Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist from Sweden, meets with María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly on Aug. 30. UN Photo by Manuel Elias
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier marked Greta Thunberg’s arrival in North America by viciously attacking the teenage climate activist, calling her mentally unstable in apparent reference to her having Asperger syndrome.
Bernier doubled down in a subsequent volley of tweets, in the manner of the self-described “very stable genius,” U.S. President Donald Trump.
It was an odious bookend to the criticism levelled at Thunberg during her sailing voyage, which kicked off in earnest when New York Times contributor Christopher Caldwell denounced her climate activism as “radical” and undemocratic in “The Problem With Greta Thunberg’s Climate Activism.”
Caldwell gamely rationalized his criticism, stating, “Kids (Thunberg’s) age have not seen much of life. Her world view might be unrealistic, her priorities out of balance. But in our time, and in her cause, that seems to be a plus. People have had enough of balance and perspective. They want single-minded devotion to the task at hand.”
Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish teenager who began protesting government inaction on climate change outside the Swedish parliament last August, has catalyzed the global school strike for climate movement (sometimes called Fridays for Future). After stealing the show at the COP24 climate change conference, she inspired an estimated 1.4 million students, including thousands of Canadian youth, to join her in a global student strike this past March 15.
Bernier, Caldwell and all the critics in between have been widely pilloried, but a more sympathetic view is warranted.
Older men are known to experience anxiety on realizing they lack what society’s vigorous youth possess. Psychoanalytic theory tells us their coveting of younger generations’ environmental conscientiousness leads to feelings of inferiority, and defensive or compensatory behaviour.
Seeing past the green-eyed monster
Not wanting to give oxygen to the outbursts of a sixth-rate Canadian party leader (according to 338Canada.com, Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada is polling sixth behind the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, Green party and Bloc Québécois), I’ll focus on the New York Times piece, which paints its argument with a substantial intellectual veneer.
I’m not sure whether Caldwell is more of a Hatha or Ashtanga man, but his rhetorical yoga is supple, and he shows sublime command of advanced contortions. The root of his argument seems to be that the future should not be the purview of the young and the restless, but the old and the bloviating.
Alas, the days of sinecure-holding think-tank personalities imposing a tight monopoly on American public discourse are over. Social media has thrown the Overton window wide open, and in this newly free marketplace of ideas, Thunberg and company are running the table.
There can be nothing more democratic than an idea winning hearts and minds on the strength of its own merits in a deregulated marketplace, nor anything more dangerous to self-appointed gatekeepers of serious debate.
Sadly, Caldwell conflates his punditocracy with democracy — a Freudian slip? — and cobbles some logic for fearmongering’s sake. In truth, activism is the beating heart of a healthy democracy; the only threat it presents is to Caldwell’s favoured ancien regime. MORE