I suggest another way of using anger in the context of a campaign: to make it comparable to using spiciness in a dish.
Spiciness can absolutely be the basis for a dish. (Think of flaming curries.) And anger can absolutely be the basis of one's expression, or be a fiery spark that catalyses a movement's genesis.
In milder quantities, chilli can enhance a dish (like infusing chocolate ice-cream with Sichuan peppercorns for a creamy chocolate experience, with the lingering heat of Sichuan peppercorns in the background). Anger can enhance a campaign message.
But like spice, anger can also be overpowering, if used improperly, if used without care, without respect. This can obscure your message rather than reinforcing your message. It is not something that can be used willy-nilly.
Some describe Ms. Thunberg's speech at the UN Climate Action Summit as "impassioned". But it appears that it had an effect that she did not intend.
It is amusing to me when Ms. Thunberg complains about how people focused too much on the statement, "how dare you", in her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit. She says that she intended her statement to be, "we don't accept these odds". She expressed this in a slot on the Sverige Radio program, Summer on P1;
"We don’t accept these odds." That was Greta Thunberg’s principal message while speaking before the General Assembly of the United Nations last year. It referred to the remaining CO2-budget of humanity. – But the only message that seems to have resonated is “how dare you”, she says in the beginning of her Program, Summer on P1, a well-known Swedish Radio Show. [Source: Sverige Radio]
as well as in her remarks at COP25:
Since then, I’ve given many speeches and learned that when you talk in public, you start with something personal or emotional to get everyone’s attention. Say things like, ‘our house is on fire', 'I want you to panic' or 'how dare you’.
“But today I will not do that because then those phrases are all that people focus on. They don’t remember the facts, the very reason why I say those things in the first place, we no longer have time to leave out the science [Source: Express]
Well, she did say, "how dare you", four times in total, in that short speech of about 495 words. There were about two times that she addressed those odds, for the carbon budgets for 50% and 66% chance of staying within 1.5C of warming.
This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. [...] Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. [...] People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. [...]
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees [...] Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. [...] So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.
[...] To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. [Source: The Guardian]
The statement of "how dare you" was also planned in advance, as well — being a statement that she first came up with in the northern midsummer, before the northern fall when she delivered the speech. She also had time to prepare, fully being aware that she would be making this speech.
How did you prepare the speech?
– I started to think about the content of the speech around midsummer. That the message should be ”How dare you?”. To blame and shame the rulers. Then I did what I always do, I postponed thinking about it. So I started writing it a few days before the speech. [Source: Dagens Nyheter]
Despite the complaints she made (at COP25 and on Radio Sweden), she did use the phrase again after the UN General Assembly address and prior to those platforms, while at Denver:
Thunberg again scolded leaders for not doing enough to fight climate change and for ignoring science. Echoing a line from an angry speech at the United Nations last month that drew global attention, she said several times of leaders, “How dare they,” with some in the crowd repeating the line. [Source: The Guardian]
If she was concerned about people focusing too much on "how dare you", she did have time to remove some of those utterances from her speeches.
She instead blames people for not understanding her message. You can't just invoke and stir up anger and expect that it will deliver the results you want, and present it as a failure on the part of politicians if they don't get it.
At least one climate activist has carried a banner with the phrase, as well, in fact:
Her comments came as students in Italy symbolically torched a replica of planet Earth, one of many protests as part of the climate strikes sparked by the Swedish teen. Some participants echoed the anger she expressed this week at a U.N. summit in New York.
“How dare you!” read one banner at a rally in Italy’s financial hub of Milan, where tens of thousands took to the streets and later gathered around a giant globe to watch it go up in flames. [Source: AP]
If she did not want "how dare you" to be the thing that was focused on, clearly her speech did not deliver on that. But she continues to blame the audience.
About the use of anger, Ms. Thunberg has offered conflicting accounts, expressing both that she is angry (which is completely valid), but mostly that she never really gets angry.
Responding to a question from a journalist who said some adults viewed her as "angry", Ms Thunberg said: "We are angry, we are frustrated and it's because of good reasons. If they want us to stop being angry, maybe they should stop making us angry." [Source: BBC]
The anger in your speeches is a huge part of what connects with people. Do you still feel angry? I’ve never felt that angry. When I say: “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood” — that doesn’t mean anything. It’s a speech. When I wrote it, I thought, OK, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak in the United Nations General Assembly, and I need to make the most out of it. So that’s what I did, and I let emotions take control, so to speak. But I’m actually never angry. I can’t remember the last time I was angry. [Source: New York Times Magazine]
It is totally a right to be angry and to express one's anger, provided that one doesn't attack another's character.
But on the latter case, maybe it's worth trying to apply the expression of anger judiciously, particularly in a campaign speech, rather than peppering it everywhere like it "doesn't mean anything", so that it reduces the risk of people misunderstanding your message.
Subconscious image repairing
It is worth noting for this piece that anger can benefit some people more than others:
Angry white agitators are labeled good people and patriots. Angry black agitators are labeled identity thugs and violent opportunists. [Source: a New York Times opinion piece]
It is not fully Ms. Thunberg's fault that an image has been attached to her, but what I want to try to highlight is that she fully absolves herself of any blame, even though she deliberately wrote speech material that was designed to be provocative — she completely blames the audience.
Now Ms. Thunberg has been doing a lot of work to repair the image of being an "angry, naïve child" (even though she may not know she is doing it, and instead fully blames other people for wanting to see her that way,
People want something simple and concrete, and they want me to be naïve, angry, childish and emotional. That is the story that sells and creates the most clicks. [Source: Sverige Radio, starting at 42:15]
and again ignores her own deliberate delivery during previous speeches) and now she has had to spend work on portraying herself as "very happy" and reassure people that she is not an "angry, depressed teenager":
On campaigning, Thunberg said: “We need to do everything we can to push in the right direction. But I don’t see the point of being optimistic or pessimistic, I’m just realistic. That doesn’t mean I’m not happy, I’m very happy. You need to have fun, and I’m having much more now than before I started campaigning for this. When your life gets meaning you become happy.” [Source: The Guardian]
She has also contradicted that claim of her own about not seeing the point in being optimistic, by the way:
"People say we are pessimistic and doomish. But activists are the ones who are really doing something and for that you need to be very optimistic. To be able to think you can actually change something.” [Source: Twitter]
Back to trying to reassure others that she appears happy, after multiple speech performances that made heavy, deliberately-provocative use of angry delivery:
“There’s this false image that I’m an angry, depressed teenager,” says Thunberg, whose rapid rise is the subject of “I Am Greta,” a new documentary on Hulu. “But why would I be depressed when I’m trying to do my best to change things?” [Source: New York Times magazine]
She has had to use the alibi of people in her environment to counter that angry image.
Did she really feel that angry or was she putting on a bit of a show? “Well, I mean — both,” she says. “I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I better make the most out of it. So I allowed myself to let the emotions take over.”
She seems bemused, though, that the popular image of her as an angry teenager has persisted. “I never get angry,” she says with a small chuckle. “If you ask anyone who is in my close environment, they would probably laugh at that statement.” [Source: FT]
Her uncompromising words can give the wrong impression. “People seem to think that I am depressed, or angry, or worried, but that’s not true,” she said. Having a cause makes her happy. “It was like I got meaning in my life.” [Source: The New Yorker]
The constant push to be and appear happy also ignores and downplays the real challenge that people can face with experiencing climate anxiety, or even climate and ecological grief and "doomism", Activism might work for Ms. Thunberg to feel happy if she persuades herself that it works, but it doesn't actually mean that it is reasonable enough for everyone.
This subconscious image-repairing may have been more avoidable, if she diversified her techniques and employed other techniques and appeals to engage people, rather than use a ton of anger and blame carelessly to draw attention to a cause. It has been a little costly to wield that anger without discipline.
There seems to be an unchallenged, implicit assumption, that employing anger will automatically make your delivery more effective, or more convincing.
Sanctification also makes reasonable disagreement from people on her side more difficult. Most notably Thunberg has frequently framed the issue as an intergenerational conflict. “Young people must hold older generations accountable for the mess they have created,” she tweeted last December. “We need to get angry, and transform that anger into action.” [Source: The Guardian]
Instead of telling people that they "need to get angry", what may be even more effective is to show them why they ought to.
In other words, our job is to prise open people's anger by simply telling the truth about what is being done to them [...] [Source: The Case for Courage by Kevin Rudd]
On the case of using anger, other climate activists appear to understand the case for not stoking unfettered fury without channelling it into something else.
It is possible to turn fear into fury, and fury into the fight for a fair future for all. [Source: Forum.eu]
2021 Australian of the Year, sexual abuse survivor and campaigner Grace Tame, who is also autistic (to counter misconceptions put out by Ms. Thunberg), has this to comment about anger:
Ms Tame said she understood people's anger, but hope and action were the next steps forward.
"Anger is an important emotion, and it's a very powerful emotion, the important thing is though to channel it into positive outcomes," she said.
"That rage has the potential to be converted into something constructive and powerful." [Source: ABC]
Avoid adding bucketloads of heat just for the sake of adding bucketloads of heat.
Some people have found Ms. Thunberg's language to be effective, describing it as "eloquent rage":
in meetings with political leaders, and with billionaire entrepreneurs in Davos. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act,” she told them. Such tongue-lashings have gone down well. Many politicians laud her candidness. The Guardian
The truth bomb came in various forms: in the form of a girl (Greta Thunberg) whose eloquent rage finally caught the world’s attention and inspired millions around the globe to strike for climate action. The truth also came in the form of heat, smoke and fire. The Guardian
There are times when the heat helps to enhance delivery, and times when the heat is an essential core pillar of the expression. But it does not necessarily mean that the heat is to be employed without discipline.
It risks further entrenching divides.
This new focus on making environmentalism an angrier protest movement threatens to make the effort to protect the planet just another wedge issue that politicians often use to motivate their base of voters. Similar wedge issues like abortion and gun control have long shifted [to] become tribal controversies with little chance of progress and compromise.
Greta Thunberg is angry. Lots of people are angry. But anger without doing something other than protesting and making speeches won’t protect the environment or do much else other than produce more anger. [Source: CNBC ]
Blaming and shaming
Elsewhere, she makes this comment:
“We are stuck in a loop where everyone just blames each other, and as long as we keep on doing that we won’t be able to achieve anything.” [Source: The Guardian]
If she was really concerned about people focusing on blaming each other on climate inaction, maybe it would be a worthwhile exercise to reflect on her own role in fomenting this blame. But it appears that currently she doesn't appear to care to acquire any other skillsets in her repertoire, other than to use blame.
Even though she is not a child any longer, she says her primary tool has not changed — using the moral high ground to ask the adults to do the right thing. “People say that we shouldn’t be using morals, or like, shaming people, or using guilt or whatever. But since we don’t have any globally binding agreements, that’s all we have . . . It’s the only resource we have available at hand.” [Source: FT]
This leads to problems later down in the track, when she is trying to work out how to "activate the older generations", as she asks naturalist Sir David Attenborough:
We have seen many young people started [sic] to speak up more and more and to realise the urgency, but do you have any thoughts or ideas how we can activate the older generations as well, because we need everyone. [Source: Instagram]
Well she hasn't made the task any easier for herself, or for other activists for that matter, by using previous very public forums to bash on older generations and drive a divide between generations, in what have become very publicised speeches. Whoops.
And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago. [Ms. Thunberg at a UN Summit in 2018. Source: The Guardian]
You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. [Ms. Thunberg at COP24. Source: CNN]
They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. [...]
You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. [Ms. Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019. Source: The Guardian]
Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour. We are still telling you to panic, and to act as if you loved your children above all else. [Ms. Thunberg at WEF2020. Source: Common Dreams]
You can't just sit around waiting for hope to come, you're acting like spoiled irresponsible children. [Source: EESC]
It is also not accurate to attribute the emissions to one generation, by the way — the emissions have been a result of hundreds of years of industrialisation, visualisations of which Ms. Thunberg has retweeted herself, such as this carbon bucket. And the environmental situation we face has been the result of a much longer period of unsustainable living.
I think there has been no single person more responsible for poisoning the climate campaign with ageist notions than Ms. Thunberg. For example, she has espoused the idea that older people are stuck in their ways:
“Because we are so young, our perspective on the world, our perception of the world is so—is so, like, blank. We don’t have that much experience. We don’t say, 'Oh, we cannot change this because it’s always been this way,' which a lot of old people say. We definitely need that new perspective to see the world.” [Source: The Atlantic]
Also, being young is a great advantage since we see the world from a new perspective and we are not afraid to make radical changes. [Source: The Guardian]
It is already hard enough to convince people to care about impacts that may not affect them directly — which is why former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called climate change the "greatest social, economic and moral challenge of our generation", and Professor Johan Rockström also mentioned that it was, frankly, hard to get people to care about the planet, when talking about the Planetary Health Diet.
But with the double-edged swords of heated anger, guilt and bitter shame, while she may have galvanised younger people and people who already agree that the climate crisis is an urgent priority, Ms. Thunberg also has just made that environment that much harder, for appealing to reason and diplomacy, when trying to talk to others who may not already be inclined to think that addressing climate change is as important right now, particularly amongst older generations.
Many older people resent being blamed for the climate crisis. Even if you agree that we should take our share of responsibility, what matters most now is clearing up the mess, not squabbling over who caused it. [Source: The Guardian]
I would add, though, that factoring in historical emissions is important in terms of equity of action, such as for calculating "fair share" allocations of carbon budgets.
She is clearly fine to describe her worldview as "childlike and naïve" if she sees it as an advantage:
What do you think is the specific quality of your communication that moves people? Is it a kind of wisdom? I don’t think I have any specific wisdom. I don’t have much life experience. One thing that I do have is the childlike and naïve way of seeing things. We tend to overthink things. Sometimes the simple answer is, it is not sustainable to live like this. New York Times magazine
And as mentioned earlier, she is fine with a deep cynicism of the media and of other people if they make her look bad with it:
People want something simple and concrete, and they want me to be naïve, angry, childish and emotional. That is the story that sells and creates the most clicks. [Source: Sverige Radio, starting at 42:15]
Gross misunderstanding of campaigning in a democracy
Anger, when used as the majority of a speech, can be hard to digest. This can also be the case with repeated shaming and blaming. It does not mean, at all, that anger is not to be used or not to be expressed, but that anger is worth wielding with discipline.
But the activist appears to unequivocally champion this digestion difficulty as a positive, instead of reflecting on whether it does a service, or disservice, to the movement's message. She talks about how they are making leaders uncomfortable, and that they are "having an impact":
People feel very guilty when a child says, “You are stealing my future.” That has impact. And, of course, if it has impact, then people will want to try to silence that. People who don’t want this to be an issue, they try to silence that. [Source: Washington Post]
She appears to not distinguish between drawing attention to the climate crisis, and changing people's minds on the climate crisis — the latter being making the case that more urgent action is needed to avoid more catastrophic risks.
She actually appears to assume that drawing attention automatically means that people's minds will be changed.
But I’m just trying to make as much difference as I can, especially in informing people, spreading awareness about the climate crisis. I think that is the key now, to inform people about this crisis. Because as it is, people are not aware. Once enough people know about the urgency, then they will go together and push for political change. [Source: Washington Post]
Well, I’m telling you, there is hope. I have seen it but it does not come from the governments or corporations. It comes from the people. The people who have been unaware but are now starting to wake up. And once we become aware, we change. [Source: Express]
And Ms. Thunberg has said that she would regard people as "evil" if they knew what was happening and still refused to do anything about it.
Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that. [Source: The Guardian]
She instead believes that their complacency on the climate can be attributed to a lack of awareness. While that may be partially the case, I'm guessing that the activists don't really have a plan in place, for a case where people are told more about the climate crisis, and people still haven't been convinced to take action on it.
This case is completely possible, as partially demonstrated by the responses to the coronavirus crisis, where you have medical officials issuing advice and certain groups of people refusing to wear masks in the United States, for example, or demonstrating to oppose lockdowns in the Netherlands, in Germany, and elsewhere, even though the effects of the coronavirus are reported in the media everyday.
Effective campaigning involves more than just raising awareness about an issue — it is also doing the work of trying to convince people of your position on that issue. If the youth climate activists were serious about convincing people, they would be trying to draw open the net wider, not targeting young people in wars of identity politics, and pitting them against the older generations.
Yet the absolute deficit of rhetorical and tactical sophistication from Fridays for Future activists suggests that they have little understanding of, or respect for, the challenge of changing citizens' minds.
They instead hold exclusive meetings with country leaders. Notice the same cluster of activists — Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, (founder of Fridays for Future Germany), and Adélaïde Charlier and Anuna de Wever, (founder of Fridays for Future Belgium.)
Fun fact: in democracies, leaders can change in a snap. A way to bring real, lasting change, would be to consistently talk to the people, not to leaders who might be out of power at the next election.
In a number of Ms. Thunberg's speeches, she has long promised that people would rise up, in spite of the politicians' inaction.
Well, I’m telling you, there is hope. I have seen it but it does not come from the governments or corporations. It comes from the people.
The people who have been unaware but are now starting to wake up. And once we become aware, we change. People can change. People are ready for change. And that is the hope because we have democracy and democracy is happening all the time.
Not just on election day but every second and every hour. It is public opinion that runs the free world. In fact, every great change throughout history has come from the people. We do not have to wait. We can start the change right now.
We the people. Thank you. [Source: Express]
The fact is, people haven't risen up. This is not attributable to just one factor, but Fridays for Future has done so little to reach outside their demographic with their messaging.
And politicians cannot act in spite of the people's wishes. But Ms. Thunberg accuses them of being worried about popularity if they put it to her that people would not vote for them.
When I tell politicians to act now the most common answer is that they can’t do anything drastic, because that would be too unpopular among voters.
And they are right of course. Since most people are not even aware of why those changes are required. That is why I keep telling you to unite behind the science - make the best available science the heart of politics and democracy. [Source: EU Parliament]
What have you learned about people in power? I’ve spoken to many world leaders, and sometimes I wish I had a hidden camera. People wouldn’t believe what they say. It’s very funny. They say: “I can’t do anything because I don’t have the support. You need to help me.” They become desperate. It’s like they are begging for me to help them persuade the public that we need climate action. What that tells me is people are underestimating their power and the power of democracy and of putting pressure on people in power. They can’t do anything without support from voters. [Source: New York Times Magazine]
She appears to speak cynically of politicians in that last sentence, in that they appear afraid to act without the support of voters. But they actually can't really do anything against the will of the voters.
Like, one of the reasons that democracies were designed was to enable people to act with the support of voters, as opposed to traditional monarchies or even dictatorships, for example, where the will of the populace can generally be overruled by the leader.
How easily she claims to champion "the power of democracy" and yet tells democratic leaders to override the will of the people, rather than helping to do the work of properly persuading more people, not just the people who already agree with her.
Consider when French President Macron introduced a fuel tax. It was not very supported, and became an additional catalyst for the Yellow Vest movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) in France, with quite a bit of unrest — torched cars, and more.
France’s yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against an increased fuel tax, has evolved into a broader stance against President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies, says Stanford economist Gregory Rosston. If Macron is to survive politically, he must encourage widespread economic growth along with responsible climate policies, Rosston said.
[...] After yielding to protesters, how can Macron maintain a carbon plan that meets the Paris climate agreement and survive politically? President Macron needs to figure out how to survive politically so he can push a climate plan. Conversely, it is important for him to be able to show that a leader can implement responsible climate policies and succeed politically. Right now, leaders around the world are looking at France and seeing the backlash to Macron’s policies and are likely very hesitant to adopt similar carbon taxes. [Source: Stanford]
On Tuesday, Macron’s government backed down on one of its key policies, announcing a six-month moratorium on a diesel tax that was supposed to go into effect in January and was aimed at reducing France’s reliance on fossil fuels.
A cornerstone of the French president’s efforts to fight climate change through far-sighted legislation, the levy had met the ire of citizens, especially in car-dependent exurbs and rural areas without public transportation. Diesel now costs about €1.5 a liter in France, or about $6.50 a gallon, and the proposed tax would raise that even higher. The protesters have said that whereas Macron is focused on the end of the world, they are simply focused on the end of the month. And so for the past three Saturdays they’ve taken to streets and roadways across France, wearing the yellow vests that all motorists are required to own, in a series of escalating protests. [Source: The Atlantic]
Fridays for Future and Ms. Thunberg have, so far, failed to fully recognise that there is a role to be played in convincing people, as opposed to just raising awareness through stirring up divisions and generating heat.