Greta Thunberg & the Consolation of Doubt

By Jonathan Cook

October 02, 2019 "Information Clearing House" -  The more Greta Thunberg articulates the terrifying emotions of awakening to our imminent extinction as a species – as she did, filled with trembling rage, at last week’s UN “action summit” on the climate crisis – the more a section of the progressive left digs its heels in to resist her role as an agent of change.

I am not talking here of the “let’s keep our head in the sand” left that denies climate change. Or of the “all we need is for the people to seize the means of production and then pillage the planet on behalf of the workers rather than the bosses” left. Both are annoyingly visible.

I mean the progressive left that understands we are hurtling towards a climate catastrophe engineered by the hubris of a tiny power-elite and our own unthinking, complicit greed. This is the left that knows we need to radically overhaul our societies and priorities, and quickly ween ourselves off fossil fuels, to save life on the planet.

And yet nonetheless, a segment of this left gets angry every time Thunberg appears on TV to set out methodically and movingly why our societies are in the grip of a collective, self-destructive madness. Confronted by Thunberg’s activism, their natural antagonism towards the rich and powerful collapses into a mire of cynicism towards Thunberg herself.

Their arguments fall into three main categories. Let’s assess each on its merits.

1. It’s child abuse!

It is strange to see how some on the left suddenly turn into Victorian prudes the moment the 16-year-old Swede says exactly what they have been thinking but does so to much greater effect. Children, it seems, should again only be seen, not heard.

Thunberg and her generation are living on a dying planet, a planet the older generation – through their greed, their alienation from the natural world, and their spiritual emptiness – plundered and despoiled with no thought for those who would follow them.

The people who organised the pillage are our leaders, an elite that dominate the economy and control our politics and the media. But we all conspired in the planet’s destruction. We bought the unnecessary goods they produced and marketed. We believed in their fairy tale of endless growth on a finite planet. We allowed ourselves to be distracted with mindless entertainment while the planet grew hotter and choked on our pollution.

Our generation carried out a slash-and-burn policy across the entire surface of the planet, leaving our children with no sanctuary while the Earth spends centuries recovering. The most venerated among the grown-ups, our business leaders, wonder whether we can now travel into space to start all over again. And some call Thunberg childish!

The idea that any adult has the right to tell Thunberg and the millions of other children we betrayed that they should simply shut up, stop the strikes and go back to school to finish their studies is ludicrous – and insulting. Teach them what? Teach them the same foolishness, the same selfishness that we were raised on in those educational production lines that turned us into compliant, consumption-loving drones? Do these children really need yet more of the neoliberal brainwashing that prevents most adults from going on strike too to save the planet?

Of course it’s not right that Thunberg has to spend her childhood protesting so that she may enjoy an adulthood. But her choice to sacrifice her teenage years is not the abuse; it is our behaviour that denies her a future, that forces her to spend her youth marching on the streets with millions of other children in an attempt to bring us to our senses.

2. She’s being exploited by the corporate media!

The proof that Thunberg is not to be trusted, it seems, is that she is now receiving so much coverage. The corporate media is owned by big business, so if they are prepared to air Thunberg’s grievances it must be because it serves their – that is, a corporate – agenda. Thunberg is a tool of the rich and powerful, so we are told, whether she herself understands it or not. Whatever the words coming out of her mouth may say, however harshly she criticises those who rule us, the truth is that her arguments cannot be trusted because of the corporate platform on which they are expressed.

When I hear this reasoning, I wonder how we would have reacted back in the 1950s and 60s to Martin Luther King. Had all-pervasive social media been around then, would we have been filled with such certainty that MLK was nothing more than the black mascot of the white establishment? Because after all, he received lots of media coverage too. Would we have reacted as cynically to the Selma march as we do to the climate strikes today? Would we have told MLK he needed to go back to preaching to his congregation, just as we tell Thunberg to get back to her school studies?


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