“I am Greta” – One documentary – many opposing reviews

The new documentary I Am Greta follows the Swedish soothsayer from when she began her protests in 2018 to today. It was intended to show her global campaigning impact, but my feeling after watching it was just one of pity.

We need to make some very important decisions regarding climate change and how is it impacting our future. It should be easy today when science is developed better than ever in our history. Is it really?

I would like to present two different views regarding documentary titled “I am Greta”. It seems that nothing is free from propaganda wars – including science and how media (owned by some interests) presents it.

I must admit of being confused. What do you think? Let me know in comments section

A new film, designed as an homage to climate change’s child deity Greta Thunberg, in fact portrays a terrified, badly misled girl

Rob Lyons

Rob Lyons is a UK journalist specialising in science, environmental and health issues. He is the author of ‘Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder’.

The new documentary I Am Greta follows the Swedish soothsayer from when she began her protests in 2018 to today. It was intended to show her global campaigning impact, but my feeling after watching it was just one of pity.

I don’t actually see the world in black and white. It’s just the climate issue I see in black and white. Sometimes I feel that it might be good if everyone had a bit of Asperger’s. At least when it comes to the climate.”

These are the closing remarks from the star of I Am Greta, about the climate-campaigning sensation Greta Thunberg. But perhaps those comments tell us more about the state of politics today than they do about the climate issue.

The film begins in August 2018. Thunberg is conducting a one-schoolgirl protest outside the Swedish parliament, with a simple handmade sign, Skolstrejk för klimatet (‘School strike for the climate’). The filmmaker, Nathan Grossman, says he was told about her protest by a friend and went down to film her, perhaps for a short film. However, he adds: “When I really understood that this [was] becoming a national base was when the strikes popped up in Australia and Belgium suddenly. It’s important to remember that the strikes [by] the Scandinavians then were maybe 50, 60, 70 people maximum per strike. Suddenly, in Australia, there were 10[000] or 15,000 people striking.”

Thunberg is certainly an unlikely hero for an international campaign. She grew up experiencing significant difficulties with socialising and making friends, due to having Asperger’s. When she was eight years old, a film about climate change was shown at her school, showing “starving polar bears, floods, hurricanes and droughts”. She explains: “That’s when I started to get depressed. And… anxiety set in… and I stopped eating, I stopped speaking. I was sick. I almost starved to death.”

Thankfully, she recovered, but her ‘laser focus’ on things that interest her came to the fore with her climate activism. It takes sheer bloody-mindedness to sit outside a parliament building on your own, refusing to go to school, with the aim of putting the climate issue at the centre of the Swedish election debate. But her protest was a failure: the Green Party got just 4.4 percent of the vote and lost nine seats in the 2018 election. That was just a quarter of the vote for the right-wing populists, the Sweden Democrats, who stood against further environmental action in Sweden. (After months of wrangling in a very divided vote, the Greens remained part of a weak governing coalition led by the Social Democrats.)

As we see in the film, Thunberg’s fame continues to grow, however. Weekly school strikes under the banner ‘Fridays for Future’ spring up around the world. Greta is invited to speak at the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland. She is told she will be very lucky if she gets any time with the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, who is “very busy”. But in the next scene, they are side by side as he patiently listens to her short speech to a group of young campaigners. He was just the first of a long line of world leaders to find time for Greta.

Her speech in the plenary session is picked up by the media around the world and suddenly every politician in the world, it seems, wants to be seen with her. We see her chatting to Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, and hobnobbing with leading parliamentarians in the UK. Even the Pope wants to meet her.

But what is it about Greta that means they all want to be seen with her? She is rightly suspicious about whether governments are serious – in her terms – about climate action. She makes a funny point about the climate talks, pointing out that the only vegan options on offer there are rice and bulgar wheat, while the hamburgers have all been scoffed.

It feels like all they want is to be spotlighted, to make it look like they care, as if they are doing something,” she says.“They know exactly what to say, they know what sells. But in actual fact, they are doing nothing. If the solution to the climate crisis was changing tea bags for loose-leaf tea and eating vegetarian once a week, then it wouldn’t be a crisis.”

What Greta represents is, essentially, childish idealism: there’s a big problem and we just have to solve it. Adults are liars and robbing children of their futures. 

It’s no surprise that other children are inspired by her. But the desperation of politicians to be seen connecting with young people is rather embarrassing. And she is no more childish than the adult members of Extinction Rebellion, who really are old enough to know better and who cause far more damage with their petulant protests. It seems there are plenty of people with a black-and-white worldview when it comes to climate.

The trouble for Greta is that politicians are answerable to voters. And in almost every democratic test, green parties have been, and continue to be, a failure. Climate change is low among the concerns of voters across the world. When the costs of introducing cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are opened up to scrutiny, green policies are rejected.

Nonetheless, Greta is wrong to say that politicians are doing nothing. In fact, the biggest problem is that they are doing something: all the wrong things, clamping down on emissions without any sense of the problems their policies will cause.

The only way such policies are enacted is by taking the choice away from voters, either through undemocratic institutions like the EU, or by the creation of a consensus between the major parties. In the UK, for example, all of the major parties agree that eliminating greenhouse gas emissions – ‘net zero’ – is a worthy goal, and only argue about how quickly it should be achieved. Boris Johnson’s 10-point Green Industrial Revolution plan, launched today, is just the latest episode in a bidding war about which major party has the best green credentials. He certainly wasn’t elected to implement such policies.

Greta is useful to politicians as a means to curtail debate. We must listen to Greta! The rest of you must shut up! Think of the children! Climate-change policies are regarded as ‘above politics’ – which means that the rest of us don’t get a vote on them.

It would be easy to dismiss Greta as a hypocrite. After all, there she is on her MacBook Air writing her speeches, or sailing off on a trip to New York on a multi-million dollar yacht, Malizia II, to avoid flying. On the trip, she keeps in touch with her family by satellite phone, without apparent guilt about how the satellites got there. She’s created a global network thanks to the very energy-intensive internet servers that power social media.

But my feeling at the end of this 90-minute documentary was one of pity for her. Scare stories about climate catastrophe left her mentally ill in her childhood. She must live in a constant state of panic about future disasters – she seems particularly animated about mass extinctions – that have been blown out of all proportion by activists. As Bjorn Lomborg noted in his recent book, False Alarm: “We are not on the brink of imminent extinction. In fact, quite the opposite. The rhetoric of impending doom belies an absolutely essential point: life on earth is better now than at any time in history.”

Whether Greta, who will be 18 in January, remains a significant figure in the world as an adult remains to be seen. But I Am Greta should really be seen as a portrait of a terrified schoolgirl, frightened out of her wits by adults who should know better.


I Am Greta isn’t about climate change. It’s about the elusiveness of sanity in an insane world

Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism

Erich Fromm, the renowned German-Jewish social psychologist who was forced to flee his homeland in the early 1930s as the Nazis came to power, offered a disturbing insight later in life on the relationship between society and the individual.

In the mid-1950s, his book The Sane Society suggested that insanity referred not simply to the failure by specific individuals to adapt to the society they lived in. Rather, society itself could become so pathological, so detached from a normative way of life, that it induced a deep-seated alienation and a form of collective insanity among its members. In modern western societies, where automation and mass consumption betray basic human needs, insanity might not be an aberration but the norm.

Fromm wrote:

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

Challenging definition

This is still a very challenging idea to anyone raised on the view that sanity is defined by consensus, that it embraces whatever the mainstream prefers, and that insanity applies only to those living outside those norms. It is a definition that diagnoses the vast majority of us today as insane.

When Fromm wrote his book, Europe was emerging from the ruins of the Second World War. It was a time of reconstruction, not only physically and financially, but legally and emotionally. International institutions like the United Nations had recently been formed to uphold international law, curb national greed and aggression, and embody a new commitment to universal human rights.

It was a time of hope and expectation. Greater industrialisation spurred by the war effort and intensified extraction of fossil fuels meant economies were beginning to boom, a vision of the welfare state was being born, and a technocratic class promoting a more generous social democracy were replacing the old patrician class.

It was at this historic juncture that Fromm chose to write a book telling the western world that most of us were insane.

If that was clear to Fromm in 1955, it ought to be much clearer to us today, as buffoon autocrats stride the world stage like characters from a Marx Brothers movie; as international law is being intentionally unravelled to restore the right of western nations to invade and plunder; and as the physical world demonstrates through extreme weather events that the long-ignored science of climate change – and much other human-inspired destruction of the natural world – can no longer be denied.

And yet our commitment to our insanity seems as strong as ever – possibly stronger. Sounding like the captain of the Titanic, the unreconstructed British liberal writer Sunny Hundal memorably gave voice to this madness a few years back when he wrote in defence of the catastrophic status quo:

If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?

As the clock ticks away, the urgent goal for each of us is to gain a deep, permanent insight into our own insanity. It doesn’t matter that our neighbours, family and friends think as we do. The ideological system we were born into, that fed us our values and beliefs as surely as our mothers fed us milk, is insane. And because we cannot step outside of that ideological bubble – because our lives depend on submitting to this infrastructure of insanity – our madness persists, even as we think of ourselves as sane.

Our world is not one of the sane versus the insane, but of the less insane versus the more insane.

Intimate portrait

Which is why I recommend the new documentary I Am Greta, a very intimate portrait of the Swedish child environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Before everyone gets started, let me point out that I Am Greta is not about the climate emergency. That is simply the background noise as the film charts the personal journey begun by this 15-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome in staging a weekly lone protest outside the Swedish parliament. Withdrawn and depressed by the implications of the compulsive research she has done on the environment, she rapidly finds herself thrust into the centre of global attention by her simple, heart-felt statements of the obvious.

The schoolgirl shunned as insane by classmates suddenly finds the world drawn to the very qualities that previously singled her out as weird: her stillness, her focus, her refusal to equivocate or to be impressed.

Footage of her father desperately trying to get her to take a break and eat something, if only a banana, as she joins yet another climate march, or of her curling up in a ball on her bed, needing to be silent, after an argument with her father over the time she has spent crafting another speech to world leaders may quieten those certain she is simply a dupe of the fossil fuel industries – or, more likely, it will not.

But the fruitless debates about whether Thunberg is being used are irrelevant to this film. That is not where its point or its power lies.

Through Thunberg’s eyes

For 90 minutes we live in Thunberg’s shoes, we see the world through her strange eyes. For 90 minutes we are allowed to live inside the head of someone so sane that we can briefly grasp – if we are open to her world – quite how insane each of us truly is. We see ourselves from the outside, through the vision of someone whose Asperger’s has allowed her to “see through the static”, as she too generously terms our delusions. She is the small, still centre of simple awareness buffeted in a sea of insanity.

Watching Thunberg wander alone – unimpressed, often appalled – through the castles and palaces of world leaders, through the economic forums of the global technocratic elite, through the streets where she is acclaimed, the varied nature of our collective insanity comes ever more sharply into focus.

Four forms of insanity the adult world adopts in response to Thunberg, the child soothsayer, are on show. In its varied guises, this insanity derives from unexamined fear.

The first – and most predictable – is exemplified by the right, who angrily revile her for putting in jeopardy the ideological system of capitalism they revere as their new religion in a godless world. She is an apostate, provoking their curses and insults.

The second group are liberal world leaders and the technocratic class who run our global institutions. Their job, for which they are so richly rewarded, is to pay lip service, entirely in bad faith, to the causes Thunberg espouses for real. They are supposed to be managing the planet for future generations, and therefore have the biggest investment in recruiting her to their side, not least to dissipate the energy she mobilises that they worry could rapidly turn against them.

One of the film’s early scenes is Thunberg’s meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron, shortly after she has started making headlines.

Beforehand, Macron’s adviser tries to pump Thunberg for information on other world leaders she has met. His unease at her reply that this her first such invitation is tangible. As Thunberg herself seems only too aware when they finally meet, Macron is there simply for the photoshoot. Trying to make inane small talk with someone incapable of such irrelevancies, Macron can’t help but raise an eyebrow in discomfort, and possibly mild reproof, as Thunberg concedes that the media reports of her travelling everywhere by train are right.

Cynically insane

The third group are the adults who line the streets for a selfie with Thunberg, or shout out their adulation, loading it on to her shoulders like a heavy burden – and one she signally refuses to accept. Every time someone at a march tells her she is special, brave or a hero, she immediately tells them they too are brave. It is not her responsibility to fix the climate for the rest of us, and to think otherwise is a form of infantilism.

The fourth group are entirely absent from the film, but not from the responses to it and to her. These are the “cynically insane”, those who want to load on to Thunberg a burden of a different kind. Aware of the way we have been manipulated by our politicians and media, and the corporations that now own both, they are committed to a different kind of religion – one that can see no good anywhere. Everything is polluted and dirty. Because they have lost their own innocence, all innocence must be murdered.

This is a form of insanity no different from the other groups. It denies that anything can be good. It refuses to listen to anything and anyone. It denies that sanity is possible at all. It is its own form of autism – locked away in a personal world from which there can be no escape – that, paradoxically, Thunberg herself has managed to overcome through her deep connection to the natural world.

As long as we can medicalise Thunberg as someone suffering from Asperger’s, we do not need to think about whether we are really the insane ones.

Bursting bubbles

Long ago economists made us aware of financial bubbles, the expression of insanity from investors as they pursue profit without regard to real world forces. Such investors are finally forced to confront reality – and the pain it brings – when the bubble bursts. As it always does.

We are in an ideological bubble – and one that will burst as surely as the financial kind. Thunberg is that still, small voice of sanity outside the bubble. We can listen to her, without fear, without reproach, without adulation, without cynicism. Or we can carry on with our insane games until the bubble explodes.

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