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greta thunberg

Greta Thunberg: why is the child activist fair game for online trolls?

On the steps of the Riksdag, reporters caught wind of a ninth-grade schoolgirl outside the Swedish Assembly in Stockholm refusing to attend school unless the government reduced carbon emissions dramatically in line with the Paris Agreement.

Photographed with a hand-painted sign that read “School Strike for the Climate”, Greta went on to spark a worldwide revolution. Before long, she went to speak around the world, captivating audiences at events such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, and eventually at the UN Climate Summit in New York, with her scathing discourse which implored world leaders to act on climate change. With fearlessness and a level of maturity unparalleled in any activist of her age, many took to social media to rally together.

Thunberg vs. Twitter

Through social media, Thunberg’s campaign exploded: between casual Instagram Live chats with Democratic representative and fan-favourite Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez regarding a New Green Deal that would put net emissions in the US at zero within a decade, the teen spearheaded mass climate strikes amongst students and adults alike all around the world. Through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, Thunberg’s message has spread far and wide.

But with great fame, and success comes the scrutiny of the public eye. From all sides, both Twitter and the press have been inundated with criticism surrounding Thunberg’s movement. Most shocking of all, Australian political commentator Andrew Bolt who followed Thunberg on her carbon-zero yacht voyage, likened the adolescent to a cult leader, “for a girl so young and with so many mental disorders”. The latter part of Bolt’s repulsive statement attacked Thunberg for her Asperger’s diagnosis, sparking public outcry and much backlash. Word of Thunberg even made its way into the White House; tweeting about Thunberg, climate change-denier Trump mockingly reduced the environmental activist to a mere child, a simple and “happy young girl”.

It’s not easy being green …

Despite the virtuous nature of her cause, Thunberg is constantly undermined in public discourse, on both the right and the left: either on the basis of her age, her Asperger’s diagnosis, the argued privilege of her family background and even her gender. Make no mistake—Thunberg is no victim. But how can it be that a child can be scrutinised with ad hominem attacks and flippant remarks when her only crime is simply wanting to prevent what she calls “the greatest crisis” humanity has ever faced?

Of course, her methods are indeed provocative–suing French and German governments for example for not respecting the emission reduction targets as outlined in the Paris Agreements, but on the whole, Greta is doing something most are either too afraid or too apathetic to do: standing up to climate change and the institutions responsible. Greta is angry, and like the rest of us, she has every right to be.

Greta's fresh perspective, her earnest stance and her motivation to incite change will make most adults uncomfortable, as she seeks to challenge and undermine the imposed status quo of corporate greed and personal gain over environmental and humanitarian issues.

Of course, change is hard, but change here is necessary, but people are too quick to dismiss her for all the wrong reasons. Even for those of us who aren’t Alt-Right anti-climate-change-flat-earther Internet trolls; many are stretching the idea of “freedom of speech” so far as to discredit her, which damages her cause and blocks any kind of progress. Sure, I do still on occasion spiral into existentially despair at the possibility of the barren, dystopian inferno that awaits us if we don’t see the meaningful change Thunberg has spoken about time and time again—and fast, but regardless of all her haters, Greta Thunberg provides many people with a glimmer of hope for the future.

Featured image: Liv Oeian / Shutterstock.com