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Greta Thunberg faces right-wing media attacks after U.N. speech

But few critics actually addressed the science on climate change.

ABC News via YouTube
  • During her speech at the United Nations on Monday, climate activist Greta Thunberg harshly criticized world leaders for failing to do more about climate change.
  • The 16-year-old activist has since received praise from the left and derision from many on the right.
  • Thunberg's argument is notable for focusing primarily on getting governments – not individuals – to act on climate change.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, is facing waves of backlash after she harangued global leaders at the United Nations on Monday for not doing more to mitigate climate change.

"People are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing," Thunberg said at the U.N. "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

Thunberg first gained media attention in 2018 when she began skipping school to protest outside of the Swedish parliament for climate action. As an activist who has promoted the #flightshaming movement, Thunberg recently traveled by boat from Europe to New York City to attend the U.N. climate summit, where she shamed world leaders for inaction on climate change policies. She said member nations need to get behind the "united science" of climate change, as described by reports from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The bulk of Thunberg's attackers are right-wing media personalities, elected officials, and climate skeptics. These critics have taken a few different approaches, some more reasonable than others, in countering Thunberg. Some have seemingly tried to use Thunberg's Asperger's diagnosis as a way to discredit her, as Michael Knowles, a writer for The Daily Wire, did on Fox News:

Others, like conservative political commentator Dinesh D'Suoza, likened Thunberg to children featured in Nazi propaganda.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham said Thunberg, and other young protesters who participated in the global climate strikes, seemed like cult members. President Donald Trump also weighed in with a sarcastic tweet that read: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!"

Other right-wing critics haven't attacked Thunberg herself, but rather have suggested that the adults around the teenage activist are manipulating her for political gain.

DeSmog U.K., an environmental organization, published a piece suggesting that a significant amount of the criticism against Thunberg is being coordinated by pro-deregulation officials, business leaders and media personalities who support Brexit.

"...a large subsection of the commentariat driving the abuse of Greta is part of an established network of radical free-marketeer lobby groups — a network that has firm ties to the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science denial," the organization wrote.

What most of Thunberg's critics have in common is that they don't engage with the science behind her main argument, which is: The IPCC has found that in about 11 years the earth will face a number of "tipping points" that threaten to destabilize not only ecosystems around the world, but also safety and infrastructure for millions of people, and that the global community ought to act on this information now.

"We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to," Thunberg said. "And just for quoting and acting on these numbers, these scientific facts, we receive unimaginable amounts of hate and threats. We are being mocked and lied about by elected officials, members of parliament, business leaders, journalists. You can't simply make up your own facts. There is no middle ground when it comes to the climate and ecological emergency."

Among the more reasonable critiques of Thunberg came from Reason's Nick Gillespie, who suggested that the activist's "histrionics" were counterproductive to developing good climate change policy. Also, Jake Novak, writing for CNBC, noted that Thunberg "and the adults guiding her, are seeking to shift almost all the focus from personal responsibility to governments and big corporations to enact environmental reform." This, according to Novak, represents a "shift from the 'Think Globally, Act Locally,' environmental philosophy of the 1980s and 1990s," and threatens to turn environmentalism into another "wedge issue that politicians often use to motivate their base of voters."

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