Rebecca Onion of Slate posed a question Monday that has gathered attention on both sides of the political spectrum: Why Greta Thunberg?
“Why has Thunberg been able to break through and become a catalyzing figure, when other young people have been pursuing climate activism?” Onion asked in “How Greta Thunberg Captured Our Attention on Climate” – subhead: “We’re finally ready to absorb her bleak message, and maybe act on it.”
“Why was it Greta who had her face made into a 50-foot mural on the side of a building in Britain?” Onion wrote. “Why, for example, didn’t plaintiffs in Juliana vs. the United States, a 2015 lawsuit filed against the American government for its failure to ward off a future of climate chaos, become media darlings? Is it because, as Thunberg’s critics continually suggest, the left loves a victim – especially one who’s also an adorable Scandinavian in braids? Or were we simply ready, in 2019, to hear somebody be as blunt and urgent as we sometimes feel, about this huge problem we’ve been mostly ignoring?”
Climate change reporting seems to be fading as a big story for the 2020 election. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, whose entire campaign was based on climate change alarmism, was among the first candidates to drop out. Its value as a political issue has not meaningfully changed in recent years. Its 6-hour marathon of presidential candidates delivering their climate plans drew low ratings. And predictions of cities under water and polar ice disappearing have failed to materialize.
It has helped Thunberg, Onion wrote, that her feelings of “climate depression – she has described these feelings has having been, at one point in time, debilitating – is familiar to a lot of people.” But it’s also “a part of her story that the global right uses to discredit her (saying she’s deeply disturbed). Yet this narrative of being paralyzed by climate fears, before discovering that activism could be an outlet for them, is one of the biggest sources of her appeal.”
Onion says many Americans “not yet directly affected by climate-stoked storms or fivers or drought but who accept the scientific consensus and follow the news,” may have “experienced climate anxiety” that consists of “occasional four-hour panics when” it appears as if “we were doomed fools living through the last good time, bracketed by longer periods when denial allows” them to “conduct the business” of their daily lives.
Thunberg doesn’t get those “soothing periods of denial. She experiences only the intense dread,” and it’s “working on us because Thunberg’s climate depression isn’t an aberration – it’s an increasingly common collective sentiment.”
We respond to “a person like Thunberg, who lives a life of rigid adherence to her own morals, with annoyance,” Onion wrote, then predicted “flight shaming” and an end to “thoughtless tourism” and “guilt-free conference attendance” may be at hand.
The right “hates” Thunberg because she “shames grown people – for flying, for driving, for profiting off things that are undermining the planet’s future,” Onion wrote. There’s a feeling “authority is askew in this case. ‘Why are adults listening to this nagging girl?’”
Part of it, she wrote, “is misogyny … Researchers have found no small amount of woman-hating threaded through the backlash against climate activisim. Environmentalism has long been culturally coded as feminine … and people reluctant to sacrifice their personal pleasures for climate stability may, when confronted by someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Greta Thunberg feel oppressively corrected.”
Onion wrote that Thunberg’s message “scares the right because it can see that we adults are taking her seriously” and “transfixes the left because she helps activists focus on the misalignment between what we believe and what we do.”