It is not easy being famous – especially if you are a child.
Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden, knows this as well as anyone, and she admits as much during the just released documentary film by Hulu, I Am Greta, which chronicles one year of her life when she becomes the world’s best known political activist fighting climate change.
To be clear, this film is about the meteoric rise of Greta Thunberg. It does not discuss science. It is not about the veracity—or lack thereof—of man-made global warming. It makes no scientific or scholarly defense of climate change assertions.
The film starts out with Greta, then age 15, sitting by herself in front of the Parliament building in Stockholm, Sweden with a sign, “School Strike for the Climate.” It is fall 2018, just prior to that nation’s elections where she hopes to have an impact. People start to take notice of her, and she makes news.
Greta’s impact on the Swedish elections, the film shows shortly thereafter, is basically nil. The environment was not a high priority, a newscaster is heard saying, as she intensely watches the returns from her home.
“Politicians don’t have a single clue about this [climate] issue,” Greta sighs.
Her efforts, though, are not in vain. A United Nations official named Niclas Svenningsen of the UN Climate Secretariat soon calls to invite her to speak at the upcoming climate conference at Katowice, Poland in December. This is Greta’s big break, and she will soon thereafter become widely known. At the conference, she sits next to UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres himself, who listens politely to her brief and pointed remarks. Before she spoke, the film shows her appalled that the conference is serving meat and dairy.
The film shows Greta’s subsequent travels throughout Europe in 2019, including Brussels, where she visits the European Union; Paris, where she meets with the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, who is congenial and charming; and Rome, where she gets brief face time with Pope Francis walking by. Former A-list actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, also makes a vapid cameo appearance in a sit-down with her.
During her travels, Greta participates in protests to demand action on the climate, and she is the main attraction. The crowd in Vatican square repeatedly chants “Go Greta! Save the planet!” Her message is consistent: The planet’s tipping point is imminent; climate change is an existential threat; change is (supposedly) causing floods, hurricanes, droughts and deforestation; species are dying; carbon emissions must be reduced immediately. She rebukes political leaders who “failed us” and are “behaving like children.”
The film concludes with Greta’s triumphant arrival by sailboat to New York City for the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019. It shows excerpts of her well publicized “how dare you” speech, which was more petulant than prior occasions. Her patience was wearing thin, evidently. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she says, and accused the planet’s political class of “betrayal.”
The film ends by displaying the growing climate protests where 7 million people have participated, but that the world has failed to live up to the Paris Climate Accords. It’s quite an amazing year, in fact, for Greta Thunberg. Time magazine recognized her impact by making her “Person of the Year” for 2019 (omitted from the film).
This film struck me in several ways that go beyond the extraordinary public appearances and rapid celebrity status attained by this teenager, especially since it came about not for being on a hit television show or movie, or in a rock band.
Greta Thunberg is a political activist, and very insightful for someone so young (but for her narrow understanding of climate change). She seems not at all wowed by famous and powerful people. She sees through many in the political class by their lack of seriousness and hypocrisy on climate. Her famous boat trip across the Atlantic Ocean seemed a publicity stunt, except she genuinely views air travel as anathema to fighting climate change, in contrast to every other celebrity climate activist.
It seems like politicians “never heard of the climate crisis because they are not treating it like a crisis,” she said. “All they want is to be spotlighted to make it look like they care as if they were doing something. They know what to say; they know what sells. But in fact they’re doing nothing.”
Plenty of UN bureaucrats, politicians and celebrities in fact want to deal fatuously with climate change by curtailing fossil fuels and controlling the economy and lifestyles of everyone else. To that end, they are happy to be seen with–and to exploit–Greta. Unlike most people, the moneyed and powerful will evade the resultant costs and disruption.
Lastly, the film provides a confirmation about Greta Thunberg that I’ve suspected and written about. She is a sad and burdened figure to be pitied. The film does not sugarcoat this, and contains several poignant, revealing moments, including being open about her Asperger’s.
Greta’s interest in climate appears to have begun by watching a skewed, exploitive film in elementary school. “That was when I started getting depressed; I got anxiety and stopped eating and stopped talking.” This teenager really believes the world is threatened. Asked about not being in school, she says, “Why would I need an education if there is no future?” (It should be noted the film later shows her academically excelling among her classmates.)
Though esteemed worldwide, Greta seems not to have any friends her age. Rather, she bonds with her dog and her family’s horse. Greta admits, “I don’t like making small talk with people or socializing. I go quiet.” While the film at times showed a mirthful side of her, she was mostly morose. On the boat while crossing the Atlantic, she is in tears lamenting, “It is such a responsibility. I don’t want to have to do all this. It’s too much for me, around the clock.”
This famous, but lonely, often unhappy individual, still only 17 years of age, has a long life ahead. We should hope Greta Thunberg’s fame from climate hysteria does not ruin her adulthood as celebrity youth status did to so many others.