She’s the biggest climate celebrity since Al Gore, but Sweden’s Greta Thunberg made her triumphant arrival in New York City for a month of activism amid rising concerns over whether the pig-tailed teen is a global-warming prophet or a political pawn.
Greta received a hero’s welcome Wednesday after she and her entourage sailed into lower Manhattan on a 60-foot zero-carbon yacht, opting to sail the Atlantic for two weeks rather than fly to avoid contributing to carbon emissions.
“It is insane that a 16-year-old would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to make a stand,” she told the cheering crowd that greeted her at the marina. “The climate and ecological crisis is a global crisis, the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced.”
Critics beg to differ, saying what’s insane is the specter of world leaders and media outlets venerating a vulnerable 16-year-old girl — she has Asperger’s syndrome and a history of mental-health issues — whose contribution to the climate debate has been to encourage kids to ditch school until they get their way.
“I’m glad she had a safe journey across the Atlantic, but I feel sorry for her,” said Jim Lakely, spokesman for the free-market Heartland Institute. “Greta is being exploited by the adults around her to push the climate delusion while they use her as a human shield to shame anyone who criticizes the alarmist agenda.”
Grove City College professor Mark W. Hendrickson said adults are using Greta “as a puppet and a mouthpiece to advance their own agenda,” while Breitbart London’s James Delingpole called her “a brainwashed child in pig-tails pushing a hard-left, anti-capitalist agenda.”
“All you need to know about Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old autistic child from Sweden, is that the left expects you to listen to her, comply with her, and never question her,” said the Resurgent’s Erick Erickson in a Thursday post. “She is the newly appointed high priestess of climate change.”
One reason for the attention is her compelling backstory. She first learned of climate change at school when she was 8. Three years later, she became depressed, stopped talking and stopped eating. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism.
She landed on the media’s radar almost exactly one year ago when she began skipping school to sit in front of the Swedish parliament with a homemade “School Strike for Climate” sign. The activist group We Don’t Have Time promoted her strike, and shortly thereafter Fridays for Future was born.
Soon thousands of students across Europe, Australia and Japan were participating in school climate strikes every Friday, with Greta egging them on, saying school was pointless under the circumstances.
“Why should we be studying for a future that soon will be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future?” she told a crowd at an October rally.
In November, she did a TED Talk in Stockholm. In January, she scolded billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In March, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and in April, she met with Pope Francis, who encouraged her to keep up the fight.
Her meteoric rise comes with the climate movement increasingly showcasing its youthful activists — see the Sunrise Movement — who draw cameras like iron to magnets. It doesn’t hurt that Greta, with her rosy cheeks, simple braids and no makeup, looks younger than her 16 years.
She has received credit for her direct, forthright speaking style — Parkland student Emma Gonzalez praised her for “inspiring steadfast students and shaming apathetic adults” — but clearly Greta has also received an assist from the adults in her life.
Her parents have insisted in interviews that their daughter is the driving force, but both are celebrities themselves: Her father Svante Thunberg is an actor and author, and her mother, Malena Ernman, is a prominent opera singer whose book about the family, “Scenes from the Heart,” was released in Sweden in August 2018, the same month Greta’s school strike began.
Benny Peiser, president of the skeptical Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, said Greta’s mental-health struggles illustrate the dangers of whipping up kids into a climate frenzy.
“The tragedy of Greta is that she has been encouraged into a state of extreme anxiety by irresponsible adults,” Mr. Peiser said in an email. “She has been used as a vessel for their extremist politics yet expect her to take the flack. This kind of quasi hysterical behaviour is typical of apocalyptic doomsday cults.”
French politicians on the right balked last month when Greta was invited to speak before the parliament, with MP Julien Aubert describing her as “Saint Greta Thunberg, surrounded by people who see global warming as a religion,” according to Le Figaro.
After she spoke to British lawmakers in April, the [U.K.] Sun called her “bright, engaged, passionate about her cause and inspiring to other kids,” but took issue with “the credulous adults fawning over her.”
“In Greta’s black-and-white view, climate change is frying the planet while wicked corporations cash in and lazy governments ‘don’t listen to the science,’ ” said the Sun. “It’s simplistic nonsense. Governments try to balance tough environmental action with keeping people in jobs and families fed.”
None of that has diminished her star power, which had already begun to cross the pond even before she sailed into the Big Apple. Time Magazine named her one of the “2019 Time 100” and featured her on the cover in May. She met previously with President Barack Obama and, yes, Mr. Gore.
First on the agenda: She’s bringing her School Strike for Climate movement to New York City, headlining a press conference Friday with Extinction Rebellion and other groups across to encourage students to take part in the Sept. 20 Global Climate Strike.
Her U.S. trip is expected to culminate Sept. 23 with a speech at the U.N. Climate Action Summit. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed her Wednesday to New York, tweeting that the “determination and perseverance shown during your journey should embolden all of us.”
Reporters wasted no time asking her about President Trump, and she didn’t hold back.
“Everyone always asks me about Donald Trump, but my message for him is just listen to the science, and he obviously doesn’t do that,” she said. “As I always say to this question, if no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis, the urgency, then why should I be able to do that?”
She added, “So I’m going to focus on spreading awareness.”