For the Greta Good

Greta Thunberg spoke at a 30,000-strong rally in Bristol last week, which was great for all the kids who bunked off school to attend. Not so great however for the luxuriant lawns of the city’s College Green that were churned into a e-coli-bearing mud bath to rival the Glastonbury festival.

And make no mistake, they’ll be pulling all the strings this year to get her to Glasto. If only to see her drop a tab, strip down to her moonboots, and zap Trump-balloons with her laser death-stare.

It was also illuminating (for us and the ozone layer) to see thousands of gas-guzzling cars of all the parents who descended on the location to pick them up after the shindig and who spent an average of three hours crawling out of the city centre in first gear. They’ll also have the threat of fixed-penalty fines from the local authority hanging over them, possibly even parenting orders from the court for allowing their kids to miss school. No Swedish day passes for our kids, matey.

Now I’m not going to slate Greta gratuitously. After all, I agree with her underlying message that more action on climate change must be taken. But we should also not berate those who do mock her, particularly if the criticism centres on ‘adults mocking a child’. She’s voluntarily taken the step up into the big bad world, and shit’s gonna happen. Criticism and satire come with the territory and she should either suck it up or retreat back to school.

We did have that rather unpleasant caricature of her on that sticker that was circulating though, which was described by some as her being ‘violently raped’, the ‘forced abuse of a minor’ and even reported to police for being ‘child pornography’.

Wow. Post-fact is growing arms and legs.

Firstly, it was unpleasant and in bad taste, but it was none of the above three things. Again, when we transition from facts to pure emotion, our criticism loses its credibility. It’s regarded as hysteria and ignored. Just criticise it for what it is and detail why it’s wrong. A depiction at the most unpleasant pole of the unacceptable face of politics, where the victim is someone simply exercising their democratic right. You’ll soon win the argument.

Cue Noel Coward warbling, ‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.’ I’m not sure I’d want my son or daughter to be thrust into the spotlight like that, but you have to assume that it was all thought through, and they erred on the side of allowing her adult autonomy. Ultimately, that is their business, I suppose.

But, back to Greta. I think she’s quite a fascinating character because apart from being evidently clever, her unique selling point is her peculiarity. And I don’t mean that pejoratively. She would stand out in any crowd, such is her ‘I see dead people’ demeanour and her eyes like pissholes in the snow. She has this kind of unique soothsaying aura about her. You can absolutely understand how her strike movement attracted attention and achieved traction, even if the notion of ‘striking’ when your absence from school is hurting only you does seem a tad bonkers.

So, what else makes her such a crowd-puller? Well, we love to fixate on individuals who become symbols of resistance, particularly when they’re young. The youth represent the future, and we’re always tickled by precociousness. Remember William Hague and his toe-curling speech at the Conservative Party conference in 1977? Mind you, Hague was clearly a prodigy with all manner of strings to his bow which of course he later evidenced in a dazzling career.

So, ultimately, if people are talking about her, then they are talking about the dangers of climate change, and that’s a good thing.

But her act will have it’s limitations. You can’t keep rocking up and performing the same old routine. As it stands, we’ve gone from the big reveal of how we have ‘destroyed her hopes and dreams’ (with a well-sculpted ‘how dare you’ catchphrase) to, ‘you clearly haven’t listened to me, because nothing has changed’.

None of the principal arguments are original, though. They’re exactly the same as those of all the other campaigners out there. It’s all good, solid idealism that makes sense. But she’s just saying the same old thing over and over again and wondering why nothing has changed. And that is a sure-fire way to define madness, according to Einstein.

And it’s all words. Beyond these, there’s nothing there. She’s got no influence and no kudos where it counts. And it counts at the highest levels in China, Russia, and the US. And they aren’t listening. The EU are, but only really so that they can deftly step into the safe European echo-chamber and muster up the right words to harness some political juice to battle the other three in the ongoing struggle of the new empires.

The truth may be that addressing climate change would necessitate the wholesale upheaval of infrastructures on such a mega-scale that it would have us all shaking in our moonboots if we could even comprehend half of it. They’ve probably already all agreed that the cost and hassle would signal doom a lot sooner than the ultimate overheating of the globe, so we might as well trot on as we are. A piecemeal, but balanced approach that aims to slow down the damage rather than avoiding it altogether.

So, Greta has gained prominence through self-presentation. She’s a kid. It’s like when juggling acts become boring, they ditch the balls for the fire torches. But even with the torches, once you’ve seen one show, you’ve seen them all. Sooner or later, you have to move on to cats or dwarfs, or vary the act altogether.

Greta’s a one-trick pony, but you do have to admire her image coach though. Most 16 or 17-year-old girls are pushing the boundaries by wearing too much make-up or too short a skirt. Greta with her yellow anorak and moonboots is pushing it in the opposite direction and haranguing world leaders to boot.

At least they’re not injecting her with growth-restricting chemicals like some 1970s Eastern-bloc gymnast, but you can’t help thinking that by 2030, if she’s still in the public eye, she’ll be on stage on a Babygro.

But in less than no time at all, I doubt whether anybody will still be listening. In fact, nobody’s really listening now. And why would they? She made her point, and it was a valid one. But she’s not an expert in environmentalism, or science, or indeed anything. She herself acknowledged it when she noted that Trump would likely not give her the time of day, ‘because he doesn’t even listen to experts. Why would he listen to me?’.

Exactamundo, Greta. But why would anybody listen to her? In fact, her bafflement at the inaction of the world’s leaders is arguably her most telling contribution, the most personally significant one. She’s realised that the world no longer revolves around her. We can all identify with that. It was the moment that marked the beginning of our transition from childhood to adulthood.

Welcome to the real world kid. And if you peaked at 16, you’re going to spend a long time falling.

This of course marks the beginning of the end. Her youth won’t last forever and when that goes, so will the magic. It’s an integral component of the formula. When Paul left the Beatles, the band broke up. In my view, the band would have broken up even if Ringo had left. He was fundamental to the whole piece, an essential pillar.

Well, it worked out ok for Michael Jackson, I suppose, so maybe all is not lost.

And where will that leave Greta? She’ll end up at Oxford or Harvard and write some books. She’s already trademarked her name, so you have to conclude that there’s a more strategic route being mapped out for her for the Greta good. After all, you wouldn’t want her to be spending her young adulthood hanging around shopping malls, freaking people out.

This week she visited Malala (remember her) at Oxford, whom she described as her role model.

Get the similarities? A child who speaks out about wanting a better future and gets into some major strife. They then whisk her off for the full works: speeches at the UN, Nobel Peace Prize, Oxford.

Malala was so smart that she didn’t think to protect her identity while slagging off the Taliban, but hey ho. She’s the one larging it at Oxford, having sari-ed US$1.1 million, so I guess she’s smarter than me. I’m pretty sure that Greta won’t go short of meatballs in the foreseeable future either.

We criticise the obsession with reality TV and factory-pop stars who have the ‘right look’, who are lauded on the basis of little substance. Adults who lead our children astray.

Yet, we’re quite happy to be led astray by children who encapsulate the idealism we lost when we entered the real world. Meanwhile, very little changes.

Maybe everybody needs to move on for the Greta good.

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