The Greta Backlash Begins

As I write this, famed climate-change waif Greta Thunberg is still somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, riding a racing-yacht on her way to various engagements in the US of A. You can track her journey here, and from that it seems the boat, “Malizia II,” is encountering no greater problems than having had to sail rather to the south (basically, off the coast of Spain) in order to catch the right easterly winds to send them off in the right direction.

Back on land, however, a storm is brewing. Voices are arising that cast doubt upon Greta and what she represents, or is alleged to represent. After all, in just about a year she has mobilized quite a bit of the world (including some public figures she confronted directly, such as at Davos) to start to feel guilt and exhibit considerably more concern about what is happening to our Earth. Doesn’t it beggar belief that this could be the accomplishment of nothing more than a 16-year-old autistic Swedish schoolgirl? (One of whose given names is even “Tintin,” according to Wikipedia.)

The philosopher Julian Baggini has a good treatment in The Guardian of some of the earlier attacks on her (i.e. those more than a week old) and how to react to them. However, he was too late for “Greta Thunberg and the plot to forge a climate warrior, which was published last Sunday (18 AUG) in no less than The (Sunday) Times – the same Times with a paywall in place which displays only the first two paragraphs of any piece to lesser mortals who do not subscribe.

Now wait: They want to tear down the “myth” of Greta Thunberg as “climate warrior” – but only if you happen to be among the small subset of on-line readers who subscribe to The Times?! Fortunately(?), a bit of Twitter-intervention resulted in a link to the original and whole version of the piece, published back at the end of May in an on-line monthly UK magazine said to be center-right in orientation, which gave the article the title “Greta’s very corporate children’s crusade”.

Anyway, there it is, in English, and yes, I know I am thereby deviating from my usual practice of reviewing media items written in languages that are not English. But think of this as a public service: I go read it and summarize the supposed “plot” behind Greta for you here, so you don’t have to!

Here’s the lede: “Behind the schoolgirl climate warrior lies a shadowy cabal of lobbyists, investors and energy companies seeking to profit from a green bonanza.”

Now, you might have thought that, just about a year ago as school started up again in Stockholm, Greta stubbornly chose to spend her days instead standing in front of the Swedish parliament with her “School-strike for the climate!” sign. Someone took her picture, posted it on Facebook, the newspaper then wrote about her and – poof! – she went viral. And things just went on from there.

Well, who took that photo and posted it on Facebook? It was a fellow named Ingmar Rentzhog. As this article reveals, he just didn’t come upon Greta that fateful day by chance; as the proprietor of the social-media platform “We Have No Time” he had met her mother months before at a climate-change conference. Consider:

When Rentzhog combined Thorén’s plan and Malena Ernman’s [her mother; an opera singer] musical fame with Greta’s uncanny charisma and We Have No Time’s mailing list, he turned Greta into a viral celebrity.

Who is “Thorén”? That is Bo Thorén, head of the protest-group “Fossil-Free Dalsland” (a Swedish province) which in May of last year had sponsored an op-ed-writing contest on climate in which Greta came in second; it was this Thorén fellow who is said to have come up with the idea of students going on strike for the climate, and it was only Greta who actually acted on that when next August rolled around.

There is the suspicious fact that Greta’s parents released a book (Scenes from the Heart, a “memoir of how saving the planet had saved their family”) just when Greta was beginning her lonely parliamentary vigil. But the crux of this article concerns Global Utmaning (hereafter referred to in English, as “Global Challenge”), a think-tank for which this Rentzhog became Chairman (joining it together with a “We Don’t Have Time” colleague who became a Board-member) shortly after he met Greta’s mother.

When Greta met Rentzhog, he was the salaried chairman of a private think-tank owned by an ex-Social Democrat minister with a background in the energy sector. His board was stacked with powerful sectoral interests including career Social Democrats, major union leaders, and lobbyists with links to Brussels. And his board’s vice-chair was a member of one of Sweden’s most powerful green energy investment groups.

That’s the central issue here, then: the nature of Greta’s ties with Global Challenge. Last December, Global Challenge and Rentzhog’s “We Have No Time” teamed up to issue a “Climate Emergency Plan” specifying what to do to save the world; that document is still said to provide the talking-points for Greta’s many presentations and meetings. Further, when directly asked about any connections she has with Global Challenge, her father clams up and doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Greta,” this piece concludes, “a child of woke capitalism, is being used to ease the transition to green corporatism.” That is, a closed faction of Swedish clean-energy businessmen and -women can recognize a good marketing tool when they see one – in a 16-year-old, ex-schoolgirl with an accusatory gaze and an absent smile – and have maneuvered to be the controllers behind the Greta Thunberg Phenomenon to best place themselves for future mega-contracts.

What are we to make of all that? Well first, what are we to make of the fact that The Sunday Times saw fit to recycle on its website a piece almost three months old? (Were they waiting for Greta to transition into the temporary helplessness of being cut-off in Mid-Atlantic?)

I’m mystified as to that second question. As for the first, again, I just refer you to Baggini’s treatment; this, for example, is good:

Shooting the messenger is, of course, a tried and tested way of dealing with bad news. The case that the anthropogenic climate crisis is real and urgent is now so strong that it’s pretty much the only tactic left for those who refuse to accept it.

He also addresses Thunberg’s “virtual canonisation” by many of her followers. That is also not called-for; but she cannot be blamed for it, as she has steadily made it clear that the climate crisis is by no means about herself.

Greta’s Moscow Twin: Olya the Reciter

For that matter: Have you heard of Olya Misik?

She’s 17 years old and lives in Moscow. And, although the struggle for inclusion of opposition figures as candidates in next month’s city council elections is not really about her either, she has become famous as that movement’s totem as it reliably puts ever-increasing amounts of protestors onto the streets each successive Saturday. The Financial Times caught wind of this and sent a reporter to interview her. Still, I spot two minor problems:

  1. Her last name, “Misik,” is too close to the Russian word for “little mouse” for my taste; and
  2. Listen to that interview: she stutters! You can tell that even if you do not speak Russian. That’s not good, especially since Olya is famous in particular for reading out paragraphs of the current Russian constitution (the ones that allow freedom of assembly, etc.) as the police-gangs carry her away. Maybe she doesn’t stutter when the pressure is on like that – but that’s usually not how such things work.

No word yet, that I am aware of, about how she is just a front for some shady cabal of anti-Putin businessmen. But again: The latest young female faces catapulted to the front of vitally important social movements, through fair means or foul, ultimately do not matter; it is what those movements stand for.

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