‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words’ is perhaps the whitest thing anyone has ever said at the UN. What is the correct answer? Is it (a) Go to your room? Or is it (b) Forgive me, to make it up you, Daddy and I are going to set the entire course of human civilisation on a new track?
The correct answer — if you want to see your name in the Times or get a slot on CNN, and if you want to avoid getting mobbed by climate cultists — is of course, to apologise, mortify the flesh, shove tofu plugs into your every orifice, hail Greta Thunberg as the most radical and relevant UN debutante since Yasser Arafat, and then praise the pigtailed prophet of planetary paranoia for ‘staring down’ the dark emperor of pollution, Donald Trump.
The emissions you can smell aren’t carbon, but methane. If you watch the footage, Greta leans forward excitedly at Trump’s approach. It’s almost as if she’s expecting he’ll do the same as every other leader, and seek her blessing, like the MPs who declared a ‘climate emergency’ for her, or Jean-Claude Juncker, the unelected president of the EU, who made a show of kissing her hand when she came to pour brimstone on Brussels. But Trump keeps going, completely oblivious, and obviously with more important things to do than to kiss her ring.
How can you stare down someone who doesn’t even know you’re there? Magical powers. The acclamation of Greta Thunberg is as profoundly irrational as the millenarian cult of purgation and redemption that she advocates — puritan in its authoritarian demands, lascivious in its sensitivity to pain. The intrusion of this kind of sub-religious foolishness into politics is always a bad sign. It shows that we are in an environmental crisis, and that the world is coming to an end. But which environment, and which world?
The environment that is dying is the liberal democratic order in which we live. The world that is coming to an end is political: the post-1945 order, led by the United States. The form of Great Thunberg’s protest is familiar to any student of medieval Europe, the civilisation that produced the Children’s Crusade and Joan of Arc. The content of her protest is a deliquescence of Protestantism into narcissistic terror.
‘We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth,’ says Greta. She was five years old when the wheels came off the European economy in 2008, and stole the dreams of a generation. The Swedes, like most other Europeans, have given up on procreation. Their demography is sustained by massive immigration which, their leaders tell them, is necessary in order to maintain the tax base and the welfare system.
Environmentalism is for rich white people, and so is life without religion. ‘The eyes of all future generations are upon you,’ Greta threatens. ‘And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.’ This is prophetic, and pathetic too, in its faithless Lutheranism and reverse predestination.
The visionary child speaks on behalf of every unborn generation. She knows what the future will say, and who will be saved and who will be damned in memory. If only she could apply it to something useful, like prognosticating the result of the Kentucky Derby and using the proceeds to build a vast geodetic dome so that the elect could survive in a benign microclimate while the sinners wheel their recycling bins to the lip of the burning pit, then climb in and tip themselves into the flames.
‘You come to us young people for hope? How dare you!’ Greta says, as if she’s reading Nietzsche on her boat trip cross the Atlantic. This anger is as close as she gets to the morbid heart of the environmental sub-religion. But the people she cites are explicit that economic growth must be stopped, and population growth too. No air-conditioners for the Indians, no children for the Africans. Hence Bernie Sanders’ semi-senile admission that the ‘saving’ of the planet on terms amenable to wealthy white lefties will require population control — in effect, a global programme for the sterilisation of non-white women. Greta, of course, doesn’t talk about the dirty stuff.
An earlier angry Euroteen, Fred Nietzsche, noticed that there is always something filthy and furtive about a prophet. ‘Whenever on earth the religious neurosis has appeared,’ Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil (1886), ‘we find it tied to three dangerous dietary demands: solitude, fasting and sexual abstinence’. Greta came to New York in the ostentatious solitude of a racing yacht. In her auto-hagiography, she describes how she stunted her growth by starving herself. She is a child bride, betrothed to the earth as in some tedious Nordic saga.
‘What was eccentric and sick in his nature,’ Nietzsche wrote of his prophet, ‘with its fusion of spiritual poverty, faulty knowledge, spoilt health and overexcited nerves remained concealed from his own eyes and from the eyes of those who looked at him. He was not an especially good person, even less an especially wise person, but he signified something that exceeded all human measure of goodness and wisdom.’
A culture without purpose seizes on a false prophet because she signifies a faith that it has lost. This is why the cult of St Greta attracts converts in the affluent classes of western Europe and North America. American pollution and carbon emissions have been falling for decades, and the majority of the world’s pollution and carbon emissions come from India and China, but the stations of her martyrdom are in Stockholm, London and New York. Not just because the Chinese police would make short work of her and her PR handlers if they tried any nonsense near the Great Hall of the People, but because this daft circus only means something in the decaying West.
As with all apocalyptic visions, the sure way to turn them from warnings to realities is to follow their prescriptions. If Western governments commit themselves to zero-growth economies and demographic wastage, they’ll quickly collapse beneath the twin challenges of Asian economies and mass migration. Our environments will be ruined and our world ended — just like Greta said. It would take a heart of unmelted ice not to laugh.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.