Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, centre, arrives for a meeting in the French National Assembly, in Paris, France, Tuesdays, July 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Greta Thunberg is a world-wide Climate Warrior sensation She is a thought leader, a movement maker and a world-traveler.
Greta is also 16-years-old.
She is (and has been since age 12) a bonafide star in the climate change industry; and “industry” is exactly what has popped up around environmental issues in the last 40 years. Eco-tourism is branded as your “last chance” to view any particular wonder before climate change kills it. Traveler’s checks accepted.
Environmental/climate conferences are huge business. Google hosts an elite, exclusive climate summit every year in the most glamorous and high-end of locations. The world’s biggest celebrities and politicians fly in individually on their private jets and then (individually) hop on their giant, diesel-fueled yachts and consume more resources in a few days than some small countries do all year.
With political utterances becoming more and more dangerous for celebrities and their careers, climate change is a win-win cause. Who doesn’t love Earth?
But you know who is losing, right now? Greta Thunberg.
Western culture’s obsession with idolizing children is disturbing at best, dangerous at worst. The #MeToo era has also ushered in a greater awareness of how children are treated in the entertainment industry. There is an ugly truth behind the shiny Hollywood veneer.
A child who gets paid to perform for the entertainment of adults is already in trouble.
You may think Greta is climate warrior, but she is really just an eco-entertainer. Her age is her brand. Her every move is controlled by adults. Adults are the ones praising her, inviting her all over the world to speak, invading her space for comments and interviews. Adults are the ones profiting from those clips and words and appearances. Adults are the ones sharing Greta’s activism and holding her up as an example of their own definition of perfection.
Greta herself has made unsettling comments about why she became an “activist” in the first place. Her family claims she has Asperger’s, which already isolates her socially. Greta says she has lived in fear and loneliness most of her life, feeling like she was the only person concerned about climate.
“Before I felt lonely both because I have Asperger's Syndrome and … because it felt like I was the only one who cared about the climate and the ecological crisis.”
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks about loneliness as she sets off for U.S. on eco-friendly yacht. pic.twitter.com/ohvX1CxLF6
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) August 15, 2019
That really struck a chord with me, because I too spent a large portion of my youth terrified that the world would end before I got the chance to enjoy it. Global warming, holes in the ozone layer, the next Ice Age, rising seas, acid rain – you name it, we worried sick about it in my house. I’m 45 years old, but at 16 I was convinced the disintegrating world would never let me see this age.
It isn’t natural or healthy for a child to feel like they are solely and singularly burdened with saving the world. What child can bear that type of fear and emotional trauma without lasting consequences?
And what child can bear the probing, judging eyes of the entire adult world as they scrutinize her development, maturity and opinions? Like any normal person, Greta will grow and evolve. Her opinions and feelings will change and her experience will inform her outlook. However, now she is locked into a single phase in her life. She is forever preserved in stern-looking magazine covers and fawning memes. All aimed at the pleasure of adults, who share her images and silently (or publicly) wish their own children were this smart, this motivated, this aware.
Ask any former child star how that type of pressure works out for growing children?
Greta seems smart, and is smart but what is happening to her is no different than the off-putting child beauty pageant circuit. She’s not being forced to cake on make-up and imitate adult physicality for recognition. She is being being asked to put on the mantle of a fully-formed adult, and take on the burden of rescuing humanity. She is being asked to imitate an adult mentality for the pleasure of real adults. Some may think they are just supporting environmental issues, but those people can’t see how much pleasure they are getting out of the actions of a child who is working as though she is 30 years old.
Greta is not in control of her life. I don’t care how mature you think you were at 16, you weren’t either. Even if you were independent for whatever reason, your brain and emotions were still so susceptible to interference you were making decisions based on what other people thought was best for you even if you didn’t know it.
Like the children the media hails as “drag kids”, the political “stars” like C.J.Pearson or the beauty pageant contestants like Honey Boo Boo, Greta’s singular attraction in the world of climate change is that she is a child.
We should all be concerned when a child becomes the object of entertainment and idolization by millions of adults.
Greta will never be able to move on from this mindset without great public attention or outcry. She may not think like this at 30, but will she feel free to tell that to the world? Or will she still need to protect her brand for the comfort of others? Greta’s parents could still allow her to work in favor of environmental issues. They don’t need to trot her all over the world, stunting her in this mental state for the rest of her life.
Forget about the politics of this issue. This isn’t an op-ed about climate change. This is an op-ed about children, and how to protect them, and how perverse it is for anyone of any political bent to objectify a child in any manner.
I understand it is too late to ask for people to let Greta just be a girl. But maybe, down the road when she is feeling used and abandoned because her youth has faded (and thus, her attraction as an activist…again, disturbing) she’ll find this post in the way-back machine and know that at least someone was concerned, and voiced that concern. Maybe it will be some small measure of comfort.