Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate change activist, took the world by storm after pictures started circulating the internet and various Swedish local dailies. After she addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each.
Her activities were mostly successful until she came under the public spotlight and people started recognising her for the flamboyant and courageous stance against climate change.
That is when detractors started dismissing the Swedish climate activist as mentally ill, hysterical and a millennial weirdo after she pleaded with world officials to address the climate crisis.
It is not a rhetorical accident that critics of Greta, who is nearly 17-year-old, almost always refer to her as a "child." This infantilisation is invariably accompanied by accusations of emotionality, hysteria, mental disturbance, and an inability to think for herself – stereotypically feminine labels which are traditionally used to silence women's public speech, and undermine their authority by people much older.
When Greta was named Person of the Year by Time magazine for her forthright, uncompromising climate activism that has captured the world's attention, US President Donald Trump was not happy. He went as far as calling the choice "ridiculous". The president griped that the teenager activist should "work on her 'anger management' problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend."
Given the seriousness of scientists' climate warnings, some may feel threatened by a teenager who has clearly understood and faced up to the trouble we are all in.
It was a near replay of his response in September when Greta charged the audience at the United Nations Climate Summit with stealing "my dreams and my childhood with your empty words." At that time, Trump tweeted sarcastically that Greta seemed like "a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future."
Both the tweets reveal the same pattern of mockery where other middle-aged politicians from the right-wing have chimed in with the bandwagon trying to hamper Greta's credibility.
But in reality, can we expect a plausible answer from the same people who are verbally abusing Greta if asked about the things they have done during their careers to tackle climate change? The answer is, we really cannot.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested climate change fears were a type of pathological disorder. Following Greta's UN speech, he declared that the climate debate subjected children to "needless anxiety" and suggested they needed more "context and perspective" on the issue. "We've got to let kids be kids," he said.
So far, Greta has shown restraint, staying mostly above the fray.
Greta has sternly castigated world leaders for not doing enough to combat the climate crisis and memorably stared down Trump at the UN General Assembly in September. She has been open about her diagnosis of Asperger's, calling it a superpower that helps her activism. The extent to which Greta's activism has been prejudiced by the right-winged politicians is neither something to boast about nor is it a topic of discussion.
She was not too keen to put a smile on anyone's faces or to make sure no one felt offended with the remarks she made. She did not try to be nice either when she confronted world leaders at the United Nations. She did not defer or smile. She did not attempt to make anybody feel comfortable.
That is the strength of Greta Thunberg's unbreakable spirit, who, amid all the ridicule and demotivation from world leaders, managed to retain her conviction and continued to do the good work she does.
The generation that failed to fix the climate
In 1988, George W Bush vowed to "fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect."
That did not happen. In fact, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Bush famously declared that "the American way of life is not up for negotiation," and there goes the dream to fix the climate out the window.
As a result of numerous mishaps by then world leaders, the newer generation that followed is suffering.
Interestingly, the various changes in climate started during the late 1960s – the generation when world leaders took no stance to fix the problem they have created. They refused to accept the truth that the world is in peril and the wounds require to be taken care of.
Now, many decades later, in 2019, when the millennials have finally taken steps to make climate change a global issue, the older generation is taking the issue out of context by resorting to verbal abuse.
Instead, Greta has done more than the collective effort invested by world leaders all these years. Her activism ranges from travelling across the Atlantic to reach New York on a zero-emissions yacht, accompanied by her father and a supporting crew. It took her over two weeks to reach her destination but she left a footprint – one that matters.
On September 20, Greta walked with millions of protesters in New York City to demand climate action at the New York City Global Climate Strike. The demonstration became the largest climate protest in history with a total of 4 million people marching all over the world.
Greta joined 15 other young climate activists to file an official complaint that five countries - Argentina, France, Germany, Brazil and Turkey – have not honoured their Paris Agreement pledges and have therefore violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty.
The thing that is worse than trying to break someone's confidence is world leaders trying to verbally abuse a teenager working towards a positive impact – a stance so strong that threatens people who could have taken the same stance at least three decades ago.