When Greta Thunberg was fifteen, she was supposed to be in school learning to become a good little consumer of planetary resources. Instead, she was protesting the lack of action on climate change outside the Swedish parliament. And hordes of mediocre white men from across the land collectively misplaced their excrement and unleashed the ALL CAPS fury.
Thunberg is what a hero looks like. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Darren Aronofsky agrees, as a few months after her UN speech, and fifteen months after her initial protest, he wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Greta Thunberg Is the Icon the Planet Desperately Needs.” He’s wrong, however. It’s not the planet that needs her. The planet will survive. We might not. It’s humanity that needs people like Greta.
Aronofsky wrote, “As a director, I’m in constant pursuit of the right image.” He explained how he knew he’d found one when he saw this 15-year-old girl sitting outside the Swedish parliament to draw attention to our impending climatological doom. The image he saw was one of hope, commitment, and action. One that could spark a movement. She represents the early days of a significant cultural shift. We’ve been bandying about the idea of doing something about climate change for decades, but Greta is indicative of a tipping point being reached. She has given me hope. She has given hope to many that something can be done before it’s too late, including respected conservationist David Attenborough, who said of Greta, “She’s achieved things that many of us who’ve been working for it for 20-odd years have failed to achieve.” He said she has “aroused the world.” That arousing includes actual oil companies now demanding that government have progressive climate leadership plans.
Alas, Earth is infected with a virulent strain of fact-resistant humans. As I mentioned, many a mediocre white man responded to Greta by screeching like a howler monkey on a meth bender. Well, white dudes and that Tammy Lasagna Fox News person.
By the way, I’m a white man, and reverse racism is not a thing.
I expect part of the vitriol relates to what Upton Sinclair said regarding how it’s difficult to get a person to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it. But it also can be attributed to the bruising of fragile egos. These guys were told they were special. They wanted to be rock stars sleeping with porn stars. They imagined they could be astronauts or athletes or actors. But then Greta shows up speaking truth to power and lands on the cover of TIME Magazine a second goddamn time—this time being named “Person of the Year”—and even gets nominated for a friggin’ Nobel Peace Prize for chastising older generations and it hits them right in the I’ve-done-the-square-root-of-fuck-all-with-my-life inferiority complex. Greta Thunberg Effect? No one named a global movement after me!
To see toxic masculinity on display, simply read the comments on any article about Greta Thunberg. She has been the subject of multiple misogynistic attacks, referred to as mentally ill and a puppet, and repeatedly threatened with death. Other attacks are subtler. Some wish to diminisher her with “What about [person who did a thing for the climate]? How come we’re not celebrating them?” because they can’t imagine it’s possible to celebrate more than one person.
Some criticize her methods or proclamations or targets of ire. These may have the guise of a reasonable critique yet represent the same forces that maintain the status quo: that of putting industry before individuals, pollution before planet. And you also have the brainless ass wagons who, when Greta was honored by TIME, couldn’t wait to point out that “Hitler was TIME’s Man of the Year too!” Yeah, so was Trump. The magazine’s designation is about who or what has “done the most to influence the events of the year.” Some people are influential for good reasons, others for bad ones. It should be obvious as to which is which for those who are not suffering from a rectal-cranial inversion.
Last fall I wrote a satirical piece titled “So You’ve Decided to Hate Greta Thunberg.” A comment I saw again and again, almost exclusively from white men, can be summarized as “I’ve never seen any hatred towards Greta. Only legitimate criticisms.”
First, most of what they consider legitimate criticisms are the crap I already exposed earlier. But failure to see the hate means they’ve been hiding under a rock. On ANY article about Greta you will witness countless people—many who are willing to use their full names and Facebook profiles—hurl the vilest abuse her way in the comments section.
And recently we have a small Alberta oilfield services company making national news for their depiction of a sexual assault of Greta. It was a decal being handed out by a company called X-Site Energy Services. The decal showed a naked Greta being violated from behind while having her hair pulled.
When confronted by a local politician, Michelle Narang, of why he condoned this depiction of a child being raped, X-Site CEO Doug Sparrow replied of Greta, “She’s not a child, she’s 17.”
I’m not showing the decal, but if you wish to see how bad it is, it’s here.
Sparrow has since denied any involvement, but X-Site has a history of sexually explicit ads as well as showing past hatred for Greta, and Sparrow has shown a propensity for racist comments on social media. So, I’m not inclined to believe his denial.
Yes, there are women who hate Greta. Yes, there are POC who hate Greta. But it’s clear that the majority of the hate is coming from white men who would deny the undeniable reality of anthropogenic climate change and choose to lash out in the most disgusting ways imaginable against a teenage harbinger whose only desire is to protect the planet and the people living on it. It’s astounding how such mediocre men can quickly devolve into being just plain pathetic.
The fact that Greta remains undaunted in her much-needed crusade in the face of this hatred makes me appreciate her all the more.
My book THE HOLY SH!T MOMENT, is now available. GET IT HERE!
James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.