It’s been just over a year since Greta Thunberg sat in front of Sweden’s parliament, calling for a school strike until world leaders took action on climate change. Just over a year since one teen girl’s stand spurred a global student movement and earned her a spotlight as a rising young advocate.
Now Ms. Thunberg, 16, has landed in North America, after a two-week cross-Atlantic voyage on a small solar-powered yacht. Her journey was the latest in her efforts to draw attention to the need for action on climate change, and when she landed in New York, supporters greeted her with cheers.
"Let’s not wait any longer," she told the crowd. "Let’s do it now."
The response to Ms. Thunberg’s journey from some quarters is telling. There is no shortage of climate advocates saying essentially the same things she is saying; yet in recent months, she has drawn the lion’s share of ire from commentators, much of it descending into insults and outright bullying.
Opponents have written she is an "arrogant child," a puppet of sinister left-wing forces, and that they hope her boat sinks into the ocean. An Australian columnist called her "deeply disturbed," a jab at her diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome — a form of autism — and struggles with depression.
In Canada, Maxime Bernier picked up these threads with gusto. Last weekend, the People’s Party of Canada leader went on a Twitter rant, in both official languages, calling Ms. Thunberg "mentally unstable," listing her autism and mental health experiences as a source of derision, and stating she should be "denounced and attacked."
Either she is "a grownup in control of her life, in which case she can be criticized like anyone for the nonsense she spreads," he wrote, or else she’s a "poor little autistic girl, and then those who manipulate her are despicable child abusers. Pick one explanation and stick to it."
Of course, there’s an obvious third option Mr. Bernier didn’t mention.
It involves recognizing that youth have values and dreams about the world they will grow to inherit, and that adults can engage those ideas and even encourage youth participation without calling for children to be "attacked" or lobbing nasty ad hominems at them.
Mr. Bernier walked back some of his statements on Wednesday, saying his goal was "not to denigrate her" and that he shouldn’t have referred to her "personal situation."
Too little, too late. For a 56-year-old man to berate a teen advocating for her beliefs is, to put it simply, shameful.
Ms. Thunberg, to her credit, has dealt with this hostility with aplomb. On Sunday, she tweeted a response to attacks by Mr. Bernier and others. "When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go," she wrote. "And then you know you’re winning!"
The science regarding anthropogenic climate change and its dangers is strong and growing. In the face of that science, those with vested interests in denying its existence are ever more eager to make caricatured villains of those who call for serious climate-change action.
Mr. Bernier insists "the left" is holding up Ms. Thunberg as an advocate in order to prevent criticism of the issues she’s raising; but he’s the one attacking the messenger, not the message. If he has better arguments against climate-change action, then he should make them.
That he and so many others instead put so much energy into trying to destroy her speaks volumes.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.