Brendan O’Neill

In praise of the bands that said no to Greta Thunberg

In praise of the bands that said no to Greta Thunberg
Text settings

My faith in rock music has been temporarily restored. According to the manager of The 1975, the execrable essay/song that his band recorded with diminutive doom-monger Greta Thunberg had previously been rejected by other bands. By ‘bigger artists than The 1975’, he says. He means this as a criticism. Like, ‘How dare these artists turn down the opportunity to work with Greta??’. But I think it’s brilliant. Saying No to Greta and her establishment-backed moaning about the man-made cataclysm that will shortly devour humanity yada yada is the most rock’n’roll thing you can do right now.

The 1975/Greta hook-up really is the most dreadful dirge. Over ambient piano music Greta intones about the end of the world. Natch. It is the usual mix of ageism and fearmongering we’ve come to expect from certain quarters of the eco-movement. ‘Older generations have failed’, says Greta, doing wonders for intergenerational relations. Apparently ‘we are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people’. Amounts? If Greta and the other green school-strikers had attended lessons, instead of bunking off to complain about humanity’s wretched impact on the planet, she might know it is ‘numbers of people’, not ‘amounts’.

It’s unlistenable. Who switches on their Spotify or goes to a gig to be lectured about how destructive humankind is? It reminds me of the time I went to see Radiohead, years ago, and Thom Yorke instructed the audience to buy George Monbiot’s latest book to find out what a mess we’ve made of Mother Earth. That brought to mind Noel Gallagher’s comments on Yorke: ‘No matter how much you sit their twiddling, going, “We’re all doomed”, at the end of the day people will always want to hear you play “Creep”. Get over it.’

So the fact that ‘big artists’ rejected the offer to turn Greta’s essay into a song is heartening. There is nothing remotely rebellious or even very interesting about being an eco-doom-monger. It’s the most mainstream thing you can be. In her 1975 essay/song, Greta calls for ‘civil disobedience’ and says ‘it is time to rebel’.

Who does she think she’s kidding? This is a young woman who has spoken at Davos, been feted by political stiffs across the globe, and who is shortly setting sail for the United States on a sixty foot racing yacht. Anyone who thinks that is rebellion is in urgent need of a dictionary.

It is time more adults said No to Greta. It is time grown-ups refused to listen to her simplistic and depressing message. Like the right-wing politicians in France who boycotted her talk at the French parliament. Okay, they went too far on the insults. One referred to her as a ‘guru of the apocalypse’. Another said she is ‘the Justin Bieber of ecology’. But their instinct was right: why should elected politicians, actual adults, nod along and cheer to the fear-laden speeches of a child?

None of this is Greta’s fault. I actually feel sorry for her. She is, in my view, being used. She is being pushed to the forefront of the eco-doomsday cult in order to give this flagging misanthropic creed a dash of youth and freshness. The problem isn’t Greta. It’s the adults who really should know better than to encourage a young girl, who has autism, to believe that ‘the house is on fire’ — that is, the Earth is on fire — and that we might all soon die. Who pumps a child, any child, with such dread and fear? Shouldn’t adults inspire children rather than clap and whoop as children effectively say, ‘I’m so, so scared’?

Right now there are fewer things more embarrassing, and sometimes even nauseating, than the sight of politicians and officials and celebrities going all goggle-eyed for Greta’s prophecies of calamity. It has all the ingredients of a cult. The wise godhead; the uncritical, wide-eyed acceptance of everything she says; the predictions of hellfire if we don’t atone for our eco-sins. What a lot of hysteria. For the good of public life, and for the good of Greta herself, let’s call an end to this infantile fearmongering and try to get back to reasoned debate. Those rock stars who said ‘Nah’ to Greta’s essay have shown us the way.