Greta Thunberg and what should we understand about her

It seems to me that, among today’s global citizens, there is an increasingly popular stream of consciousness that has deeply ingrained the idea of being controlled and followed. This mental framework, as it leads to ignorance, should not be disregarded or found absolutely absurd, but rather, it should be understood as a cause for concern by us and the generation to come.

 It is hard to believe that in such a complex world we would be able to manage and control ourselves, but it is not rare that we sometimes superficially analyse socio-political dynamics. A core reason for our attitude is that as we do not believe in our independent standing, it comes easier to use manipulation as an excuse for any further inquiry. A contentious case is Greta Thunberg’s, who’s impact was repeatedly reduced to mere external control.

Great Thunberg is one of the most controversial names that the media has brought to light and that has divided opinions starting from the political leaders and activists to children and, in the broader sense, the public voice. But who is Greta Thunberg and why is she a focal point today? 

Who is GRETA? 

There are many ways in which you can describe her, as her identity suffered many transformations after being subjected to public scrutiny. As nobody holds the absolute truth to her identity, I find it necessary to expose at least two of the most predominant views on who she is. 

To begin with, Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old, Swedish, female activist, who is very well-known for starting a series of protests against climate change. She affirms that she was first emotionally touched by the serious changes in the environment at the early age of 8 after she saw some documentaries on the topic. Greta was diagnosed with depression at the age of 11 and had further claimed that this triggered her to find a reason for “why she would be useful to this world”. 

The first step was to convince her family to take up a vegan diet and renounce on travelling by plane. The fact that the closest people to her took into consideration what she said and followed her lead, gave her the mightiest push forward. Greta was stirred by the lack of environmental alternates and bewilderment of her peer colleagues. Subsequently, she decided to protest in front of the Swedish parliament against climate change while waving a sign saying “School strike for Climate”. She later declared that she was inspired to act in this manner by the students from the USA who organised walkouts for gun control. Her movement was noticed by the media and after the wide range of covers of the subject, she became globally known as a leading figure in climate change.

It was not just her standing in front of the Swedish institution that made her famous, but further, she became the founder of the “Fridays for Future” movement. This movement gained amplitude as it was encouraging young people to organise school strikes against governments that would shallowly take detrimental decisions for our planet. By now, it is hard to find an international newspaper or influential political figure that has not expressed an opinion on her or that did not take her into account in any way. This year she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

This side, that is the generic profile most of us are used to, is countered by many cynical voices. The critics’ claims put out a rhetoric of manipulation which is, in most cases, catered around a meritocratic system of values. For them Greta is just an angry girl shouting things that should not concern her, being often referred to as someone who is acting out because of her Asperger’s disorder. 

Another popular idea is that she is being controlled, spreading ideas that would be important for the voices behind. Her background is not excluded from criticism as she represents a privileged, white, Swedish kid. Several political figures such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin voiced their opinion on her, putting her in the corner for being “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”. More alarming are sexist comments coming from figures such as Bernard Pivot, Pascal Bruckner and others who said she is not sexy enough or that she has a scary face. The nature of these comments is pure indignation towards something they cannot control or address in another more appropriate way.

There are split opinions and no opinions, there are her family and friends, there are her former teachers, her colleagues, there are some who do not know what to believe, others with radical strong views and there is herself. Who she is depending a lot on who you ask and on the role the media decides to play, but seeing all this controversy going around her identity and activity, what can we be certain about and why does it matter? 

What can we be CERTAIN about? 

Worth mentioning is that I do not hold a radically positive view about her as I am not convinced about her independent political stand. What I am arguing for is that exactly that these collateral views based on who influences who should not be the points on which we clash. 

Today’s society comes with the great burden of escaping the structure and acting publicly without being shepherded by strong institutions. It is true that we can acknowledge the differences among states, and our position concerning their international and local standing, making some more privileged than others. 

One thing that we can be certain about is the lack of fairness and equality among people, but if we have reached a tragic juncture in which this has become a given, why should we apply it as a defining feature to someone that goes against it? Thus, the second thing that we can be certain about is that the way in which the majority is judging Greta Thunberg is fundamentally flawed. 

Greta Thunberg might be a privileged girl that screams “save our planet”, she might not be an adult or as pragmatic as other activists, she might be whatever she had shamefully been called until now, but she is exactly the lesson that we need. Our current society cherishes competition and with each generation, it perpetuates a horrendous life prototype in which we are all pitted against each other. Instead of valuing intrinsic good and learning how to work collectively, we are filtering out people in a permanent condition of comparison. 

It’s the first time in a really long while that a child faces society and brutally speaks out. The strength that comes along with her stance enrages the already established power while incentivising the so-called powerless. Fundamentally, we are fighting over her merit to stand where she is standing, but where is she standing? 

In the midst of non-value promotion and ridiculous scandals and figures, we are judging the legitimacy of a girl fighting for climate change. The masses became aware of the severity of our global situation; this is what comes after her name and status and what we should be conscious of. Isn’t this call finally something worth fighting for? Why should we stumble upon controversial aspects instead of understanding what rests behind a cover? Her mission is inoffensive: she enables people to protest and governments to act while evoking scientific knowledge as evidence. It might be disputed that there is not much behind her emotional acts, but in all her speeches she repeats that people and governments should not be listening to her, but to the information provided by scientists that she is also using. 

Why does it MATTER? 

Many backlashes should be taken into consideration and the distinction between those is often overlooked. Factions that are criticising her have a tendency to focus on a single aspect, rather than dividing the areas impacted by her activity. Thus, we should differentiate between the main actors of this debate: activists, politicians and the future generations. 

Several voices advanced examples of other young activists as Boyan Salt that pragmatically brought much more to the fight against global warming and that did not receive as much attention as she has. I do agree that we tend to disregard people that are not advertised by the media as much, but if it was not for her, the attention over matters that concern the environment and automatically the people behind these types of movements, would not be as proliferated.

The public consciousness, at least partly, had to be disturbed by its ignorance and understand how much it misses out on. I doubt that this was one of the things that Greta aimed at, but this collateral effect should not be undermined. Information comes in waves and this was the current that we called for. We could also be talking about direct, concrete influences that she has, as international activists such as Anuna de Wever and many others from countries starting with: Belgium, Germany and the U.K., took over Greta’s protesting concept, “Fridays for Future”, and spread it globally. 

On another level, she received considerable attention from strong political figures that supported her activity and invited her to several formal meetings. Recently she held a speech at the United Nations and had others within the pale of the European Economic and Social Committee, Extinction Rebellion and the COP24 Summit. Political figures had diverse reactions to her, as mentioned before in the case of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, but, contrarily, several figures such as Barack Obama showed their support. 

What is utmost important is that she challenges political authority and calls into question the morality of their decisions, making them react to her allegations. The world’s leader might be mocking her activity, but because of the position in which they are dragged: you are harming our planet and even ‘a child’ sees your blame in that, they have to respond to the global citizens’ discontent which is provoked by these objective truths. 

Lastly, but paramount, is the example set by Greta Thunberg. You can call her white, manipulated, inexperienced and all other ill-intended appellatives, but she speaks for the upcoming generations and she becomes the image of tangible progress.

Many children and teenagers feel misrepresented or utterly bored by the classic profile of political authority. They find it hard to follow and properly understand dogmatic speeches or conflictual situations and sometimes these aspects, even if understood, do not push people to act. She is young and determined and speaks for people her age with latent or already burning desires for a better future. She is a model to be followed and one that is easy to relate to. In a system that claims democracy, everyone should be represented and Greta is just opening the stage for all the other voices that felt their cry for help muted or unheard. 

Instead of promoting this system of perpetual comparison we should give Greta Thunberg a round of applause. If not for the impact that she had on current values, at least for holding after several attacks on her lack of knowledge, mental state and physical appearance. I don’t know if I could’ve done it better at her age (or now). Moreover, it is the duty of every responsible citizen to be permanently aware, stay informed and strive for better, especially now, when the threat is real and the change depends on us and our leaders. In the words of Greta: “ I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act like you would in a crisis. I want you to act like your house is on fire, because it is.” 

Catrinel Radoi

Catrinel Radoi

Soms vraag ik me af of wie ik ben het resultaat is van de oneindige introducties die ik mijn ouders hoorde geven. Tijdens de show kan het script een beetje veranderen: hoe dichterbij het publiek zit, hoe kwaadaardiger het is. Voor sommigen had ik in een pak achter een stand kunnen belanden, voor anderen al rondrennend met een boek en een pen in een opgestikte zak. Blijkbaar houden deze twee elkaar in balans, want ik studeer beide International Relations and Organizations en Filosofie.