Opinion

Saturday 24 August 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Climate change activists love making their empty gestures'

Campaigner: Greta Thunberg, second right, receives applause after addressing UK politicians in London on Tuesday
Campaigner: Greta Thunberg, second right, receives applause after addressing UK politicians in London on Tuesday
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

As revolutionary events go, it was all very respectable. The Irish branch of Extinction Rebellion, the self-proclaimed radical environmental movement which virtually shut London down last week, did their own sit-in on O'Connell Bridge last Friday.

They weren't going to leave until all their demands were met.

Until they all got bored and left, that is, their demands remaining sadly unmet.

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And what, precisely, were they demanding?

Well, we all know the drill by now.

Meat is not just murder but is destroying the planet, so they want us to cut down on beef and dairy.

That's a laudable principle that will meet with general approval, unless you're a farmer.

They want all sorts of new carbon taxes, which is a tougher sell to people who are already drowning under a variety of stealth taxes.

They want us to fly less or, even better, not at all.

In fact, the whole flying issue is so important that the reliably bonkers Emma Thompson flew in especially for the London gathering to warn against...flying.

In a brave two-fingers to logic or moral consistency, she also flew first class. Well, if you're going to help kill the planet, you may as well do it in some comfort.

The weird thing about these campaigners is that they don't actually seem to know just what it is they want. They say they have an "obligation to fight against tyranny", but there aren't any tyrants forcing us to use fossil fuels.

Some of the London-based agitators rather let the mask slip when they admitted that they want "an end to all capitalism".

Yes, capitalism, the evil system that gave them the social media tools they use to organise their protests and that produced evil companies such as Starbucks, which did a roaring trade during the London demonstrations.

I tried to point out the irony and hypocrisy to a climate-activist acquaintance the other day. I might as well have spent 15 minutes trying to explain the offside rule to a goldfish. That's because these people have an almost religious devotion to their cause and as we all know, religious people tend to be rather lacking when it comes to either reason or a sense of humour.

So it is quite appropriate that their new leader is Greta Thunberg.

The 16-year-old was treated to a hero's welcome in Westminster during the week and there was something quite nauseating in the way politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas fawned over their girl.

A strange sort of cult has sprung up around Thunberg and it should come as no surprise that cracks are beginning to appear in her halo.

Having found fame of sorts with her decision to bunk off school every Friday to stage a one-woman sit-in outside the Swedish Parliament, she has become a very modern celebrity - half Joan of Arc, half Katniss Everdeen.

But it now appears that what you might call a spontaneous display of adolescent truancy may have been a rather more orchestrated affair.

Her mother - a singer - happened to be releasing a book about her family life and climate change when her daughter started her campaign (Thunberg has addressed this on Facebook and said the timing of publication was coincidence).

Then, this week, a delightfully unseemly row broke out between her and former PR adviser Ingmar Rentzhog who may have used Miss Thunberg's image to raise funds without her knowledge.

That Greta Thunberg seems to be a remarkably annoying child is hardly in doubt.

That she is a remarkably annoying child who is being ruthlessly exploited by older people is also beyond question.

Both the media and politicians have a habit of using people for their own ends and then spitting them out when they're no longer of any use.

That can be very unpleasant to witness when it's an adult being exploited.

When it's a 16-year-old girl, it's morally repugnant.

Greta Thunberg obviously means well, but there is also something profoundly undemocratic in the way she scolds politicians for "being popular".

This is another way of saying they should ignore the will of the people and pay more attention to one teenager.

Climate activists, on the whole, have always had a remarkable ability to enrage the people they're trying to persuade and the last week has seen plenty of examples.

The irony is that they're pushing an open door.

If they chose to listen to people rather than simply hectoring them, they might realise that the rest of us oiks are well aware of the trouble the planet is in.

We're all aware of the need to change our consumption.

But if the Irish protesters wanted to be taken seriously, why didn't they go to the Chinese embassy on Dublin's Merrion Road?

After all, the Chinese are opening new coal mines every week and are now the world's biggest polluters.

But no.

Empty gestures and adolescent angst are obviously much more appealing to them.

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