Greta Thunberg: The Climate Change Activist Vilified by the Media

7 August 2019

Country: Global

by: Eline Jeanné

GretaThunbergIf you have been following news related to climate change in recent months, you are bound to have heard the name Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old Swedish activist first commanded attention by protesting outside the Swedish parliament, calling for immediate action against climate change. She inspired a following; the next month, over one million students around the world made headlines by skipping school in a global strike for climate change.

Since then, Thunberg has spoken at numerous demonstrations, several prestigious conferences and even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. However, like many outspoken young women before her, she is being vilified in the media.

In the pages of the Herald Sun, Andrew Bolt criticizes Thunberg, calling her s a “strange” and “freakishly influential” teenager. He goes on to call her “deeply disturbed,” insulting her mental capabilities, not by engaging with her arguments or approach, but by repeatedly referring to her diagnosis with Aspbergers syndrome—which he refers to as “mental disorders.”“I have never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru,” he writes, taking an unprofessional and petty jab at both her age and abilities.

Thuberg—who has frequently challenged how many perceive Asperger’s syndrome, by calling it a “gift” that helps her see through lies, and see things from outside of the box—responded perfectly to Bolt’s hateful rhetoric.

“I am indeed ‘deeply disturbed’ about the fact that these hate and conspiracy campaigns are allowed to go on and on and on just because we children communicate and act on the science,” she wrote in a tweet. “Where are the adults?”

It wasn’t long before another misogynist, agist and ablist opinion piece popped up.The New York Times ran an opinion piece by Christopher Caldwell, where he wrote:

“Since a 16-year-old is not a legally responsible adult, she cannot be robustly criticized and, even leaving aside her self-description as autistic, Ms. Thunberg is a complicated adolescent. Intellectually, she is precocious and subtle. She reasons like a well-read but dogmatic student radical in her 20s. Physically, she is diminutive and fresh-faced, comes off as younger than her years, and frequently refers to herself as a “child” — about the last thing the average 16-year-old would ever do.”

Again, Caldwell is repeatedly referring to Thunberg’s physical appearance and learning disability, rather than engaging with her message. He insults her as “complicated” and “not average”—as if these are negative traits—and is clearly trying to paint her as a young child, who should not be trusted or taken seriously. There are more references to her height than her message, a timeless tactic used by misogynist trolls that insults a woman’s physical appearance while ignoring their intellectual arguments entirely.

Imagine for a moment that Thunberg was a young man in his early twenties, and not on the autistic spectrum. Would Thunberg, the hypothetical young male activist, receive this type of media coverage? It is safe to say that he would not. While he would surely have opponents who disagreed with his tactics for fighting climate change, it is safe to say that far less time would be spent ripping him apart for his physical appearance and disabled identity, and instead on engaging with his message.

If the media would spend less time smearing Thunberg for her appearance and impressive rise to prominance, perhaps we could start listening to what she has to say.

To read more of our reporting on how diversity is lacking in environmental reporting, click here.