child. Shame on you.”
Fox News later issued an apology and said Knowles would no longer be booked by the network.
Pro-Trump media figure Dinesh D’Souza likened the 16-year-old to models in Nazi propaganda, and right-wing news host Laura Ingraham compared her to children from the horror film “Children of the Corn”.
Justin Murphy, an American political scientist, sparked an uproar after drawing a link between Ms Thunberg’s activism and the underage victims of child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein:
The right of Australia’s media was no less critical.
Radio commentator Alan Jones deemed the climate-striking youth last Friday “selfish, badly educated, virtue-signalling little turds”, saying in a letter that they should “wake up, grow up and shut up until you’re sure of the facts before protesting”.
Earlier this week, Queensland politician George Christensen came under fire for his conduct after Ms Thunberg’s speech.
Immediately after, he changed his Facebook page’s cover photo to a picture of the teenager with a red cross over her mouth.
“Greta Free Zone,” the Liberal MP declared.
Despite declaring his page a “Greta Free Zone”, Mr Christensen went on to post about the 16-year-old a handful of times.
“Back by popular demand just for the Lefties who thought I backed down by replacing this pic as my Facebook cover,” he wrote.
“I replaced it because I preferred the flag over Greta Whingeberg. But since it triggers so many Lefties, I’m leaving this here a while!”
Former AFL player Sam Newman was also deeply offended by Ms Thunberg’s speech, calling her an “annoying little brat” on Twitter.
“This annoying little brat addressed the UN on the so-called climate crisis. WHO lets this s**t have a platform? Mendacious, inbred sycophants, that who. #ClimateChangeHoax,” Newman wrote.
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who supported the teen activist, earlier speculated her speech would anger people, suggesting her fierce speech would “incense a whole lot of middle-aged white guys”.
“I think she represents the anger of that generation and does so effectively. It might insult a whole bunch of middle-aged white guys because that’s not the way we would talk or we think it’s inappropriate for a young girl to speak that way, but when I speak to young people around the world — whether it’s in China, here in the US or back home in Australia — frankly there’s a rising rage that our generation has failed to step up to the plate,” Mr Rudd told the ABC.
On his radio show, Karl Stefanovic admitted he was one of those angry white guys.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m an incensed middle aged white guy this afternoon,” he said yesterday.
“Kevin Rudd, give it a rest. There’s anger out there — but there’s anger at this kind of activism as well.
“I can’t believe (Mr Rudd) would go and say that. Actually, I can believe it — it’s Kevin Rudd.”
WHY ATTEMPTS TO SMEAR GRETA HAVE BACKFIRED
Many critics, like Knowles, have attempted to use Ms Thunberg’s mental health against her. Her response has been to both acknowledge and appear completely removed from the criticism she receives.
Take, for example, her response to US President Donald Trump launching a sarcastic public attack on her.
After her speech, Mr Trump tweeted that Ms Thunberg seemed like a “very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”.
In a cheeky response, Ms Thunberg changed her Twitter bio to read “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”.
It had previously read “16-year-old climate activist with Asperger’s”.
On Thursday, she posted a direct message to her trolls, dismissing them as “feeling threatened” by young climate activists and encouraging her followers not to give them the time of day:
Ms Thunberg also avoids falling into the trap of recommending specific policies to combat climate change. Rather, the self-described “uneducated teenager” sticks to illustrating the problem at hand and encouraging people to pay attention to scientists rather than her own words or opinions.
For example, she submitted the IPCC’s report on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in lieu of testifying to the House.
She included a short letter that read: “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action.”
“It is virtually impossible to watch her speak for any length of time and maintain a good-faith belief that she is responding to social pressure from adults,” wrote Vox’s David Roberts. “She is manifestly authentic, direct in a way unique among public figures, no more subject to flattery than to coercion.”
It’s also been noted that the age of young climate strikers — teenagers who grew up with the internet — has made them “battle-hardened” and able to convert an online movement into a broader real-world one.
“They understand how to attract attention: Their protests feature meme-able signs to capture interest across social media. Their events — from global strikes to sit-ins in the House speaker’s hallway — are tailored to garner media coverage. They also know how to spot enemies looking to divert attention and to ignore or dismiss them,” writes the New York Times’ Charlie Warzel. “Simply put, they don’t seem to care what adults, sceptics, deniers and crusty politicians think of them. And they waste very little of their time, energy and focus workshopping their message or bulletproofing it against criticism. They simply pay their enemies no attention. They’re participating in the culture wars while also managing to float above the fray.
“None in the movement embody this like Ms Thunberg.”