Try wielding anger like you would spiciness

Does Greta Thunberg's use of emotional appeals and identity politics serve to give way to substance, or is it grounded in a "quickness to self-righteousness"? Part 3 in a series on Fridays for Future's founder's personality politics & provocation.

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]
"We do not accept these odds.” That is what the speech was about, if you read it in full. And it of course alludes to our remaining carbon budget. But the only message that seems to have resonated is ”how dare you?”. [Source: Time]

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.

A number of climate activists have 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.

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 tries to absolves herself of any blame, even though she deliberately wrote speech material that was designed to be provocative, and delivered it in a temperamental manner — she almost completely blames the audience, except in one instance:

What is your line of reasoning?
– Apparently I am quite bad at giving speeches. Because what people bring up from the speech in New York is me sitting and saying: ”How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood” and that is not what I want to communicate. I want to communicate facts. And if you leave out what the rest of the speech is all about, if you only take out three sentences, then that makes me sound like an idiot. [Source: DN]

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 almost 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.

She blames the media,

I don't know if this [speech for COP25] will shift the focus. It probably won't. The headline will be: "Greta Thunberg makes emotional speech." I know that that's going to be the reaction, but I'm doing everything I can at least to make sure that that's not the case. [BBC's Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World, from 49:57]

and blames other people, while almost completely dropping her own responsibility for that very deliberate image of herself being emotional — in fact, she pushes that image, saying that she is "very proud" of herself being "very emotional" — elsewhere:

“I’m very weak in a sense,” says Thunberg quietly. “I’m very tiny and I am very emotional, and that is not something people usually associate with strength. I think weakness, in a way, can be also needed because we don’t have to be the loudest, we don’t have to take up the most amount of space, and we don’t have to earn the most money.” [Source: Rolling Stone]
"I'm very emotional, I'm very small, and I'm very weak in a way," Thunberg said. "That's something I'm very proud of." [Source: Yahoo]

(Eye-roll. But more broadly, this is kind of why I use the analogy with spices, because one can't just assume that loading a whole heap of emotion into one's campaigning will automatically have the effect that one wants.)

Blaming the audience seems to be characteristic of Ms. Thunberg's approach more broadly:

But critics of Greta's activism say that she just keeps repeating the same messages.

"Yes. But that's also a critique against them, because that means that they're not getting it," she said.

"Sorry. But that really shows the failure of older generations, people in power, and us in general, that we have to repeat the same message, because it's clearly not getting through, unfortunately." [Source: BBC]
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: It's very difficult to know when you get that sort of degree of pressure, how long can you sustain it? How long can you go on saying the same thing with the same impact? And of course you can't. [...]

GRETA THUNBERG: I don’t know why people are listening to me. I don’t know how long it will last [...] But of course, it is a problem with— I mean— repeating things over and over again, but I mean that's what you need to do, because they're obviously not listening. And you need to repeat it until people get it. Until it is being understood. [Source: BBC Radio 4, on Facebook and Bustle]

Ms. Thunberg sounds like she will continue to blame people for not listening, rather than reflect on the efficacy of her own campaigning.

The journalist Stan Grant summarises this approach:

Progressive liberals increasingly risk losing the ‘hearts and minds’ battle to this resurgent right. These liberal cosmopolitans losing their grip on power often sound as though they would rather blame the voters than look at themselves. They remind me of something the German poet Bertolt Brecht once asked: would it be easier to ‘dissolve the people and elect another'? [Source: 'With the Falling of the Dusk' by Stan Grant]

I have to illustrate this with another politician here:

We’re the party of workers, workers aren’t voting for us, why aren’t workers voting for us? [— Jodi McKay, source: Spectator, Australian Financial Review]

Ms. Thunberg excessively using emotional appeals, and blaming people for having this image of her, is illustrated by the fact that she has now been spending work on portraying herself as "very happy" and on reassuring 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 present to 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 uses 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: Financial Times]
“I’m never angry. I’m not even angry at home. That was the only time I’ve been angry. Before that speech, I thought, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I need to make sure something comes out of it. So I let my emotions take over.” [Source: The Guardian]
I’ve never been angry in public. I’ve barely even been angry at home. But this time I’ve decided that I have to make the most out of the speech. To address the United Nations General Assembly is something you probably only get to do once in your lifetime. So this is it. I need to say things I will be able to stand by for the rest of my life, so that I won’t look back in 60-70 years from now and regret that I didn’t say enough, that I held back. So I choose to let my emotions take control. [Source: Time]
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 using the expression of anger judiciously if you're "actually never angry", 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.

Instead, she appears to have deliberately "let the emotions take over" and washed her hands of the responsibility of people getting a certain impression of her.

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 continue to face, with experiencing climate anxiety, or even climate and ecological grief, including for the people who study the climate, and "doomism", Activism might work for Ms. Thunberg to feel happy if she persuades herself that it works,

"But my advice for people who feel that way would be to take action because I felt worried before too. When I started to become a climate activist, all that disappeared because I felt like I was doing something." [Source: BBC]

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.

If she really is angry about the climate crisis, that is also completely fine and to be expected.

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]
So please tell me, how do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic? How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this without feeling the slightest bit of anger? And how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know. [Thunberg at COP25, Source: Express]

But Ms. Thunberg has offered conflicting accounts on anger, expressing both that she is angry (which is completely valid), though mostly that she never really gets angry.

She has, overwhelmingly, more often, brought up being happy in other interviews, when asked about the expression of anger as an appealing technique, compared to clarifying that she is actually angry about the climate crisis. She rarely brings up the factors relating to the climate crisis that are making her and others angry, such as talking through, in more detail, the lack of action, and the threats faced. This suggests that she is using anger more as an emotional appeal in her speeches, and my contention is that she is using it carelessly.

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 [...] And then — and only then — our responsibility is to offer these very same people real hope for the future with a positive policy program that delivers both support for them and strength for the nation. [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:]

2021 Australian of the Year, sexual abuse survivor advocate, 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.

Though 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. [Source: 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. [Source: The Guardian]

while there are times when the heat helps to enhance delivery, and times when the heat is an essential core pillar of the expression, it does not necessarily mean that the heat is to be employed without discipline.

It does risk 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, Ms. Thunberg makes these comments about being stuck in the blame game:

“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]
We just need to start treating the crisis like a crisis and continue to lift up the science, but now everyone's blaming each other and we are stuck in a loop. We won't get anywhere unless someone breaks that chain, so to speak. [Source: National Geographic]

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.

Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created. But that is just another convenient lie. Because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame.

And someone is to blame. Some people - some companies and some decision makers in particular - has known exactly what priceless values they are sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. [Source: Fridays for Future,]

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: Financial Times]

This is not dissimilar to how my age-related peers can struggle with not using cancel culture or shaming:

Talk seriously (offline) to someone sympathetic to cancel culture, and eventually you will get the response: “What else are we supposed to do?” [Source: Waleed Aly, on The Monthly]

It does, indeed, draw from the same well as those who use cancel culture:

NATALIE WYNN: I think that’s in part a product of polarization, that people have gotten worse at using any kind of method beyond shaming, because if you get used to a situation where not only is persuasion kind of futile, but deliberation and argumentation itself essentially it becomes futile, then you sort of get the idea that every political argument is a battle in a total war [...] [Source: The Ezra Klein Show]

This leads to problems later down in the track, when Ms. Thunberg 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, from 2:03]

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]
She pauses, and her face goes grim. “It shouldn’t be up to us children and teenagers to make people wake up around the world. The ones in charge should be ashamed.” [Source: Rolling Stone]
You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. [Ms. Thunberg at COP24. Source: Fridays for Future,]
"World leaders are behaving like children, so it falls on us to be the adults in the room." [Source: BBC's "Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World", from 01:59]

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 graph. And the environmental situation we face has been the result of a much longer period of unsustainable living. (I would add that factoring in historical emissions is still important in terms of equity of action, such as for calculating "fair share" allocations of carbon budgets.)

But 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.

[…] from a sustainability perspective, that health argument is a vector to succeed on sustainability. Because, quite frankly, it's not easy to communicate sustainability always. You know, "why should I save the planet?" But on the health argument, you can reach the heart of individual people directly, it's very personal. "It comes down to me as an individual — do I or don't I want to live a healthy life?" [Source: EAT Forum, from 8:49]

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]

As mentioned earlier, she appears fine with a deep cynicism of the media and of other people if they describe her as childish:

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]

But she clearly appears fine to describe her own 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

On topic of "childlike", despite digging into the myth that being autistic somehow makes her automatically disciplined, she isn't even disciplined about her use of evoking being a child either:

When you say “us children” — Technically and legally I am a child. You are, but I bet there are lots of 17-year-olds who don’t want to be thought of as children even if technically and legally they are. Are there ever times when you’d rather be thought of as an adult? I don’t care about whether I’m considered as a child or an adult. I want to be met with the response that’s on my level. But yeah, I guess when I turn 18, I’m going to switch to describing myself as an adult. That’s a very autistic way of seeing things. People say: “She’s trying to frame herself as a child so that people can’t criticize her. She’s using that as a shield.” No. I’m autistic, and I say things in the way they are. [Source: New York Times]

A few months later:

Greta Thunberg turned 18 a few months ago but occasionally she forgets that. “I actually can vote now,” she grins. But the words “we children” still sometimes slip into her sentences, out of habit. She is sanguine about the change, but it is a bigger shift than she lets on: that phrase has been a core part of her message.
Thunberg became the world’s most celebrated climate activist on the back of this idea: that children have to wake the world up to the reality of climate change. [Source: Financial Times]


Use of fear

One of Ms. Thunberg's early rises to prominence was from a talk at the World Economic Forum in 2019, where she used the lines, "I want you to act as if your house is on fire", "I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday" and "I want you to panic". [Source: The Guardian]

Since then, Ms. Thunberg has slightly added to that:

One year ago I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire. I said I wanted you to panic. I’ve been warned that telling people to panic about the climate crisis is a very dangerous thing to do. But don’t worry. It’s fine. Trust me, I’ve done this before and I can assure you it doesn’t lead to anything. And, for the record, when we children tell you to panic we’re not telling you to go on like before. [Thunberg at WEF2020, Source: NYTimes]
Norman asked Thunberg why she had previously asked young people to “panic” over the climate crisis. Thunberg responded that she didn’t literally want people to panic but wanted them to “get out of their comfort zones” about a crisis that scientists warn will push parts of the planet beyond the limits of human livability. [Source: The Guardian]

Nonetheless, others have also taken up using the terms of "climate crisis" and "climate emergency", including journalists like at The Guardian, as well as scientists.

The Guardian has updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world.

Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned.

“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” said the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

“Increasingly, climate scientists and organisations from the UN to the Met Office are changing their terminology, and using stronger language to describe the situation we’re in,” she said.

This language can have different impacts on different groups of people:

Last year I spent time with researchers at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which has conducted countless scientific studies on public opinion and behaviour around climate change.[...]

It groups the public into six different segments, varying in size and well differentiated in terms of their attitudes to climate change and their views about action.
The Alarmed: This group is fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it.
The Concerned: This group is also convinced that the globe is warming and that it's a serious problem, but have not yet engaged with the issue personally, including not always voting for political parties with strong climate policies.
The Cautious, the Disengaged and the Doubtful: These groups represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem. None are actively involved.
The Dismissive: This group is very sure that climate change is not happening, and often actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce emissions. Some of them are in significant positions of power in government, industry and the media.
The public is grouped into six segments depending on their attitudes to climate change and their views about action. Source: ABC and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
Language matters
I've also spent a lot of time wondering about the efficacy of the language around climate change, around emergency, crisis and urgency.
The facts of climate change and the need for rapid response absolutely merit these terms.
To not use them seems to be more than a sin of omission but an outright lie to the public about the scale of the threat and what's at stake.
Those in the Alarmed group feel more than comfortable with this message.
Some of the Concerned group respond well to messages of urgency, and others not so well.
But the language of crisis and emergency can actually turn off those who are Disengaged and Cautious, and make them more critical of attempts to address climate change. [Rebecca Huntley, Source: ABC]

There is also more explored, on the topics of language choice, emotive language and emotive appeals, in other opinion pieces on The Guardian:

One of the things that’s long been curious about this crisis is that the amateurs and newcomers tend to be more alarmist and defeatist than the insiders and experts. What the climate journalist Emily Atkin calls “first-time climate dudes” put forth long, breathless magazine articles, bestselling books and films announcing that it’s too late and we’re doomed, which is another way to say we don’t have to do a damned thing, which is a way to undermine the people who are doing those things and those who might be moved to do them. [Source: The Guardian]
A more recent spat illustrates similar tensions from a different angle. Michael E Mann is a US climate scientist whose latest book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, takes aim at the shape-shifting efforts of climate deniers. He describes the new, “softer” tactics adopted by the fossil fuel lobby and its techno-utopian enablers. These include downplaying the dangers of global heating and trying to delay regulatory action. But along with them, Mann attacks a number of writers for engaging in what he calls “doomism” or “despair-mongering”. [...] While Mann praises Greta Thunberg, who famously told world leaders “I want you to panic”, in general he thinks the word “panic” should be avoided.

While this debate could be seen as a distraction from the more important story of what is actually going on and what needs to be done, I think the argument about how to talk and think about the climate crisis is increasingly central. [Source: The Guardian]

So the question is, how to communicate, comprehensively, the urgency without disengaging people who are already not engaged with the issue?

Ms. Thunberg may have expressed tangential awareness of this problem, asking rhetorical questions at COP25 to justify her style:

So please tell me, how do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic? How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this without feeling the slightest bit of anger? And how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know. [Thunberg at COP25, Source: Express]

But I'm not sure that her approach is a strong answer.

For example, I have seen former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd opt for the term, "catastrophic climate change" in some cases, being aware of his audience.

The "change" in climate change does speak to the difference in feedback time with the increase in temperatures happening at a much more gradual timescale than other consequences of actions in our everyday lives. This means that one has to work to remind people of the fact that this scale is actually much smaller than temperatures have generally changed in Earth's past.

Woke politics

As a writer on the Financial Times summarised:

Thunberg became the world’s most celebrated climate activist on the back of this idea: that children have to wake the world up to the reality of climate change. [Source: Financial Times]

The idea of "waking the adults" is quite central to Fridays for Future's narrative (emphasis mine):

She pauses, and her face goes grim. “It shouldn’t be up to us children and teenagers to make people wake up around the world. The ones in charge should be ashamed.” [Source: Rolling Stone]
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. [Ms. Thunberg at COP25, source: Express]
We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back. [Ms. Thunberg at UK Parliament, source: The Guardian]
Did you want Donald Trump to win the election?
– I wanted people to wake up. I thought that if he is elected, that had to make people wake up. […]

What is your view of Donald Trump today?
– The climate movement would definitely not be as strong as it is today if Hillary Clinton would have won. There are so many social tipping points that contribute to a slow awakening. [Source: Dagens Nyheter]
But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change. [Source: TED]
The teenager accused business leaders and others of telling “stories” intended to soothe people and make them go back to sleep. “The problem now is we need to wake up. It is time to wake up and face the facts, the reality, the science.” [Source: The Guardian]

The notion of awakening tends to come from a place of believing that you are right and everyone else is wrong. (This is why it is unsurprising to me that the notion of an "awakening" is used in a prominent conspiracy theory.)

Waleed Aly provides one representation that I have chosen to elevate as I believe it describes the crux of the approach by Ms. Thunberg and figureheads in the movement:

To question the limits, to declare something too woke, is to risk being declared un-woke. Over time, a process of ideological outbidding occurs, which gradually pushes the movement’s centre of gravity to more extreme positions.
Critical social justice theory ultimately does not believe in persuasion. How can there be persuasion in a world where privileged narratives of “truth” are so utterly dominant? Thus, the liberal idea that “good” ideas drive out “bad” ones is rejected as an “empathy fallacy”. Any exchange of ideas is regarded as unequal because it happens against a backdrop of power dynamics and norms that dampen and dismiss marginalised voices while amplifying and believing privileged ones. The audience, therefore, cannot be trusted to empathise sufficiently with the oppressed in order to weigh any alternative narratives fairly. Indeed, the whole liberal conception of a “marketplace of ideas”, with “open debate” and “civil discourse”, is simply part of the system of oppression: a construct that underwrites and legitimates privilege. [Source: Waleed Aly, on The Monthly]

Indeed, the notions of social justice held by Fridays for Future activists and its founder points to no longer believing in political persuasion.

It is not that Ms. Thunberg does not care about climate data; indeed, she cites the annual reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as if they were gospel. It is just that she is done debating. [Source: New York Times]

The problem with righteous certainty

There is also the concerning factor of inherently believing that one is right (emphasis mine).

Oliver Whang: Do you ever have any doubts about your work? Do you ever doubt yourself or what you've been doing?

Greta Thunberg: No, because I know it's the right thing to do. We are at a time now where we must step out of our comfort zones. I feel like I have a moral duty to do what I can, since I'm a citizen. And that makes me part of something and it is my duty, my moral duty, my moral responsibility, to do everything I can.

Oliver Whang: And that's never been in question for you?

Greta Thunberg: No. I mean, I don't want to be an activist. I don't think any climate activist does it because they want to. We do this just because no one else is doing anything, and because we need to do something. Someone needs to do something, and we are somebodies. [Source: National Geographic]
Thunberg added, “You get away with it now, but sooner or later people are going to realize what you have been doing this time. That’s inevitable. You still have time to do the right thing and to save your legacies, but that window of time is not going to last for long.” [Source: Rolling Stone]
"I think you have an enormous responsibility" to lead climate efforts, she adds. "You have a moral responsibility to do that." [Source: NPR]
Her voice is unabashedly and explicitly moral — “How dare you.” [Source: Rolling Stone]
Al Gore tells me in Davos, before sharing his favorite Greta moment. It was at the U.N. summit last fall. “She said to the assembled world leaders, ‘You say you understand the science, but I don’t believe you. Because if you did and then you continue to act as you do, that would mean you’re evil. And I don’t believe that.’” Gore shook his head in wonderment. “Wow.” He then gives a history lesson: “There have been other times in human history when the moment a morally-based social movement reached the tipping point was the moment when the younger generation made it their own. Here we are.” [Source: Rolling Stone]
Even though [Ms. Thunberg] 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: Financial Times]
"There are more delegates at COP26 associated with the fossil fuel industry than from any single country"

I don't know about you, but I sure am not comfortable with having some of the world's biggest villains influencing & dictating the fate of the world. [Source: GretaThunberg on Twitter]

The Guardian Australia's political editor Katherine Murphy addresses this assumption of inherently universal morality, in the case of the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison.

If you replace religious references with just the concept of assumed inherent righteousness, I think that leaves you with the essence of why my age-related peers generally struggle with not using cancel culture or shaming — it's because they believe that they are inherently right. Ms. Thunberg's narrative and core arguments draw from the same well.

Speaking of important, faith is a gift, but doubt is also important. In my own religious instruction, faith was always shadowed by doubt. The two qualities co-existed, in dialogue with each other, because doubt is the quality of humility that should walk with faith.

Doubt makes you open. Doubt makes you listen. Doubt breaks your heart, which makes you remember you have one. Doubt makes you empathise and learn and adapt rather than requiring the world to bend to your requirements because you are the chosen bearer of God’s mandate.

I’m going to say this as clearly as I can.

Australia, right now, could use a prime minister who doubted himself a bit more, because it would mean Morrison would listen more than he does.

Those of us raised in Christian traditions are taught to believe that God rewards the faithful, and confidence can be an excellent quality in a political leader.

But in the human world, righteous certainty, a sense of manifest destiny, is a hard barrier to listening. [Katherine Murphy, source: The Guardian]

In regards to a righteous certainty with a mandate, aside from earlier parts mentioned with Ms. Thunberg claiming that she speaks for future generations,

My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 16 years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations. [Source: Ms. Thunberg's speech to UK Parliament, The Guardian]

she also sees herself as speaking for the biosphere:

"The older generations are failing us. They are failing future generations, but future generations do not have a voice and the biosphere does not have a voice," she said. "So, we will be the voice that speaks up for them." [Source: NBC Los Angeles and The Guardian]

Ms. Thunberg certainly appears to think that her cause is one of righteous certainty — which is apparent in her dogma.

indeed, she cites the annual reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as if they were gospel. [Source: New York Times]

It is worth noting that I have not seen public health officials with this kind of dogma when talking about the science of the coronavirus pandemic; they approach it with pragmatism.

The more someone believes that they are inherently right, the harder it can be to reach them, or for them to reflect on their behaviour. Take, for example, certain interpretations of religion on the topic of abortion or marriage equality that have been imposed on others, or the fragmentation within the U.S. and the West at present.

Or just within the climate movement itself:

"I think that a lot of us within the climate movement kind of trick ourselves. We're like, 'oh, well, we're progressive, we're not racist, we're not sexist, we're not homophobic'," [Imogen] said. [Source: SBS]

One of the things that becomes apparent when you observe different cultures, is that different people can have very nuanced views of what they feel is right — it can be very relative. It is of arrogance, to me, that one believes that their views on morality are universally held.

For example, valuing the environment is not taught everywhere as an ingrained value.

But Ms. Thunberg has approached this in saying that she would regard people as "evil" if they knew what was happening on the climate 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 that I refuse to believe. [Source: Sydney Morning Herald]

A more nuanced assessment might reflect that people can still share in common causes — it might just be presented with nuance and discipline for each person.

JAY VAN BAVEL: And the third [reason for polarization] is moralization, that we see people as on the other side of a moral divide, that they have fundamentally different values from us. [Source: Washington Post, on YouTube] […]

KATE WOODSOME: And, protip, it doesn't help when you try to shame somebody for their political preferences. Instead, try de-escalating the conflict by talking about values that they care about.

VAN BAVEL: So if you're a liberal trying to convince a conservative — to support, say, environmental regulation — you might talk in terms of purity, or you might get them to think of it in terms of tradition, the tradition of the country and previous presidents preserving national parks.
If you're a conservative trying to get thorugh to a liberal, instead of talking about loyalty and patriotism, you might be able to get through by talking about fairness and justice and harm. And saying you might want to support the military because they take great risks for you.

WOODSOME: If we want someone to be open-minded, then we have to be open-minded too. [Source: Washington Post, on Youtube]

Not only can moralisation be polarising, but it can also be unreliable. To push harder on a particular set of interdependent moral values on a group of people, you implicitly rely on those people already agreeing on an almost exact set of your values.

My favorite philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, emphasized that we’re fated to live in a world with competing and incommensurate values; that’s not terrain suitable for grandstanding. [Source: Nicholas Kristof, on New York Times]

This idea is particularly relevant for a worldwide movement, because what might be considered as an effective moral argument in European culture may not necessarily translate well in other parts of the world; it can even backfire on you and drive people further away.

Moralisation can be considered as like a multiplier, when thinking in terms of polarisation. It may turn moderate support, for a cause, into vehement agreement, but almost in a hateful way — in being cynical, contemptuous and disdainful of those who don't yet agree.

ANDY PARK: For young people like Matisse, the threat of climate change is inescapable and inaction, inconceivable.

MATISSE TURNER: I don't think adults really understand how important this earth is because I don't think they really care that much so they just think they can do whatever they want for it and leave it for other people to save it. [Source: ABC 7.30]

And it also can turn slight apprehension about the cause, from others, into strong disagreement.

Also when people think that they are charitable and inherent do-gooders, their assumed capacity for empathy really can manifest as insincere, and as very apparent disconnect:

JULIAN MARTINEZ: I think 86 people died in the fire. There's a sense of guilt that I have for leaving town so quickly. Um.. Knowing that there were... [EXHALES].. Sorry.

GRETA THUNBERG: [referring to the pause] I completely understand. It must be very hard.

MARTINEZ: There were a lot of people that needed help. So, you know, knowing that other people were left behind, is something that...stuck with me.

THUNBERG: I feel just so incredibly sad. I can't... I can't imagine what you have been...gone through.


MARTINEZ: There's been people who have committed suicide after the fire just because they've had their lives taken away from them.

[Cut to Thunberg in studio]

THUNBERG: When you hear about these stories, and especially when you meet these people, you try to imagine yourself in that situation. How difficult it must have been to lose everything and just leave everything behind. We see all of these things repeating themselves over and over again, and people die and people suffer from it. But completely fail to connect the dots [on the climate emergency]. [Source: BBC's Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change The World, Episode 1, from 28:40]

It is up to the resident's and individuals' interpretations.

But I watched that clip perceiving that Ms. Thunberg seems to have an emotional disconnect with the lived experience of a wildfire survivor, most of her phrases having a hollowness that is given away by, "I can't imagine what you have gone through". I perceived that she sees someone's experiences and accounts of suffering more as material to highlight how people are ignoring climate change, rather than genuinely empathising with people's stories. Stories of continued devastation to people's lives, in the aftermath of losing everything. And of a lingering guilt for people left behind, after people's fearful urgency when trying to get out.

Here is another account by Ms. Thunberg, narrated by herself on Radio Sweden (from 35:21), so you can hear.

The fire in Paradise destroyed almost 19,000 buildings. 85 people lost their lives, if you exclude other causes of death after the fire. Before the fire 27, 000 people lived in Paradise. Today that number is down to around 2000. The town became a symbol of how climate breakdown is affecting us in the global north already today. […]

Walking around in Paradise [in California] is almost like being in a ghost town. I’m here with the BBC to talk to one of the survivors of the 2018 fire. He guides us around the area that used to be his neighborhood. He points at empty spaces and tells us what used to be there. Houses and gardens in the lush, green outskirts of town.

“That was a car,” he says and points to a lump of metal, lying on a burnt out driveway. The temperature in the fire sometimes got so high that cars started to melt. Suddenly he stops.
“This used to be my house.” He looks at an open field as if there still was a house standing there. It’s almost as if he’s hallucinating, since all that is left is a mailbox and the remains of power lines and sewage pipes, sticking out of the red soil.

The fact that the climate crisis is already affecting people today is hardly something new. Even though it would sometimes seem like it, judging by the ongoing discourse.
We often hear that we need to act for the sake of our children. That the future living conditions will get significantly worsened unless we act now. And that is of course true. But it seems like we keep forgetting that large numbers of people around the world are dying already today. And when I say that I’m not primarily talking about in places like California.
The ones who are and will be hit the hardest are the same as in most other crises. The poorest and the most vulnerable. Those who are already suffering from other injustices. Namely, people in developing countries, and above all women and children. Since they are the ones with the least resources, living in the most vulnerable parts of the global society. [Ms. Thunberg, source: Time]

I'm not sure that selective empathy is appropriate.

It is incredibly important to talk about people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, especially in cases that tend to be most overlooked by our societies. But others are not discriminating about suffering or trauma:

While small islands are at greatest risk, rich countries were also suffering, said Clarence Samuel, lead negotiator for the Marshall Islands [at COP25].

“None of us are immune,” he said. “All month we have watched in horror as our Pacific cousins Australia have literally watched their country burn, fuelled by a climate crisis of our own making.” [Source: The Guardian]

In the meantime, after hearing a Paradise resident's accounts of people losing their lives during the wildfires and their aftermath, Ms. Thunberg has opted for tuning out in this case of selective empathy, saying, "it seems like we keep forgetting that large numbers of people around the world are dying already today[,] and when I say that I’m not primarily talking about in places like California." She describes his retelling as "it’s almost as if he’s hallucinating".

I would add to this statement,

"I think that a lot of us within the climate movement kind of trick ourselves. We're like, 'oh, well, we're progressive, we're not racist, we're not sexist, we're not homophobic'," [Imogen] said. [Source: SBS]

to say that "we climate activists can trick ourselves into thinking that we are inherently empathetic, just because of the work that we are doing."

This is not at all unusual in woke politics:

Such concepts might float in and out of conversation as required, but woke politics is mostly interested in marshalling these to side with whomever it deems is on the wrong end of power relations; whomever is oppressed. […]

That doesn’t mean woke politics is necessarily static. Indeed, it encourages evolution because wokeness is a constant process rather than an achieved state. Hence, you “stay woke” by forever refining your awareness of systems of oppression. But this should not be mistaken for any kind of open-mindedness beyond its own borders, any countenance that there might be errors in the basic theoretical assumptions at play. Woke politics moves, but only in one direction. No one revises their position to say that something they previously thought was racist or otherwise problematic is now actually “okay”. Woke capital is gained by discovering new transgressions, not pardoning or rehabilitating old ones. [Source: Waleed Aly, on The Monthly]

The kind of hollow distance that Ms. Thunberg displayed is also not uncommon, in general.

A few years ago, black British writer Reni Eddo-Lodge declared that she would no longer talk to white people about race.

On her online blog she wrote: "I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience ... It's like they can no longer hear us".

I know how she feels. As an Indigenous Australian I would go one step further: Many, if not most, don't want to hear us. [Source: Stan Grant, on ABC]

I am aware that empathy can be experienced and shown differently by autistic people, but I am going to draw attention to this case, for trying to be aware of selective empathy (a.k.a. obscured "wokeness"), as Ms. Thunberg has also championed being empathetic as an asset. And I would like to challenge the notion that empathy automatically accompanies climate activism because of supposed inherent empathy or righteousness.

“We don’t need to have the biggest car, and we don’t need to get the most attention. We just need to…”
[…] Greta’s voice trails off as if she is lost in thought or searching for the right word in English. Then, she looks up, locks eyes, and smiles for the first time.
“We need to care about each other more.” [Source: Rolling Stone]

Yes, and not by just paying lip service to caring, in choosing and picking who we empathise with.

I feel that this is also the case with clear emotional disconnect from organisations who believe in their own inherent righteousness and charity, when it comes to the idea of sponsoring children, and conducting schemes also using "poverty porn", (like Ms. Thunberg did with Mr. Martinez' stories):

‘Sponsor a child’ schemes attacked for perpetuating racist attitudes

Using individual children to ‘sell’ schemes to rich donors is similar to ‘poverty porn’ images of past, say experts, as calls grow to decolonise aid

[...] Carol Sherman, an independent humanitarian consultant who has held senior director roles in international NGOs for two decades, said the schemes perpetuate “racist and paternalistic thinking” similar to the “poverty porn” images of poor black children used by charities in the past. [Source: The Guardian]

An instance that stood out as particularly hollow, to me, was this lumping of social justice causes, with a shallow glossing-over:

But there are signs of change, of awakening. Just take the metoo movement, blacklivesmatter or the schoolstrike movement for instance. It’s all interconnected. We have passed a social tipping point, we can no longer look away from what our society has been ignoring for so long. Whether it is sustainability, equality, or justice. [Source: Time]
We need to understand that we are not fighting for separate causes. We are fighting for one and the same cause even though it might not seem like it. It's the fight for climate justice, social justice. Whatever is the issue, it’s the fight for justice. [Source: National Geographic]

It's clear, to me, that she doesn't really have anything more asides from "it's all interconnected". (The lack of insight is apparent when listening to others on this, which suggests to me "lip service" in Ms. Thunberg's case.) It's apparent that she assumes that supposedly by simply choosing a position that is purported to be the "right" side of history, it is enough to remain steadfast on it, — which turns out to be being dogmatic as possible — rather than deeply empathise with people's experiences and listen to many accounts. (The assumed wokeness is quite literal there, with her referring to "signs of change, of awakening".)

Her assumed morality surfaces similarly as emotional disconnect when it comes to others.

Hence, you “stay woke” by forever refining your awareness of systems of oppression. But this should not be mistaken for any kind of open-mindedness beyond its own borders, any countenance that there might be errors in the basic theoretical assumptions at play. [Source: Waleed Aly, on The Monthly]

I think I'll also share another example here, by Ms. Tame, on the topic of "moral licensing" and being careful about "performative gestures":

GRACE TAME: […] is about as good an example of moral licensing as I think I can find, other than, you know, “I’m not sexist, I voted for Julia Gillard”, “I’m not racist, I’ve got a black friend”. Yeah.


TAME: Yeah, exactly. And like I said to Kerry O’Brien, you know, we’ve got to be really careful not to be naively misled by distractions that are posing as solutions.

HOST: Performative gestures.

TAME: Performative gestures, yeah. [Source: The Guardian]

Ms. Thunberg is not at all new to this kind of lip service disguising wokeness:

According to the family memoir, Greta told her jet-setting mother, “You celebrities are basically to the environment what anti-immigrant politicians are to multicultural society.” [Source: New Yorker]

On the latter part, I have observed politicians' articulation of their positions on immigration, and journalists' coverage and analyses of their positions. My parents came to Australia as refugees — they both fled Vietnam on boats. And I can also appreciate that there are politicians who are navigating the challenges of various immigration policies — such as genuinely wanting to make sure people receive help but also facing the difficulty of deterring people smugglers. Some politicians simultaneously also truly celebrate the rich cultural diversity within the Australian community. Some may not, but that doesn't mean that they are inherently a threat to the communities that I live in.

I think that "anti-immigrant politicians" is a flattening of the nuanced stances that various politicians hold on the matter, and assuming that they are inherently a threat to multicultural society because of their stance on immigration is actually laughable, to me. Immigration, meaning migrating to a country, covers everything from people looking for work and a new place to live, to people seeking asylum and fleeing persecution. There is a multitude of areas, and wanting to restrict influx on any of those does not immediately mean that it comes from racism.

Refugee policy was among the toughest matters to contend with in government. The Green party’s calls to welcome all-comers, come what may, is just as facile as the Liberals making policy on the basis of three-word slogans.

We sought a humane third way that would stop asylum-seekers being robbed blind by criminal gangs who didn’t give a damn about their safety, packing them into unseaworthy boats, charged them a fortune and letting them drown. [—Kevin Rudd, source: The Age]
Everyone in Biloela offers a cuppa. We sit around kitchen tables, sip milky tea and yarn for a few minutes about the weather, or raising kids. And then about how unusual it seems that these otherwise conservative country folk have become some of the country’s fiercest refugee activists. […] “People will agree ‘we need border control’, some will even say ‘yes we need to stop the boats’, but in the same breath they will say what’s happening to this family is not right.” [Source: The Guardian]

I can listen to politicians make the case for their policies, and I can listen to people talk about their opinions. Even if I disagree with them, I can respect both their rights to have an opinion, as long as the respect is mutual.

But Ms. Thunberg assumes that it is inherently a bad thing to want to restrict immigration, as that is why she uses the case of immigration as a moral example of "badness" to her mother, in that case. The writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie characterised this kind of behaviour, in the current age, prevalent amongst Western democracies, as "parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity".

"The assumption of good faith is dead," she writes. "What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. It is obscene."

Ms. Thunberg appears to have a policy of activists parroting her:

"If enough people stand up together and repeat the same message, then there are no limits to what we can achieve.” [Source: The Guardian]

On the whole, in that case, if you wanted to make a case for not travelling via airplane, because of the impact on the environment, it is definitely possible to do so without invoking morals.

Ms. Adichie also is aware of the tendency towards self-righteousness amonst some.

She is cautious to avoid what she regards as “a quickness to self-righteousness” on the left. [Source: The Guardian]

Ms. Thunberg may claim that she is apolitical, but her worldview does not seem to be too different to the approach by some — that is, operating on notions of self-righteousness.

I think that the biggest danger when you start leaning into moralisation is that you start to stop bringing up actual arguments to reinforce why your case is important, and fill the void with just trying to shame people whether they will do the right thing. For example, Ms. Thunberg has actually not brought up in her speeches or media interviews that the simple statement that consequences of an increase of 2C in global average surface temperatures are expected to be much more severe than 1.5C, which is detailed in the IPCC Special Report 1.5. She instead just shames people for "giving up without even trying" if they dare to not keep to that target.

So either you do this or you’re going to have to explain to your children why you are giving up on the 1.5-degree target. Giving up without even trying. [Thunberg at WEF2020, Source: NYTimes]
Either we prevent a 1.5 degree of warming or we don't. […] That is as black or white as it gets. [Ms. Thunberg at WEF 2019, source: Fridays for Future,]

Imagine being so absorbed in moralisation, that while talking to someone who hasn't yet been vaccinated with a coronavirus vaccine, you lambast them "for giving up without even trying" and tell them that "either we reach herd immunity or we don't," and you don't actually spare a breath to bring up any information, at all, on the benefits of vaccination, like protection from severe disease, or any word on herd immunity. Imagine going around the world and making that your speech content, to advocate for vaccination. That is what Ms. Thunberg does on climate.

Though she does say, "listen to the science", the movement has made it near impossible for most of its activists to actually have access to and collaborate with scientists for them to say anything of substance beyond than that phrase. And even activists who do have access to scientists, like Ms. Thunberg, appear to consistently drop most scientific arguments in favour of moralisation during their campaigning, limiting their audience to people who already agree with them and understand some aspect of the science.

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. [Ms. Thunberg at COP25, source: Express]
I don’t believe we are continuing to ruin the biosphere because we are evil. I am convinced we are doing it because we are not fully informed of the consequences of our actions. And this is very hopeful to me, because I believe that once we know we will change. [Source: The Guardian]

I disagree with the assessment that it is purely attributable to not being fully informed. It is possible that people in industrialised countries have also just long been indifferent to consequences, and have been conditioned to not care about the environment.

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 that I refuse to believe. [Source: Sydney Morning Herald]

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, or take vaccines, in the United States, for example, and people cheering governors not wanting to lock down, 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. Despite that response, Ms. Thunberg thinks:

"If the media started treating the climate crisis like a crisis, that could change everything overnight,” she says. [Source: The Big Issue]
Just imagine if the media and people in power actually started treating the crisis like a crisis—it would have a snowball effect. Since we look at what the people around us are doing and copy each other’s behavior, things could change overnight. [Source: Elle]

She doesn't want to go through all the work of convincing larger audiences herself (audiences outside those whom she targets with tribalism in relation to the themes of youth and morals); she thinks that that is the job of media and politicians, and not her responsibility as a campaigner.

Ms. Thunberg loves to cite the coronavirus pandemic as an example of "the climate crisis hav[ing] never once been treated like a crisis" (and even offered a "reflect[ion] on living through multiple crises"), but even "a global emergency alert by the World Health Organization (WHO) when COVID-19 first emerged did not trigger the worldwide response it should have", as found by an independent report. [Source: ABC 7.30]

Even if the media did what she requested, declaring something to be a crisis doesn't mean that politicans and people will magically start listening to scientists and continue to follow scientific consensus, as she has demanded. For example, the Britain came out of prolonged coronavirus restrictions on its "Freedom Day" despite an epidemiologist, Dr Mike Ryan from the World Health Organisation, calling that move "epidemiologically stupidity" and "morally empty", even with a year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic being treated like a crisis.

And even with the pressure of climate activists, several jurisdictions have declared climate emergencies, but that hasn't led to any significant decrease in emissions.

Ms. Thunberg has acknowledged that public opinion would need to change on the climate crisis, but again, she believes that just awareness is enough:

I’ve met with many world leaders and even they admit that their targets are not in line with their commitments. And that’s natural. They are only doing what they consider to be politically possible. Their job is to fulfill the wishes of voters, and if voters are not demanding real climate action, then of course no real changes will happen. And thankfully, this is how democracy works. Public opinion is what runs the free world. If we want change then we must spread awareness and make the seemingly impossible become possible. [Source: Vogue]

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.)

Angela Merkel meets with Greta Thunberg and Belgian youth climate activists
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met on Thursday with several leading figures from the youth climate movement, including Greta Thunberg and Belgian Anuna De Wever and Adélaïde Charlier. The meeting too
Greta Thunberg meets Justin Trudeau amid climate strikes: ‘He is not doing enough’
Activist has private meeting with Canadian prime minister, who later says he ‘agrees with her completely’

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.

But those activists have pretty much confirmed the exclusive, private meetings:

Between the four of us, we have met quite a number of world leaders during the last two years and you’d probably be surprised to hear some of the things they say when the cameras and microphones are off. We could write lots of articles about this. And trust us — we will. [Source: Medium]

Compare this approach, with that of the organisers of March 4 Justice (marching against gendered violence) in Australia, who declined an offer to meet with the Prime Minister and Minister for Women in private, "behind closed doors", stating:

We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the Government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors. [Source: SBS]

The Australian Prime Minister was, in fact, seen by some people as using the private meeting as a shield for not having to face the crowd publicly.

It seems that these four Fridays for Future activists have gobbled up the bait of those leaders. Of course, in private meetings, there are no microphones or cameras — that is the point.

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]
“Change is coming whether you like it or not because we have no other choice,” she said. [Source: Dhaka Tribune]

The fact is, most countries have not had at least 3.5% of their people rise up for the climate (one exception is possibly New Zealand, at about 3.4%, if the organisers' estimate of numbers was correct). This is not attributable to just one factor, but Fridays for Future has done so little to reach outside their demographic with their messaging.

These are very general patterns, of course, and despite being twice as successful as the violent conflicts, peaceful resistance still failed 47% of the time. As Chenoweth and Stephan pointed out in their book, that’s sometimes because they never really gained enough support or momentum to “erode the power base of the adversary and maintain resilience in the face of repression.” [...]
Regarding the “3.5% rule”, she points out that while 3.5% is a small minority, such a level of active participation probably means many more people tacitly agree with the cause. [Source: BBC]

You cannot build these kind of numbers within the broader population by limiting your message to be appealing to just children.

2020 has been dominated by global health crises and social justice protests. The lasting effect is yet to be seen. Social movements can take generations and centuries even; it is not the result of one action or one event. But there are certain factors that determine whether a movement succeeds or fails – like a very diverse basis of participants, strict discipline and a variety of surprising tactics. [Source: ABC]

And politicians usually 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.

It is not enough to dismiss this as ugly or deluded; democracy means people have a voice. Progressive liberals increasingly risk losing the ‘hearts and minds’ battle to this resurgent right. These liberal cosmopolitans losing their grip on power often sound as though they would rather blame the voters than look at themselves. They remind me of something the German poet Bertolt Brecht once asked: would it be easier to ‘dissolve the people and elect another'? [Source: 'With the Falling of the Dusk' by Stan Grant]

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 Ms. Thunberg 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 much bigger Yellow Vest movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) in France.

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]

Australia is another case:

Having lost voters to the minor party on guns in 1998, Howard won them back with the Tampa and Children Overboard claims; by not saying sorry to Indigenous Australians; and by not moving on climate change. […]

So beyond the handling of the pandemic, some political observers see Scott Morrison taking a similar approach in 2021 to Howard, with the ramping up of aggressive foreign policy rhetoric, and his digging in on not moving further to achieve net-zero emissions even as he attends this weekend's G7 meeting. [Source: Laura Tingle, on ABC]

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.

The global wave of school strikes for the climate over the past year has “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, Greta Thunberg has told activists at UN climate talks in Madrid. [Source: The Guardian]

They have, indeed, achieved essentially not much except for gathering a bunch of people who already agree with you and your moral values — which is unhelpful in a society already fragmented by echo chambers. This is unsurprising to me.

As Dr. Deva Woodley discussed on Civil Disobedience & Activism Today, presented by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs:

Now, the thing I want to say about the movement that I focus on — the movement for Black Lives — that they focus on this particular phenomenon called organising. Now organising is another phenomenon that often gets short-shrift in political science.
We usually talk about mobilisation, —  which is telling people who already have the requisite skills and knowledge to show up and do something — or we talk about activism, — and activism means that you turn up in the streets, outside regular institutions, to demonstrate your dissatisfaction with, or advocacy for, some cause.
But activism is a relatively short-term process, right? It's a punctuated kind of action — you show up in the streets for that afternoon, or even for that series of days, but you're not necessarily engaging in a process of analysis, education, and long-term collective work.
Organising is different from mobilisation or activism, although it can be coexistent with those, for many people. Political organising is important because it takes place over time, and its constituent parts are meeting, engagement and education, analysis, collective identity, and action. And so organising is a mechanism, I argue, by which you increase people's political efficacy.  [Source: ABC, from 05:53, edited for clarity]

Ms. Thunberg's activism has been focused on mobilising people who already have requisite knowledge about the climate crisis — children who have learnt about climate change in their school years, scientists who are already sceptical of politics, people in countries who are less stagnant on climate action. It does little to reach people outside those areas.

But at least scientists are aware of the importance of reaching an indifferent majority:

After 50 years of trying to communicate risks, there is a rapidly rising recognition among environmental and Earth system scientists that we need to back off from an approach of just raising awareness and encouraging a willingness to pay. Indirectly, this creates a trade-off. People feel they have to choose between immediate wealth and protecting the planet. That is an obsolete and incorrect way of communicating. The indifferent majority will only come with us if the sustainable route is not just more attractive but easier. The moment we succeed is when people are sustainable without knowing it; they simply choose the right tomatoes because they taste better and they are cheaper.
Activism is a necessary force for change, but it can be counterproductive if the indifferent majority thinks everything to do with the environment is about barricades, breaking down the world order and an alternative lifestyle – that doesn’t attract the mainstream. We need all forces. Tree-huggers and frontier activists are very important but they can’t tip this whole thing over by themselves. We also need the bankers and executives. Why? Because we have only 10 years to cut emissions by half. We cannot change the economic model in 10 years. We can’t forbid everyone to do things in 10 years. We can’t re-educate whole populations in that time. We have to be very tactical. [— Professor Johan Rockström, on The Guardian]

In the mirror

Perhaps most amusingly, Ms. Thunberg is as guilty of the same act as the politicians that she derides — guilty of believing that she is doing enough.

I still believe that the biggest danger is not inaction. The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR. [Ms. Thunberg at COP25, source: Express]

Indeed, she does believe that she "can't do anything more":

“I think the world, as it is, is quite funny.” She finds the climate crisis darkly comic, especially the response in rich countries—the posturing, the self-justification, the bargaining, the denial. “If you are doing everything you possibly can, and you can’t do anything more, then you might as well just sit back and laugh at it,” Thunberg said. [Source: New Yorker]
"I mean, if you’re doing everything you can, then you just need to take a step back and say, OK, there’s nothing more I can do, so then you just have to laugh at it.” [Source: Radio Times]

So when she says this of world leaders:

"I expect [world leaders] to go out and have big speeches, or press releases, or posts on social media where they say the climate crisis is very important and we are doing everything that we can," Thunberg said. [Source: Reuters]

she is, in fact, doing the exact same thing. So what is the point of deriding world leaders, of trying to out-angel them? It is unproductive — it might be more productive to acknowledge difficulties and work together constructively to solve them, rather than rip into world leaders.

She has proved to be incapable, so far, of seriously reflecting on her campaigning performance, such as

  • believing that just saying that the movement isn't about her is enough to make sure that the focus is not on her as an individual, rather than actually making structural changes to make sure that this is the case — when it is comes to media interviews, access to travel and accomodation, or access to scientists;
  • stirring up anger deliberately, and blaming the audience for focusing too much on the emotions — e.g. saying "how dare you" four times in a speech, and blaming the audience for focusing too much on that phrase (she regularly points to the media, but there are also climate strikers who have come out with placards of that phrase, so the interpretation is on her and not her audience);
  • doing little effective work to engage in organising, rather than just identity politics and mobilisation. This actually indicates why Fridays for Future have struggled with outreach during the coronavirus pandemic, because much of their work was just getting attention from physical gatherings, rather than engaging in a plurality of forms of political persuasion.
[The COVID-19 pandemic is] doubly [frustrating] for those of us who are used to identifying a problem and then using our physical presence to draw attention to it. [Isabelle Axelsson, source: Time]

Compare this to how former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has been consistently engaging an audience on his campaign against the Murdoch news empire, on a number of different fronts, making his case with nuanced and comprehensive analysis, for example. Here is one such front.

To finish off, I would, perhaps, suggest this revision to Ms. Thunberg's statement:

The real danger is when Fridays for Future activists are making it look like real action is happening, when, in fact, almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.

Check out their neat numbers(!), whose meaning has totally collapsed in the face of the pandemic:

The global climate strike this Friday is gearing up to be one of the biggest environmental protests the world has ever seen. As it approaches, Thunberg is clearly excited.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “It’s more than 71 countries and more than 700 places, and counting. It’s increasing very much now, and that’s very, very fun.” [Source: The Guardian]

Also Fridays for Future is, apparently, no stranger to dodgy maths — for example, in the bottom of this mainstay and up-to-date graphic featured on their website, how was the total number of people calculated? Did they account for strikers attending multiple events? Or did they just add up reports of crowd sizes at all previous strikes? If so, is it a relevant statistic to include?

Given that accounts of the September 20, 2019 strike are at about 2 million people, this calculation of 14 million different people in total, across all strikes, seems incredibly high.

Source: Fridays for Future website

And check out their witty, snappy lines(!) (a result of oversimplification):

And why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society? [Source: We Don't Have Time]
"50% of the carbon reductions needed to get to net zero will come from technologies that have not yet been invented" Great news! I spoke to Harry Potter and he said he will team up with Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers and get started right away! [Source: Ms. Thunberg on Twitter]
How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. [Source: The Guardian]

In the meantime, are you really reaching outside your bubble? Is any significant concrete action happening on the climate crisis?

The global wave of school strikes for the climate over the past year has “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, Greta Thunberg has told activists at UN climate talks in Madrid. [Source: The Guardian]

But regardless of that one admission, Fridays for Future and its founder are definitely making it look like a lot is happening, with all their numbers and PR.

they see us as a threat because we are having an impact. [Source: The Guardian]
By her own admission, Thunberg doesn't like being the center of attention. But speaking on German television, she said she couldn't complain because she'd put herself in that position. "It's a small price to pay, knowing that you have an impact." [Source: Deutsche Welle]

And Ms. Thunberg is definitely guilty of the same pretence of feeling like she is doing something, just like those politicians (emphasis mine):

"But my advice for people who feel that way would be to take action because I felt worried before too. When I started to become a climate activist, all that disappeared because I felt like I was doing something." [Source: BBC]

Small reflection

Trump was right when he said: "This country was seriously divided before I got here." [Source: Stan Grant, on ABC]
The West has been battered by war, growing inequality, stagnant wages, terrorism, economic collapse, declining democracy and rising political populism. [Source: Stan Grant, on ABC]

For all their swipes at each other, Ms. Thunberg and Mr. Trump's rises are, perhaps, not so dissimilar, in today's hyper-partisan, fragmented space.

(Mr. Trump was declared TIME Person of the Year in 2016 and Ms. Thunberg was declared TIME Person of the Year in 2019.)

Corporate needs you to find the difference between these two pictures, for each of the two pairs.
Me: They're the same.
[The Office]

Ms. Thunberg had already previously rebuked Mr. Trump's taunts through her Twitter biography,

so the later tweets seem to be extra gratuitous swipes at Mr. Trump. In a world where liberal democracies find themselves weakening across growing divides, this spat, and the attention, as well as the support, that the two people each decided to generate by doing the tweets, kind of sums it up. It serves only to further entrench divides among bases already embittered about divides.

I think both figures can seem quite off-putting, in their overly temperamental delivery styles, to people who don't already generally agree with each of their causes, positions and world-views. I think both of their bases would agree for each of those general sentiments about the other. Maybe it's the work I'm doing, but I struggled to find any of these to be funny... Ms. Thunberg's delivery style CAN really seem off-putting to outsiders, and so can Mr. Trump's.

Personal summary

Ultimately, joining the movement feels like a way to persuade yourself that concrete action is happening by you participating in the strikes.

I felt uncomfortable with the way that activists seemed to parrot Ms. Thunberg's lines, when they aren't all that effective for convincing people who don't already know about that much climate change, anyway.

My sister saw the snippets of Ms. Thunberg's UN Climate Action speech aired on television multiple time in the evening that day, and it did not have the effect of convincing her. (She was mostly just a bit sick/bored of the television channels airing it again and again.)

I joined since I wanted to see people in my society care about something other than themselves, (while still reticent — as I have seen the reaction, so far, from my society, to homelessness, wealth inequality and climate change — absolute complacency. I had already quit high school in personal protest on wealth inequality, I started going vegetarian and choosing not to learn to drive, way before I knew about Ms. Thunberg. But I opted to try and aim for careful analysis and observation, for a more comprehensive understanding, before taking any public action.

In fact, on the topic of going vegetarian, I was convinced by a talk that a classmate gave in school. It was enough that she went through the reasons that she stopped eating meat — including talking about health risks like with excessive consumption of red meat, and how humans didn't start off with eating meat — and that she had become vegetarian, then vegan herself. It helped that she had chatted with me, outside of class, just in regular conversations — about being excited after finding a butter alternative which meant that she could eat sandwiches again, which she was really looking forward to; about worrying about calcium deficiency after sustaining an injury; about maybe even just what she happened to be eating for lunch.

I had not really considered changing my diet before she talked about those, in everyday conversations, but most of all, it showed me that it's an everyday thing, and I can do it. It helped that she talked about her worries and concerns; it grounded the conversation a lot. I can assure you that she did it without the kind of shaming that Ms. Thunberg invokes generally.

Two years earlier, I had a teacher mention, in casual conversation outside class time with us, that she had stopped eating dairy. It was with a bit of laughter that she had said, imagine if we had the same with women — she gestured to imitate suction cups — and that she just couldn't do it (eat dairy). I did not know much about how cow milk was produced at the time. It made me think, but hearing this did not make me feel like I could do it myself — giving up milk, that is. So despite what Ms. Thunberg says about people copying each other,

"Since we look at what the people around us are doing and copy each other’s behavior, things could change overnight." [Source: Elle]

it is not enough to just do it yourself without saying much of substance, if you want to convince others.

Despite what she says about exceptionalism, and "go[ing] to the extreme":

“I decided to sail to highlight the fact that you can’t live sustainably in today’s society,” Ms. Thunberg said by phone from Hampton on Tuesday afternoon. “You have to go to the extreme.” [Source: New York Times]
“By doing this it also shows how impossible it is today to live sustainable,” she said. “That, in order to travel with zero emissions, that we have to sail like this across the Atlantic Ocean.” [Source: New York Times]

it can actually discourage people from considering about the problem as a whole, by making it seem so inaccessible, and put the focus on her as an individual instead. It can actually backfire a bit, if you're thinking about campaigning.

Even children as young as eight years old take such self-serving claims with a pinch of salt, attaching a higher moral value to individuals who perform good deeds in private rather than bragging about them in public. [Source: The Guardian]

And despite what she says about shaming,

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: Financial Times]

and despite her using it on broader platforms and on her parents,

"Even most climate scientists or green politicians keep on flying around the world, eating meat and dairy." [Source: TED]
Greta scrolls through my Instagram feed. She’s angry. “Name a single celebrity who’s standing up for the climate! Name a single celebrity who is prepared to sacrifice the luxury of flying around the world!” [Malena Ernman, source: The Guardian]

(though I ought to note that publicly, Ms. Thunberg's language appears to be more tempered:

Asked what she thought of celebrities who talk about the climate emergency while flying around the world, the teenager declined to criticise them, although warned that others might.

“I don’t care,” she told the Sunday Times magazine. “I’m not telling anyone else what to do, but there is a risk when you are vocal about these things and don’t practise as you preach, then you will become criticised for that and what you are saying won’t be taken seriously.” [Source: The Guardian])

shaming is definitely not the only resource that people can have at hand, as illustrated with the exchanges I had with my classmate.

I can't help but start to cringe, nowadays, when other people who are supportive of urgent climate action — scientists, activists, certain clusters of political commentators and some politicians, etc; all of whom are in a group who are generally already partial and sympathetic to the cause — praise Ms. Thunberg's approach, particularly with invoking morals and shaming, for being very effective for persuasion. Really? Even after having years to observe an age of cancel culture? What about persuading broader swathes of people who aren't as engaged yet?

So I think their praise is not really about that, but the fact that Ms. Thunberg is airing what a number of them think, and giving voice to their frustrations, and occasionally, making them feel guilty for not upping their game and not being more uncompromising. In an age where we find ourselves, again, drifting ever further from finding common ground, I'm unconvinced that this is a direction that I would like to see us pursue. Using morals can really only work given the occasion that other people share your exact set of morals, which is why I think just copying flight shaming from Europe would not translate very well here in Australia.)

(Back to the topic of joining, Westerners underestimate the degree of their individualism and the degree of alienation that this can bring for non-Westerners — please distinguish between alienation and violence, but you can see it in the alienation experienced by a small few who have written their philosophies, [and have gone on to commit violent acts which I do not condone], after coming from the Middle East and spending time studying in Western societies; I experience this kind of mind-boggling alienation whenever I visit my state's CBD, even though I was born here in Australia, albeit amongst suburbs with high proportion of people born overseas.)

But even that — thinking about things besides yourself — is not so much on display at the climate strikes — a part of the core of the Western youth strikers' argument lies in it being about their future being at stake — framed in terms of liberalism, individualism, and a dose of materialism — and apparently this is much easier for adult Westerners to grasp.

In the year 2030 I will be 26 years old. My little sister Beata will be 23. Just like many of your own children or grandchildren. That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us.

I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big; I could become whatever I wanted to. I could live wherever I wanted to. People like me had everything we needed and more. Things our grandparents could not even dream of. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing.

Now we probably don’t even have a future any more. [— Ms. Thunberg at UK Parliament, source: The Guardian]

(This has little appeal to me.)

I also had this nagging feeling that striking wasn't really going to "work", so to speak, from my observations. (This is currently the case in Australia, where the government has maintained its position on climate, starting with more funding for gas.)

I was pretty sure about the ineffectuality of the act after three strikes, across 2019. But Ms. Thunberg is just starting to jokingly notice the repetitiveness in week 145.

I can't help but think of a certain oft-uttered line (usually misattributed to Albert Einstein, and I don't particularly like the first word used so I am going to choose a different version). But by week 145, it certainly looks like doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

A picture from the first climate strike I attended, in May 3, 2019. I attended another on May 24 and September 20 of that year. I stopped attending, aside from the reasons I previously mentioned, due to additionally experiencing sensory distress with massive crowds with hints of individualism.

Attending the climate strikes did not satisfy what I sought, far from it. I did find much more in Stan Grant's With the Falling of the Dusk, in that it let me be more comfortable asking questions myself. I did take inspiration from examining Kevin Rudd's rigourous campaigning, before coming back to the jarring, hypocrisy-laced vulgarity of Ms. Thunberg's.

And I would like to thank ABC Media Watch for their standards, which is what encouraged me to try to be meticulous in examining ideas.

But I will leave you with a reflection from the Little Prince, for now:

"I am unlucky," said the lamplighter. "Good morning."
And he put out his lamp.
"That man," said the little prince to himself, as he continued farther on his journey, "that man would be scorned by all the others: by the king, by the conceited man, by the tippler, by the businessman. Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself."
He breathed a sigh of regret, and said to himself, again:
"That man is the only one of them all whom I could have made my friend. But his planet is indeed too small. There is no room on it for two people. . ." [Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated by Katherine Woods]

[Updated December 2021]