The activist has been showing a more overtly political stance in London
Last night, London’s Royal Festival Hall hosted a children’s crusade. The purpose? To “celebrate” the launch of The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg’s coffee-table manifesto which collects essays from climate scholars, interspersed with photography and doom data (the cover itself is a colour chart of global temperature, moving from halcyon blue to DEFCON red). London answered the call.
Greta was in conversation with a beaming Samira Ahmed (“You’re the coolest 19-year-old I’ve ever met!”), who gently quizzed her about life as the world’s most famous climate activist. The crowd adored her. They lapped up her awkward ingenuousness. It was the perfect middle-class day out, like a trip to Glyndebourne or Blenheim. Some had even brought their young children, clearly hoping to inspire them into the same breed of activism. And, belying her reputation for aggressive sermonising, Greta was perfectly charming. The fury of “How dare you!” Greta has given way to a likeable figure of exasperated passion.
But this isn’t the only thing about the Swede that has changed. Previously, she’d sold herself as a five-foot human alarm bell, a climate Cassandra. Her role was to warn, not to instruct: her most viral moments involved her scolding political leaders, not trying to supplant them. She strenuously avoided programmatic detail, saying such things were “nothing to do with me”. But now, on stage and in this book, she has found her political feet, specifically the Left-wing ideology of anti-capitalism and de-growth.
Interspersed among the usual directives about the need to pressure political leaders, her message was more radical and more militant than it has been in the past. There is no “back to normal”, she told us. “Normal” was the “system” which gave us the climate crisis, a system of “colonialism, imperialism, oppression, genocide”, of “racist, oppressive extractionism”. Climate justice is part of all justice; you can’t have one without the others. We can’t trust the elites produced by this system to confront its flaws — that’s why she, much like Rishi Sunak, won’t be bothering with the COP meeting this year. COP itself is little more than a “scam” which facilitates “greenwashing, lying and cheating”. Only overthrow of “the whole capitalist system” will suffice.
So now we are finally seeing the contours of Thunbergism. Run your eye down the contributors to The Climate Book and you can see who she’s been reading: Jason Hickel, Kate Raworth, Naomi Klein. For these people the climate crisis isn’t man-made. It’s made by capitalism, as are the other forms of social injustice which plague society. There’s no GDP growth — especially of the capitalist sort — without increasing carbon emissions. The only solution to this state of emergency is for rich countries to immediately abandon economic expansion as a social goal.
It is hardly surprising that Greta thinks this way given how closely tied environmental activism has become with the more experimental end of the modern Left. De-growth is surely not the only feasible solution to the climate crisis, but Greta appears to have no doubts. And, like the bulk of her generation, she has lost any faith in the gradualist, establishment Left’s power to change things. Her teens spent chiding national governments have made her one of the most famous people in the world — her twenties look set to be far more explosive, and even revolutionary.