How can it happen that a 16-year-old girl from Sweden, who has mobilized millions of people around the world to publicly call for official and personal responses to the dangers of climate change has had to face expressions of hatred from around the world? Greta Thunberg has voluntarily given up the freedoms of childhood to devote her time and energy toward overcoming denial of climate change and the scientific studies that reveal its potential to destroy life as we know it.
There are four basic types of denial: the first is not to respond at all to information received (how many of us simply refuse to pay attention?); the second is to partly acknowledge the criticism (witness the current political responses to Greta Thunberg’s concerns), the third is to deny that anything of concern is happening, and the fourth is to attack the person raising the issues.
In spite of her message resonating in the hearts of millions around the world, particularly children and youth who are inheriting the damage and dangers to the Earth and her climate created by present and earlier generations of adults, she faces all the forms of denial, but in particular, the most hurtful form: personal attacks.
Critics have denied her competence, her independence, her wisdom. They have cited her youth as an indication of incompetence. They have cited her diagnosis as a person affected by Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism, as if that should negate her truth. They have accused her of being controlled by adults with poor agendas.
These attacks are happening in spite of international protections that are in place for and should protect young people like Greta. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by every country in the United Nations except the United States) affirms the right of a child to express her or his opinion and have it taken seriously by adults, as well as the right to receive information and to state her or his opinion on same. In addition, the Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities includes the rights to: freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse; freedom of expression and opinion; respect for privacy; and the right to participate in political and public life.
Greta Thunberg is exercising her human rights, as a child and as a person with a diagnosis that might indicate a “disability”. In doing so she has brought to world attention a message that political and business leaders have been responding to with the first three listed types of denial. She is drawing attention to the sixth mass extinction that is presently occurring around us. She is calling on all of us, our governments and businesses to pay attention to the science. She is calling for change on both personal and official levels. She is bright, she is courageous, she is articulate. What’s to hate?