Hating Greta

Why do some adults find her message so threatening?

Greta Thunberg.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Yana Paskova)

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

July was the hottest month ever recorded. This summer, the sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic retreated to record lows, and Greenland's massive ice sheet lost billions of tons of ice — even in the center, far from the coasts. "The cold, boring interior of Greenland is waking up," said scientist Mike MacFerrin. Seas are rapidly rising. In America's Southwest, a 19-year-long drought is draining the Colorado River and its reservoirs, endangering water supplies to seven states. Climate activist Greta Thunberg's warnings that our planet is careening toward catastrophe may be overly apocalyptic, and her condemnation of adults — "How dare you!" — adolescent in its righteousness. The world, fortunately, will not end in 10 years, or 20. But Thunberg's fear that her generation will inherit a profoundly damaged planet is not a child's bad dream. So why, then, do some people find the 16-year-old Thunberg's missionary zeal so unnerving, and react to her impertinence with such rage and contempt?

On Fox News, a pundit this week described Thunberg — who has ­Asperger's — as "a mentally ill Swedish child." Fox host Laura Ingraham called her U.N. address "chilling" and likened her to Children of the Corn, a movie in which demonic kids kill off the grown-ups. In the National Review, Rich Lowry dismissed Thunberg as a "pawn" who merely parrots what adults have told her. "Kids have nothing interesting to say to us," Lowry said. Nothing? Thunberg doesn't pretend to know what adults should do in response to climate change, but she wants to shame us into doing something. "Listen to the scientists," not me, she says. The scientists say that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current level, our children and grandchildren will suffer unprecedented droughts, floods, wildfires, superstorms, and famines. But human beings are selfish and shortsighted, and the world's discharge of greenhouse gases is actually growing, not declining. That, and not Greta, is what's crazy.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.