On September 23rd, Greta Thunberg made an intense address at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit. In her speech she pleaded with U.N. leaders to take an active stand against climate change.
Thunberg’s speech comes at a critical time. In the past, individuals made it their own responsibility to be environmentally conscious. Gen Z kids like myself were taught the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This concept was drilled into our heads. In our lifetimes, hybrid cars became common, promising sustainability for those that wanted to reduce their carbon footprint. Until recently, we were told that it was every individual’s job to keep the earth healthy. Now it is publicly known that the fate of the Earth is in the hands of big corporations whose CO2 emissions are the true culprits behind global warming.
To some, Thunberg’s delivery was powerful and brave. However, her opposition has taken to framing it as a well-crafted performance void of any real emotion.
On Twitter, Thunberg’s speech made waves. Her call-to-action has been met with extremely mixed reviews on the social media site. Climate change has been a very divisive topic for a long time now, but it’s hard not to be taken aback by tweets written by Thunberg’s opposition. Instead of critiques of her rhetoric, Twitter was quickly flooded with tweets criticizing Thunberg herself. Angry tweets targeted Thunberg’s appearance, accent, gender, and neurodivergence.
Many perceived Thunberg as radical and compared her to a Hitler youth due to her accent. To be clear, Thunberg is Swedish—not German. Even if Thunberg was German, that still would not justify comparing her to a Nazi.
Many were quick to portray Thunberg as a hormonal young woman. It is disturbing to see such blatant sexism running rampant in discussion about her. This archaic way of thinking is extremely concerning and frankly is irrelevant to Thunberg and her message. It’s sad that this even needs to be said, but women make great leaders just as men do. We are just beginning to deconstruct the stereotype that assertive, passionate women are “shrill” and “unlikeable.” Thunberg is the perfect example of the strong, female leaders that we need.
Thunberg has been open about the fact that she has Aspergers syndrome. Unfortunately, her adversaries have attempted to use her diagnosis to discredit her. Fox television host Laura Ingraham went so far as to equate her to a Children of the Corn character. This is particularly disheartening considering the overused, ableist trope that mentally ill or neurodivergent children are creepy.
Twitter’s comment section is rife with equally as ableist tweets that imply that Thunberg couldn’t possibly be capable of forming her own opinions. Many claim that she is a “puppet” for the left and that she is being abused. They could not be more wrong. Neurodivergent people are more than capable of making their own decisions. Thunberg’s Aspergers diagnosis does not make her any less capable of calling for social change. In fact, she has referred to her aspergers as her “super power.”
A misguided Twitter user implied that if we are to take Thunberg seriously, we should not condemn Jeffery Epstein for having raped girls of the same age. This is disturbing on many levels. Just because a 16-year-old has opinions does not mean that they can consent to sex with an adult man. Of all the tweets out there in response to Thunberg’s U.N. speech that I saw, this has got to be the most repulsive.
Right-wingers feel threatened by Thunberg. They will do everything they can to demonize her. If anything, the superficial insults that they spew only confirm that Thunberg has the right idea. Her arguments are backed by science. The fact that her adversaries attack her appearance and other surface-level attributes shows that they either can’t comprehend or refuse to come to terms with what she is saying. Since they don’t have any arguments against her message, they choose to attack Thunberg as a person. In the end, their ignorance will not prevail.
Despite the backlash, Thunberg continues to stand strong. Amidst the growing traction of the climate movement, the young figurehead delivered a message to her doubters.