The cult of Greta Thunberg
How the political elites exploited Greta’s moral immaturity to impose their punishing eco-agenda.
This week Greta Thunberg turned 21. Yes, the diminutive doom-monger is a full-on grown-up now. The pint-sized predictor of End Times has passed the final threshold of adulthood. Once the world’s best-known petulant teen, never knowingly appearing in public without wearing the scowl of the self-righteous youth, Ms Thunberg has reached the full age of majority. She’s so old she could legally get pissed in America if she wants. Though that seems unlikely, given she once said she ‘would never go out drinking’: ‘I would never do anything… stupid.’ Her birthday party must have been a riot.
I hope she had a lovely day. I also hope none of her birthday wishes comes true, since I don’t fancy being propelled into a pre-industrial hell with only a hairshirt to keep me warm and no prospect of ever flying to Spain again. Will she now put away childish things? For years we’ve been terrorised by her infantile rage. Everywhere you looked there was her jabbing finger of adolescent fury. ‘You have stolen my dreams!’, she’d wail, in the melodramatic fashion of a teen who’s just experienced a minor inconvenience. Normally, though, it’s only the teen’s poor parents who must suffer their tantrums – Greta foisted her moodiness on the entire Earth.
Every time I heard her I thought of Kevin the Teenager, Harry Enfield’s stroppy, hormonal comedy creation. ‘I HATE YOU!’, Kevin would bellow at his long-suffering mum and dad. ‘HOW DARE YOU!’, Greta yelled at us all. ‘You’ve ruined my life’ is the pained cry of the teen who’s been told they can’t get their nose pierced or go to a Lizzo gig. ‘You have stolen my childhood with your empty words’ was Greta’s more eloquent equivalent. Imagine the flashbacks parents of difficult teens must have had when they switched on the news and saw teary-eyed Greta tell adults everywhere: ‘We will never forgive you!’
At times it felt as though we were all hostages to her angst. Just as parents walk on eggshells lest they accidentally upset their ungrateful grunt of a teen son by saying the wrong thing, so no one really knew how to respond to Ms Thunberg’s fits of pique. There she was at Davos, at the UN, in the UK parliament, on her fucking boat, always holding forth on the End of Days us stupid humans are bringing about. And the grown-ups would just sit there, nervous, still as glass. I think it was only partly because they agreed with her apocalyptic baloney – it was also because every middle-aged person knows the best thing to do with a fuming youth is to let them tire themselves out.
It was Greta’s curse to live her tantrum years in the public eye. The histrionic displays of unreasonable grievance the rest of us carried out behind closed doors Greta was damned to enact before the clicking cameras of the world media. What happened is that her perfectly natural teenage tendencies – self-involvement, irritability, an arrogance entirely out of proportion to one’s intelligence – merged with the religion of climate-change alarmism to create something of a monster. Like Kevin the Teenager made Pope. My main emotion for Greta was always sorrow, not anger. I think it’s harsh to force a moody teen to come downstairs and say hello to dinner-party guests, never mind parading them around Davos.
That was always the central problem with the Cult of Greta – not Greta herself, but the use and abuse of her by the globalist elites. They marshalled her political naivete, even her emotionalism, to the cynical end of scaring the populace witless about climate change. It was Greta’s very artlessness, her moral immaturity, that made her attractive to elites who had long ago tired of engaging with the irritating adults of the electorate. How much easier it is to march a moralistic teen to the global soapbox where she might cry about the world being ‘on fire’ than to gather facts and make arguments to try to sway stubborn, sceptical adults. Greta’s teen fury was weaponised by political operators to circumvent democratic discussion, to impose their punishing eco-ideology by emotional fiat rather than consent.
What they loved about Greta is that she was so black and white. All teens are. It’s in their nature to be blind to shades of grey. To love their parents one minute, hate them the next. To flit between thinking everything is fine to fretting that MY LIFE IS OVER. Who can forget when the gold-collared superclass of Davos lapped up Greta’s stern rebuke of the old-fashioned adult belief that life is complicated. ‘You say nothing is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie’, she said. Climate change is ‘as black or white as it gets’, she continued. ‘There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.’
No grey areas. This wasn’t just your typical climate-change hysteria, where we’re meant to believe our only choice is between a violent reduction in fossil-fuel use and the literal heat death of the planet. It was also a teenage reprimand to the entire premise of adult life, to the foundations of public life itself. Which is the understanding that things are complex. That competing interests exist. That binary moralism benefits no one. That democratic contest is preferable to autocratic, religious or, indeed, teenage diktat. I, for one, am delighted that in the years since Greta thrilled the anti-democrats of Davos with her childish moralism we have seen farmers, truckers and other workers in Europe drive a juggernaut of grey through these fantasies of black and white. These people are furious at the impact the cult of emissions cuts will have on their ability to earn a living, make food, deliver stuff. They represent the complexity that Greta and her powerful cheerleaders wish to chase from public life. A revolt of the adults, if you like, against the juvenile hectoring of the elites.
The establishment flattery of Greta’s youthful moralism always alarmed me far more than Greta herself. It will surprise not one living soul that the Guardian turned her Davos outburst against ‘grey areas’ into an op-ed. Hell-bent on forcefielding elite consensus opinion from the masses’ vexing queries, the Guardian and others were drawn like moths to a flame by Greta’s pure, innocent moralism. And so they made her into a secular Dalai Lama, a child-god who could never be questioned. Woe betide those who blasphemed against their prophetess. ‘Greta Thunberg has changed the course of history, what has Brendan O’Neill achieved?’, thundered Layla Moran of the Lib Dems when I dared to criticise Greta. I profaned, and was shamed.
And now Greta is 21. Has she discovered that life is, in fact, awash with ‘grey areas’? I fear not. Witness her recent embrace of the ‘Palestinian cause’, where her posturing seems to be informed by the very same black-and-white moralism she so frequently displayed in her eco-tantrum years. Israel oppressor, Palestine victim, yada yada. My concern is that Greta-style moralism is now par for the course in political life. Gretamania wasn’t a blip, it’s what passes for politics in the 21st century. It’s time for the adults to come back into the room. By which I mean us – voters who know that life is complex, the world is not coming to an end, and the last person you should trust on matters of industry, growth and the future itself is a stroppy teenager.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy
Picture by: Getty.
To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.