UN summit speech: Thunberg’s backlash of criticism

The 16-year-old, Swedish climate activist, criticised world leaders for failing to properly address climate change. Speaking at the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23rd, Greta Thunberg condemned past generations of “stealing her dreams and childhood’. The summit was days after millions of people worldwide took part in a global climate strike led by youth activists. Thunberg has spread awareness concerning the increasing ‘climate emergency’, engaging both individuals and institutions. There is even a petition online, prompting UEA and the Vice Chancellor, Professor David Richardson, to declare a climate emergency and ‘commit to carbon neutrality by 2025’, with actions that are evidence based. The petition can be found on change.org’s websites and is posted by Extinction Rebellion UEA. 

However, it is not clear whether the summit will deliver new plans for the radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, set out the end of coal mining in her country but only by 2038. The summit was also dominated by the absence of the United States. 

Despite Thunberg’s activism on climate change, she receives a share of criticism. It seems a young woman laying out the unpleasant truth and demanding that officials take action to save the planet is triggering for the older, white men, on the right. Thunberg is young, passionate and is backed by science. The backlash against her seems as old-fashioned as climate denial. 

The bulk of Thunberg’s attackers are right-wing media personalities, climate skeptics and elected officials. They have each used different approaches, some more acceptable than others. Michael Knowles, writer for The Daily Wire on Fox News used Thunberg’s Asperger’s diagnosis to discredit her message. Additionally, Fox News host Laura Ingraham described young protesters as cult members.  Of course, Donald Trump sarcastically tweeted that Thunberg, ‘seems like a very happy girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future’. 

The most recent and more bizarre criticism comes from Jeremy Clarkson, who, having been fired from the BBC for punching a producer in the face over the lack of hot food provided at a hotel, has branded Thunberg as a ‘spoilt brat’. Clarkson’s own daughter, Emily Clarkson, has had the last word, retweeting his post with ‘a woman doesn’t need to be polite to make a point’. 

Thunberg said in her speech ‘young people are starting to understand your betrayal’, and, as third year student, Jess Barrett, explains; Thunberg ‘is one of the only women who the media presents in a non-sexualised way, and many don’t know how to deal with that. For me, Thunberg symbolises a strong youth where our voices can cause permanent change, but only if we are given the respect we deserve.’ 


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Paige Allen

March 2021
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