These moments of accountability on the right are rare, of course — there are dozens, hundreds more examples of attacks far uglier than this that have brought no pushback at all. But they help illustrate that Thunberg has the rare ability to tap into something human, something that, at least sporadically, can break through the media filter pushing the public into partisan camps.
…It’s important to note, as she frequently does, that Thunberg has not single-handedly created this movement. She stands on the shoulders of generations of activists before and alongside her, many of them people of color, who are, to say the least, less likely to be adopted as icons by Westerners.
…Opponents of action — generally far-right coalitions fueled by a mix of fossil-fuel cronyism and populist ethnonationalism — don’t assail it. They do everything they can to distract from it.
…That almost always involves attacking the messengers (“Al Gore has a big house”) and their proposed solutions (“the Green New Deal will take away your hamburgers”). The scientists are after grant money; the activists are undercover socialists; the leaders are hypocrites; the marchers litter. Casting doubt on the motives and authenticity of people fighting for progressive causes is the right’s primary political tool, with efforts now led out of the White House.
For climate scientists and advocates, it’s a familiar trap. Any political program sufficient to address climate change at scale is, almost by definition, going to be radical, which allows the right to dismiss it as “far left.” The go-to attack on the climate movement is that it’s a “watermelon,” green on the outside and socialist red on the inside — that climate change is just a cover story for the political program.
Thunberg has sidestepped attacks on her motives by almost entirely refraining from endorsing specific political reforms or policies.
…In characteristically vile fashion, the right in both Europe and the US has attempted to use Thunberg’s mental health against her, but the attempt has largely backfired. For one thing, it is virtually impossible to watch her speak for any length of time and maintain a good-faith belief that she is responding to social pressure from adults. She is manifestly authentic, direct in a way unique among public figures, no more subject to flattery than to coercion.
…She’s not intimidated or dazzled by social hierarchy. She just drags the focus, again and again, back to her fixation, what the grown-ups don’t want to talk about: the need for immediate action and their long-standing failure to take any.
…She takes the facts seriously, even when very few adults are modeling how to do so, even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient for those around her. She’s vegan, she won’t fly, and she’s devoting her young life to prodding adults into action; the default right-wing accusations of hypocrisy and duplicity simply don’t stick.
The right has established a social environment in which speaking up on climate change leads to bullying and shaming, but those tactics just don’t seem to work on Thunberg. And without them, the right has nothing to fall back on (not one of the hundreds of attacks launched at her has the courage to directly dispute the IPCC report she submitted).
In ignoring social cues, Thunberg has become one: A signal to other young people around the world that, yes, this really is an emergency, and yes, they really can and should speak up.
Greta Thunberg: why the right’s usual attacks don’t work on her – Vox