Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, December 12, 2019

On Greta Thunberg: A Letter to my Non-Western Friends

Dear non-Western friends,

first of all, let me tell you that I understand your perplexity about Greta Thunberg. I understand how you see this latest stunt of the Western Media of naming her "Person of the Year." From your viewpoint, it looks just like another trick of the West, one among many. And I understand that it makes you even more suspicious that the whole story of climate change is nothing but a hoax created by the Western Empire to maintain its grip on the whole planet.

Yes, I understand. But I would like to ask you to make an effort to understand us, the Westerners. You see, sometimes I have a feeling that one of the characteristics of Hell could be that the people who are in it don't realize that they are in Hell. It would be truly wicked, but it was a Western poet, Baudelaire, who said that the best trick of the devil is to convince you that he doesn't exist. So, if Hell is a place where you are told lies about everything, including that you are not in it, then we Westerners are truly living in Hell, at least a certain kind of hell.

It is not just lies, it is the kind of lies. The Western media have evolved into a machine for manufacturing fear and hatred. Anyone, any group, any belief, can be destroyed by this machine. And you cannot do much to fight back. If you doubt the official narration, you are a conspiracy theorist. If you plead for peace, you are Putin's stooge. If you protest against your government, you are a terrorist. If you deny the role of the West in leading the world, you are a traitor. And, on top of that, most Westerners are convinced that propaganda is a thing of the non-Western world and that their media are free and independent. Indeed, Baudelaire was right.

Of course, don't make me say that the non-Western world is a Paradise of truth. All nations, all states, all cultures, have their biases, their filters, their entrenched beliefs, and, in many cases, their propaganda machines. Every one of us, Westerners and non-Westerners, sees the world through the filters that our culture, our traditions, and our media place in front of us.  But you, non-Westerners, have a possibility that's denied to us, Westerners. You can use English to peer into the Western media without being embedded in it. And, as I said, I understand that often you don't like what you see.

And so, we are back to Greta Thunberg. Of course, I understand that this girl is not a "grassroots" phenomenon as some might want to believe. She is supported by a top-class team of media experts, she couldn't possibly fight the Western Media Behemot alone. And I understand that her message may be misunderstood, mongrelized, and exploited for yet another round of greenwashing. I know that.

But that's not the point. It is how the appearance of Ms. Thunberg has been both amazing and unexpected. If she is a product of propaganda, then it an unusual kind of propaganda. It would be the first time in many decades that our media are presenting to us a message that's not based on the idea of something or someone evil to be destroyed. This girl crashed through all the media barriers with just a simple message: the truth about climate change. She wasn't telling us to kill or hate anyone, she was just telling us to work together to ensure that her generation could have a future. And she carried the message with an inner force, a way of posing herself, a capability of saying things straight that was nearly unbelievable. It is amazing how she attracted upon herself all kinds of insults, abuse, and curses, but nothing really stuck on her. You remember Ronald Reagan's "Teflon presidency"? Well, this girl is not just Teflon coated: she wears a Mythril armor like the heroes of the trilogy of the ring.

I understand that it is possible that this girl will disappear from the mediasphere in a short time, as it happens for most ideas over the Web, nowadays. But she may turn out to be something more, maybe not the specific person of Greta Thunberg, but in the message she represents. A strong message telling humankind to respect the things that make humankind live: our planet and all the living beings in it.

Let me tell you of something I learned not long ago when I was in Iran. It was the time of the Arbaeen, the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn ibn Ali, forty days after the Day of the Ashura. Someone told me (or maybe I read somewhere) that "Imam Husayn is a figure that we Shi'ites offer as a gift to the whole humankind as an example of virtue and of justice." And that struck me as something worth remembering. In all cultures, we have something or someone we revere as a treasure: a person, a poem, a work of art, a way of seeing the world. And these treasures, I think, we should share with the rest of humankind as gifts.

Now, of course, I don't have the authority to say what the entity we call "The West" should or should not do. For sure, we shared with the world plenty of poisoned gifts in the past. But this girl, Greta Thunberg, might be a true treasure, a gift we could offer to the rest of the world. For once, there would come from the West a message of peace and harmony. Could that really happen? Difficult to believe, sure, but it is a great hope.

Your friend from the West


h/t Chandran Nair


  1. Greta has managed to capture attention of the world by some fluke and has the uncanny ability to convey an old message convincingly. Even though message is more important than the messenger, and she realizes that, I for one am grateful that more people may begin to open their mind and help bring about transformation change (also in our minds) we need right now.

  2. Hi Ugo, for an interesting article examining the forces behind Greta Thunberg:
    And a more in depth study:

  3. >>She is supported by a top-class team of media experts

    Ha fonti attendibili a supporto della sua affermazione? Stando a Wikipedia:

    In May 2018, Thunberg won a climate change essay competition held by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet [questo spiega le doti oratorie di Greta]. In part, she wrote that "I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history?” The paper published her article after which she was contacted by Bo Thorén from Fossil Free Dalsland, a group interested in doing something about climate change. Thunberg attended a few of their meetings, and at one of them, Thorén also suggested that school children could strike for climate change. Thunberg tried to persuade other young people to get involved but "no one was really interested" so eventually, she decided to go ahead with the strike by herself.[...]

    In late 2018, Ingmar Rentzhog, who claims to be one of the first to publicise Thunberg's climate strike, asked her to become an unpaid youth advisor to his climate startup company. He then used her name and image without her knowledge or permission to raise millions for a WDHT for-profit subsidiary, We Don't Have Time AB, of which Rentzhog is the chief executive officer. Thunberg received no money from the company. She terminated her volunteer advisor role with WDHT once she realised they were making money from her name, stating "[I am] not part of any organisation… am absolutely independent… [and] do what I do completely for free."

    Da quest'ultimo episodio è nata però la balla di Greta "manovrata", o comunque supportata da "professionisti".

    A quanto ne so, i suoi unici consulenti sono gli scienziati con cui è costantemente in contatto e ai quali fa controllare i suoi discorsi per evitare errori e insettezze. Poi non so se il movimento FFF abbia i suoi "media experts", di cui beneficia indirettamente Greta. Certo l'ultima parola nelle sue decisioni l'ha sempre lei, c'è da scommetterci. :-)

    1. From what I can read on the Web, it seems clear to me that the initial support of Ingmar Rentzhog was essential to propel Greta to the attention of the media. Maybe now not anymore, but I am sure that a girl sitting on a sidewalk with a sign, alone, won't be noticed by the media unless someone creates some kind of PR campaign to focus the media on her. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the way things work and, as I said in an earlier posts, if you have to fight against tanks, you'd better equip yourself with something better than horses.

    2. BTW, Paolo. We made a specific memetic study on the diffusion of the Greta Thunberg meme. The results seem to be clear: she is a media creature, not a viral phenomenon. In other words, she was created by some external force.

    3. Se Greta non fosse genuina sarebbe già sparita dalla scena.
      Ho seguito con attenzione da più di un anno la sua evoluzione, attraverso interviste, discorsi pubblici e social, e non ho mai avvertito quel rumore di moneta falsa che caratterizza politici e personaggi costruiti a tavolino. L' "articolo" è autentico, e questo fa incazzare ancora più di più i suoi detrattori, che non possono fare altro che insultarla o sparare balle. I tweet acidi e patetici di gentaglia come Trump, Putin e Bolsonaro ne sono la riprova.

  4. My wife is from a village in Southeast Asia; her father was a logger who was destroying a precious rainforest before government regulations stopped him. I read your letter to her because I am in agreement with a lot of it, but she thinks the thing about Greta is that Greta is not essentially different from most teenagers, that teenagers are naturally stubborn and there are teenagers in every city who are just as outspoken and passionate about climate change. (When you think back to 1968, I note, teenagers were politically relevant only when they followed the college students. It's an age when you're smart enough to know what is important in life, but not necessarily how to intervene successfully in a corrupt system.)

    My wife feels that this love for Greta is the product of someone trapped within the chaotic media bubble which feeds on argument and despair, and that outside of the bubble we must look to adults who have spent their whole lives working on difficult accomplishments so that we can honor and evaluate them.

    I still like Greta for basically the reasons you describe in this letter but I hope I've conveyed to you that my wife has a lot of common sense as well.

    1. I am sure your wife has plenty of common sense! But from what you say, she doesn't basically disagree with me. We ARE trapped in a media bubble!

  5. Let’s be fair to Greta whether she is genuine or a stooge, it is likely her generation that will experience the worst of what is ahead. If only climate change were the problem. In fact, climate change may not be the worst immediate problem but that is what FAKE Greens want us to believe. They want us to believe that there are techno solutions if and only if we employ them. This means both employing and taking away. Yes, both so called green growth and green degrowth are touted as what will save us if we would only follow messages like Greta’s.

    Honest science that is not myopic with climate specialization, will notice that the trap we are in is both carbon and path dependent. The carbon trap is obvious to honest science. Renewables show no evidence of having what it takes to replace fossil fuels and maintain the status quo. Honest science points to the fact that renewables appear unable to grow large enough to eclipse fossil fuels let alone replace and self-replicating more renewables when they old wear out. There is also the inconvenient fact that the climate system has probably already been forced into a new paradigm with system-initiated carbon changes meaning human intervention at this point may be too late. The path dependencies relate to the fact we are trapped in behaviors and system that got us here. We may be able to change around the edges but a new system is likely only after the collapse of the current. Globalism that produces so much to support for overshoot of population and consumption has no alternative and cannot be greened up. The basis of globalism is energy intensity of value chains, transport and economies of scale based upon consumption these support large populations both in mega cities and rural areas.

    So, the climate argument is trapped in physics and economics. Economics is behavior based so how do you model irrational human behavior? This then goes to the heart of the issue of the message of Greta and its legitimacy. She is not acknowledging failure as she should. I she acknowledged failure and then said we must build life boats and hospices then she would be a true enigma rising above the tired human narratives of perpetual growth by whatever it takes. She could say that renewables are vital in extending out pain and suffering and degrowth is also vital in cutting out the fat that is waste. We need to quit bad behavior based growth immediately but doing so is self-destructive to globalism. She could say we need to choose polices that are proactive and preparatory for collapse and by doing that this ensure collapse will happen. This shut door is because once you pass through that door there is no turning back. Once growth policies green or brown are adapted to proactive and preparatory for collapse then globalism will end and with that overshoot will have to adjust to a level of stability far lower. This assures pain, suffering, and death.

    Greta deserves to get angry but she should study up on Kubler Roth and realize she is still stuck in the first 3 stages. This FAKE Green movement of techno solutions and sweetened degrowth fantasies will end in depression and once the acceptance part shows its head so much will have been wasted on the bargaining. Unfortunately, that is human nature so let’s just say Greta deserves to be angry and deserves to learn from her mistakes. Old 55-year-old people like me did the same and this is part of the reason we are where we are at. Some mistakes are to big to fix. Modern globalism is one of them.

  6. Hello Professor Bardi - Given your very apt and interesting article, do you see Greta as a phenom whose course will peter out per the 'Overton Window' (OW) predictions? She seems to have a pretty canny sense of charting her course, whomever is part of the coterie supposedly advising her. And at least thus far she appears to not be falling into the trap of celebrity and giant ego so much as maintaining a very consistent pressure on the jugulars of 'those with power', tempting as the fame and fortune possibility must be for her.

    She certainly is a very amazing voice in these dismal times and i would predict she will make a pivot that will continue to confound the biz as usual crowd and reset the OW for a new cycle for her. Thanks for another great article!

  7. I think this letter is very interesting: "Climate, Science and Mother Earth: Second Open Letter to Greta Thunberg"

    1. Please, Mia, this stuff is worthless, don't spam it further.

  8. Greta made an impact. I hope she continues to do so. Time Magazine and the rest of the mainstream will do their best to curate Greta in ways they wish. The ultimate goal will be to turn Greta into an environmental Noam Chomsky.

    Lots of Americans embrace Noam on Monday but then turn right around and embrace the status quo on Tuesday. The reason is because Noam was compartmentalized into one of those real smart guys who thinks in ideals. Greta can't be ignored so the thing to do is compartmentalize her as a kind, brilliant, and compassionate young lady who also thinks in ideals. People who think in ideals and can be safely ignored. That is the plan. Time Magazine is part of the deification of Greta into the ethereal realm of out of this world people. People who are personalities who exist for entertainment regardless their image or message.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)