Greta, the Climate & us


Just admit it, as soon as you lay your eyes on the title of this one, you know exactly who Greta is and what the topic of this text is going to be. Let me preempt your excitement by telling you that you are only partially right. It is true that we are talking about Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old Swede who just over a year ago has started a campaign to protect the planet Earth. In doing so she decided to skip school every Friday and stand alone in front of the Swedish Parliament protesting against lack of any serious efforts to prevent negative effects of climate changes. You are however wrong to think that this post will be about climate change or my highly-esteemed opinion on the topic.

Ok, let’s start from the beginning. It would be hard to find an individual today who hasn’t heard about Greta Thunberg. While she started off completely alone as anonymous, she is now an omnipresent personality on all the media platforms. She has become a global symbol of the fight to save the Earth from devastating consequences of our own disregard, that is now endangering the very existence of the planet. That’s how young activist Greta Thunberg has simply become Greta. 

The media storm that surrounded her participation at this year’s United Nations Action Climate Summit that coincided with the annual UN General Assembly session is a proof of that becoming. Her speech before the gathered world leaders, tackling the fight for alleviating negative consequences of climate change from a generation gap standpoint, made breaking news globally. Her expressive “how dare you” from the speech was rearranged and remixed into an endless sea of titles and announcements of the published news feed.  

Following the summit, weeks of media speculations ensued on the topic of Nobel Peace Prize gossips and whether Greta is in the running. Bookies were taking bets on who will win the prize and Greta was the frontrunner. At times there was even a bit of cheerleading involved – some were cheering for and some cheering against Greta winning the Nobel prize. In the end, someone else took the Nobel prize (not entirely sure who, I would have to google it), but all is well – Greta is still young, her time is coming. Nonetheless, Greta has gained a momentum, became a star, even. After New York and the USA she continued her North American tour with Canada, where she will take part in protests against climate change in multiple cities across the country. It was only a few days ago that the Natural History Museum in London published an announcement that a tiny insect was named “nelloptodes gretae” after the young activist, as a way to honor her contributions on raising eco awareness. The insect in question has no eyes or functioning wings and is less than one millimeter long. 

It is beyond any doubt that Greta has become a global brand. And that is today’s topic. And that’s where problems ensue. Brand Greta is not the same as Greta Thunberg, a climate activist. Brand is a market category, operating under the market rules. The product as a brand has designated buyers, a persona as a brand has fans and followers, while each brand has a unique purpose of building and increasing loyalty. One of the mechanisms to achieve that is opening controversial topics connected to the brand, that further engages the audience with a choice: for or against. All those voting in favor only further strengthen their connection with the brand.

Now, let us look at brand Greta in that particular context. Media speculation around whether Greta will get the Nobel prize was only one of the controversies around the brand. Another ubiquitous topic when news about Greta start to circulate is Asperger syndrome. As a form of autism, the AS somehow should serve as a disqualifier for Greta (who is on the spectrum) in the eyes of those who vote against, as they perceive she lack legitimacy to discuss the issues that are at the core of her narrative. There is also the topic concerning the genuine nature of her parents’ support and whether they are just using her selfishly for the sake of popularity. A big media echo was caused by former Top Gear host, Jeremy Clarkson’s article published in one of the British tabloids calling Greta a spoiled brat, who should better shut up and continue being a good little girl. Another one who rarely misses the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon is Trump himself. He tweeted, with a heavy whiff of cynicism, that Greta is a good girl with a bright future ahead of her. The last piece of news in this lineup was the mural of Greta Thunberg in Edmonton, Canada that appeared on a wall just in time for her arrival to the city, defaced by a message of a protestor spelled out in fresh spray paint: Stop spreading the lies and get out of Canada!

All of a sudden, instead of devastating consequences of climate change and the need to do something about it asap, the mere mention of Greta in a conversation sparks a slew of completely different off-topics. What is particularly worrisome is that none of that noise has anything to do with the topic that Greta, while she was still only Greta Thunberg, a teenage schoolgirl, pioneered. The misuse of her activism in the modern media context is a reason for concern as it threatens to take away from a crucial question she raised. 

The climate crisis is literally bringing into question our bare survival on the planet on a global scale, an issue that can only be tackled from a global perspective. And for the solution to be found, a global system and a mechanism for defining and handling such a large-scale problem should exist in the first place. No such mechanism exists. The system currently in place is far from global – it is diluted and broken into small pieces, defined by specific capital-oriented interests of a mighty and powerful elite that runs the show. This is precisely why, despite all the facts and scientific evidence that we are heading towards distinction as a human race, nothing is being done. Impassivity in the field is a result of a lack of interest to change the current order of things. The world is run by those who put profits and gains, as well as power first. They seem not to care about what happens in a hundred years from now. Not really their problem, right? A quote from Greta Thunberg herself here, seems very appropriate: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” climate activist Greta Thunberg has told world leaders at the 2019 UN climate action summit in New York. In an emotionally charged speech, she accused them of ignoring the science behind the climate crisis, saying: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you!”

Once upon a time, inconvenient topics were either ignored or put under the rug, or even tabooed and banned, while the Heralds were put away and punished. Today the scene operates under a different approach. Inconvenient topics are getting a showbiz limelight with a heavy dose of oversimplification. Dealing with the problems in real life is substituted with creating an impression that something is being done. Climate change as a topic has also become a part of a global showbusiness. There is almost no contemporary politician who would skip the climate change in of his/hers addresses, underlining specifically how this will be something they will all deal with in the future. Of course, it helps that the topic itself is so gullible. It is globally popular, with many of those “sounds great but means nothing” phrases and it eludes individual responsibility. 

All of this is reminiscent of a saying originated by a true cynic from the time Austro-Hungarian Empire was facing its certain demise: “Although catastrophic, the situation is still not that serious”. 

While it may sound like a joke, it sure ain’t funny…

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