Connor Gilbert

After Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations where she vehemently criticized world leaders for their inaction against climate change, the ripple effects were felt worldwide. 

In four and a half minutes, the 16-year-old castigated those in attendance for stealing her childhood and effectively killing her dreams as a result of their neglect toward the issue of climate change.

“People are suffering,” she said.“People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

It’s clear that many feel threatened by her speech just from the initial reactions. Thunberg’s words act against the very core of climate deniers’ beliefs — their egos. In a space dominated by older men, the presence of an outspoken young woman who has indicted them publicly has triggered an erratic response.

She’s been called “mentally ill,” emotionally unstable and a misguided millennial, all while being frequently referred to as a “child,” something clearly meant to dissuade the uninformed from taking her seriously. 

All of these criticisms completely miss the point.

Thunberg’s rhetoric is, admittedly, strongly tied to her public persona — the way she presents herself and the strategies she has used to bring awareness to her platform. The entire global climate change school strike movement can be boiled down to her efforts. 

But there is still no place to criticize her for things she cannot change, and it does a disservice to her work to frame an argument against her in that way.

The majority of the criticism of Thunberg’s mental state stems from her own stating that she has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism which she herself has referred to as her own “superpower.”

It should go without saying that autism is not mental illness, as many before me have pointed out. It’s certainly not a valid reason to disregard her work.

Yes, she’s emotional. She’s unafraid of coming off as brash.

She also believes that if we don’t change our current course, the world as we know it could be damaged irreparably. Her future, in addition to the majority of ours, could be stolen away from us thanks to circumstances that are wholly preventable. When trying to argue that point in a room full of people disinclined to listen, it is difficult not to be emotional.

If Thunberg was a raving lunatic who could not present a coherent argument, she would not have been given the platform that she has now. She would not have effectively began worldwide movement that now encompasses millions of youth. People wouldn’t have listened to her.

If you wish to argue that someone that accomplished at a young age is unstable, but don’t see any issues with a president who resorts to name-calling to attack political opponents and alludes to civil war when his own impeachment looms near, it’s an uphill battle to be taken seriously yourself. 

So let’s remove that argument from the table.

Furthermore, if Thunberg is just a child, it’s not acceptable to attack her personally on the level she has been. If she’s not (as a young woman who speaks so eloquently and possesses the bravery to speak so passionately in front of millions, her maturity shouldn’t be a question anyway), then criticize her on the basis of her argument.

If you think she’s wrong, prove it. Use facts. Use logic. Use your adult brain and put it to work. Don’t take the easy route and try to sabotage her credibility with frivolous tripe.


Connor Gilbert is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @connorjgilbert.

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