When Greta Thunberg gave her stirring speech at the UN two weeks ago, it was a moment for the world to sit up and listen. “How dare you,” she chastised world leaders. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
For those who take the climate crisis seriously, there was no argument to be had. Here stood an icon, a formidable spokesperson to voice the warnings that have been falling on deaf ears for decades.
Thunberg wasn’t telling us anything new, she didn’t claim to be a scientist or pioneer, but at just 16 years old she had started a grassroots movement, galvanising a generation of people to march, sparking a global interest in the climate crisis, and now she was taking her fight to the top with a blistering speech that had the whole world listening.
A couple of days later I was in a supermarket when I overheard the first grumble of negativity towards the teenage activist. “I don’t know about you,” I heard a woman say. “But there’s nothing worse than a 16 year old telling you what to do.”
As the conversation continued, I couldn’t help but listen. The two people discussing Thunberg couldn’t quite put their finger on what it was – they just didn’t like her.
I was perplexed. After spending the previous few days in an online bubble of praise for Thunberg, I hadn’t even given it a second’s thought that some people, after seeing a teenager travel halfway across the world to fight for a cause that applies to everyone, regardless of political leanings, age, race, and class, would have a problem with her or her message.
As Thunberg’s speech went viral around the world, I started to notice more of it. Cruel online comments mocking Thunberg’s looks, her mental health, her clothes, her privilege. Others questioned her authority and her right to comment on the subject she has immersed herself in since she was eight years old.
It showed the very worst of humanity, a bitter, unfounded hatred for someone who has dedicated her childhood to the future of our planet. Perhaps even worse than kicking someone when they’re down is to try to shoot them when they are flying.
To those who doubt Thunberg’s authenticity on account of her age, I have something to tell you: young people really are not stupid. As a journalist some of my most insightful, inspirational and memorable interviews have been with school kids. Young people have a way of seeing the world that is pure and unpolluted. Teenagers are more politically engaged than they get credit for, and they deserve to have their voices heard.
The hatred directed towards Thunberg has been truly grim. But the good news is, in just two years she and her peers will be turning up at the polling stations in force. The youngsters who have been introduced to activism as school kids will soon have their say in democracy. No wonder leaders like Trump are scared.
In Thunberg’s words: “The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say: we will never forgive you… The world is waking up and change is coming, whether you like it or not.”