When an advert featuring Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg popped up on YouTube the other day, I noticed that not only had she visibly grown older, but also rounder. This in itself was probably a good thing, one need only look at her photos of her adolescence where she appears underweight.
Yet when I took to Twitter to suggest she lay off the cheeseburgers, most importantly to reduce her own carbon footprint, I was met with not just the usual vitriol from the left but also condemnation from the right. “Lay off her looks, she is only a kid,” was the general gist of the negative responses.
My first reaction was disappointment that people clearly didn’t understand this was a joke. Thunberg is of course a vegan, meaning she would not be seen dead munching on a Mcdonald's quarter pounder. Yet even more confusing was the notion that she is somehow immune from mockery or criticism.
Thunberg is no longer a 14-year-old child, but a 20-year-old woman. What’s more, she has perhaps the world’s largest megaphone on environmental issues, while her ideas are being picked by leaders across every continent. Given her influence on this global issue, it is not an exaggeration to describe her as one of the most powerful people on earth. Her global influence was proven in 2019 when she was named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year, an accolade typically given to world leaders such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. "[She has] succeeded in turning vague anxieties about the planet into a worldwide movement calling for global change," the magazine wrote at the time.
Greta and her supporters may not consider her ideas controversial, but many do. The most unpopular is her demand that developed countries adopt “Green New Deals” aimed at achieving net zero carbon emissions over the next decade. What she does not appear to realize is that not only will this policy massive impoverish the western nations that embrace it, but it will empower countries such as China and Russia who have absolutely no intention of reducing their environmental impact. She also expects developing nations to follow suit, a policy that would likely plunge hundreds of millions of people into extreme poverty.
A potentially persuading argument might be that Thunberg is vulnerable as a consequence of suffering from Aspergers. Yet as someone who has known people across the autistic spectrum, it strikes me that she must be at the milder end. Although some of her behavior is odd (“How dare you?” she once said in an address to world leaders), an individual on the severe end of the spectrum would unlikely be able to address large crowds and handle the intense level of scrutiny she faces. Thunberg has even described it as her personal "superpower."
Humor is a powerful tool of persuasion, and for those of us who believe in a cautious approach to environmental issues, there is an onus to share our ideas and rebuttals as regularly and as powerfully as we can.
For what it is worth, Greta actually looks healthier than she did throughout most of her teens, where her gaunt, miserable demeanor likely hindered her cause more than it helped. And if it makes her feel any better, the person mocking her has also been putting away too many cheeseburgers of late. Or perhaps in her case, a tofu burger.