Like the Pilgrim Fathers before her, Greta Thunberg, the po-faced Pilgrim Daughter of the climate cult, set sail for America from Plymouth. Climate puritans, climatans if you will, are particularly numerous among the iGen, those born between 1995 and 2012. This is the generation that was reared on social media —anxious, depressed, self-harming, so risk averse that they demand trigger-warnings to read the classics or attend a university lecture. This generation don’t take jobs in their teens, delay having sex or driving, don’t even drink, let alone take drugs, and gloomy Greta, the apostle of the apocalypse, is their hero.
On Q&A on Monday, Aurora Matchett, a Year 11 student, said Thunberg was an inspiration, while Varsha Yajman, a Year 12 student had helped to organise school climate change strikes, a movement Thunberg started a year ago, and even William Gillett, a Year 11 student who said Thunberg’s boat-trip to avoid emissions was hypocritical still admired her for taking a stand.
Thunberg, who hasn’t flown since 2015, is the public face of flygskam, Swedish for flight-shaming. Up to now, her pilgrimages to preach and protest have been by train, the eco-acceptable way to travel, which has given rise to the phenomenon of tagskryt, or train-bragging, the latest way to vaunt moral superiority.
The scientific basis for this new game of one-upmanship is uncertain. A study which compared the full life-cycle emissions of eleven different modes of transport found that passengers travelling on off-peak buses had the biggest carbon footprint — Canberra residents who travel in magisterial solitude on the city’s fleet of Action buses take note. Large planes, which are usually full and require little infrastructure, can have a smaller footprint than light rail.
It’s hard not to cheer Thunberg for thundering to the fawning elite at Davos in January that, ‘it is insane that people are gathered here to talk about the climate, and they arrive here in private jet.’ Clearly, the message didn’t get through to Prince Harry and Meghan, who are doing their bit to save the planet by only having two children while gadding about on private jets over the summer. The more sensible Prince William and Kate ostentatiously fly on budget airlines.
As Thunberg’s fame has grown however, her climatanical pronouncements posed a problem. How to hobnob at the UN in New York when there is no transatlantic train? The Pippi Longstockings of climastrophism was rescued by her very own Prince Charming, Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco, grandson of Grace Kelly, who nobly offered to sail her to America, on his 21st Century Mayflower, a luxury racing yacht. How apt that it should happen to be called Malizia, after Casiraghi’s ancestor, Francesco the Cunning, who captured the castle of Monaco in the late 13th Century by pretending to be a Franciscan friar while concealing a sword beneath his habit. Subterfuge seems to run in the family and for Casiraghi — a vintage car racing enthusiast and a fixture at the Monte-Carlo Historic Car Rally — to present himself as the white knight of carbon neutrality is a fitting tribute to his forebear’s self-interested pretence at piety.
In a case of ‘Lord, make me carbon neutral — but not yet,’ Thunberg has also had to engage in her own deception or self-deception. Having stopped flying because she wanted to ‘practise as I preach,’ she quadrupled her carbon emissions travelling by boat, since the crew of two who sailed her to New York flew back to Europe and another crew of two flew over to sail the boat home.
Climate contortions of conscience aren’t unusual. Science is only a very occasional bedfellow of climatans and violating its empirical precepts is rarely treated as a crime. But like the Pilgrim Fathers who used the stocks and pillory to humiliate people for lapses such as swearing or drunkenness, climate shaming is vigorously applied for perceived sins of emission. In January, Katharina Schulze, a leader of the Bavarian Greens, created a storm in an ice-cream cup for posting a photo on Instagram of a gelato she ate with a plastic spoon, no less, having flown to California on holidays.
Thunberg celebrated the anniversary of her climate strike movement on August 20. The protests which have occurred periodically since then, garnered the support of an estimated 1.4 million pupils in over 2,000 cities just in one strike in March. This week, the NSW and ACT synod of the Uniting Church announced that it would support the protest at the nine schools that they run. Uniting Church moderator, Reverend Simon Hansford said, ‘caring for our climate and humanity’ is ‘an issue of faith.’
Pope Francis gave Thunberg his blessing when she travelled — by train of course — to Rome. It conjures up Nicholas of Cologne, the eloquent shepherd from the Rhineland who led a ‘children’s crusade’ in the spring of 1212. Nicholas said the sea would dry up allowing his teenage crusaders to walk to the Holy Land and peacefully convert the Saracens to Catholicism. More than 20,000 set off but two thirds perished en route with only 7,000 arriving in Genoa in late August. They marched to the harbour where they were dismayed to find the briny deep recalcitrant. Some settled down to wait for the Lord to change his mind, but Nicholas travelled on to the Papal States to meet Pope Innocent III who exhorted the youths to go home to their families. Nicholas did not survive the return journey, but his father was hanged, to assuage the anger of families whose children had perished.
There is a moral in this for the indulgent adults who pander to Thunberg’s apocalyptic visions. She is not old enough to be accountable for actions; they are. Encouraging youth to believe that the end of the world is nigh, when the science shows that temperature rises are more modest than originally predicted, not only makes them miserable, it predisposes them to authoritarianism. As Thunberg said in Plymouth, what she wants is for ‘the people in power’ to ‘act with necessary force.’ That makes her adult enablers cruel, stupid and dangerous. But as Thunberg’s compatriot Olaf Falafel, the eighth funniest comedian in Sweden, put it, ‘There’s no ‘I’ in idiot.’
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