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Greta Thunberg Freaks Out

At the UN today, Greta Thunberg was two tics away from a gran mal seizure:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYqtXR8iPlE]

We’ve stolen her dreams? No, I think this poor girl’s parents have stolen her dreams. She’s right: she should be in school on the other side of the ocean — and should be receiving treatment for her anxiety disorder. Her suffering is on her mother, an opera singer, and her father, a stage actor.

If she keeps going like this, she’s going to grow up to be Sister Theodora, a spiritual child of the late Brother Theodore:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYMMJvSEwHw&w=525&h=300]

Sorry for being a smart aleck, but I have nothing against Thunberg. What I despise is the way this media culture of ours makes youths into gods. What makes Thunberg’s case particularly galling is when you learn about what this poor kid suffers from:

Thunberg began suffering from depression as a child, by her own admission, in part because she learned about climate change at age eight. She was later diagnosed with autism and obsessive compulsive disorder and gradually became despondent as she obsessed over her fear of climate change. She developed mutism and an eating disorder so severe that she once went two months without food, and she stopped going to school. Her only sibling, a sister named Beata, also suffers from Asperger’s and OCD, as well as ADHD.

She’s like a character in an Ingmar Bergman film. She reminds me of the Max von Sydow character in Bergman’s Winter Light, the seaman Jonas, who comes to the pastor with his terror that the Chinese will soon have the atomic bomb. Jonas is desperate for hope. The pastor has lost his faith, and tells Jonas that if God doesn’t exist, that makes suffering comprehensible. Jonas leaves — and (offscreen) blows his brains out. The key point in their exchange happens at around the 42:00 mark of this, the entire film.

The Thunberg girl is like Jonas. Her parents are like the faithless pastor. The child is autistic and has OCD. She’s terrified of what’s happening in the world. Her parents’ responsibility was not to turn her into a global activist, but to reassure her, to calm her, to let her know that she is safe and is loved.

As a parent myself, I realize how much my mom and dad shielded me from when I was a child. The world was a more dangerous place than I ever realized. But they gave me a childhood by protecting me from that knowledge, which came soon enough, as it must.

As much as I hate this whole Helen Lovejoy “won’t somebody please think of the children?” activism strategy, the thing is, I don’t think Thunberg is quite wrong about the global climate situation. What is unsettling, though, is to see her torment, and to hear her rigid militancy. She’s a fanatic, and doesn’t seem to grasp that the failure to solve this crisis is not a matter of callous leaders conspiring to steal little Greta’s childhood (a hysterical and manipulative charge, though heaven knows this kid is sincere). There’s the matter of people having the right to decide how they will be governed. In France, when Emmanuel Macron passed a new gas tax as a global warming measure, he sparked the Yellow Vests revolt, and had to back down. If Greta Thunberg wants to fight global warming, she ought to be fighting to prevent mass migration to Europe. And so forth.

In a report this morning, NPR quoted a climate researcher, Angel Hsu, praising communism for delivering results:

[NPR]: But Hsu says there’s a kind of silver lining. The Chinese government has been investing a lot in renewable energy, like solar and hydropower and electric public transit, and appears to be planning more. And because it’s not a democracy, the leaders who make climate promises can’t be voted out of office.

HSU: And I think what’s really encouraging about China is, when the leadership is committed to something, they can really follow through.

Watch Greta Thunberg. I have no doubt that she would be over the moon if the world were ruled by an authoritarian state unaccountable to the people.

Here’s the really unsettling part: what if the damage from global warming in decades to come becomes so grave that the only way for any nation to survive is through an authoritarian government?

UPDATE: Getting dragged on text by a very conservative friend who believes in global warming. Says that it’s really happening, that the climate is going to dwarf every other political issue by the end of our lifetimes. He says Greta is “right to be pissed,” and I shouldn’t be wound up about a “snotty teenager” saying it if it’s true. He cites the new study showing that North America has lost 29 percent of its birds since 1970.

I take his point, but let me say simply that I deeply hate the way this post-1960s culture fetishizes youth and enlists them in political activism. I would feel the same way about Greta Thunberg if she were a pro-life activist ranting about how her childhood was stolen by having to think about all the unborn children murdered by abortionists.

My friend said his “populist heart” cheers when he hears elites catching the kind of hell Thunberg gave world leaders today. The thing is, though, there is almost certainly not a country in the world where majorities could be persuaded to vote in the kind of measures that would make a serious difference in carbon emissions. This is not a matter of non-responsive elites failing to do the will of the people. The people say they’re concerned about global warming, but very few people are willing to accept a serious reduction in their own lifestyles over it. Not First World peoples accustomed to taking certain comforts (e.g, air conditioning) and liberties (such as those granted by cars) for granted, and not Third World peoples who endure grinding poverty, and who are now, for the first time in history, seeing the possibility of escaping it, as so many in China have done these last 30 years.

It’s perhaps the greatest tragedy in world history. But at this stage, I don’t see how we avoid it. Anyway, I think it’s a fair point to say that if I accept that this catastrophe is happening — and I do — that it’s not terribly logical to get my back up so high over a too-emphatic teenager’s freakout.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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