5 october 2019

Romesh Ranganathan: I was cynical about Greta Thunberg’s voyage, but she’s upsetting all the right people

She’s angry and passionate, and the role model my three sons need right now

Romesh Ranganathan, The Guardian, Sat 5 Oct 2019 07.00 BST

I’ll own up: I was sceptical about Greta Thunberg. When it emerged that she was becoming the figurehead for environmentalism, I scoured the news for signs that my suspicions were well founded. The speed at which information is distributed these days means that people are hailed as heroes for the slightest of things. A few years ago, a woman giggling while wearing a Chewbacca mask went viral, and she was declared the saviour that society needed. Toy shops started sending her more stuff to laugh at, and people posted things like: “This woman is life” and, “This video made me forget about the horrors of child slavery.”

It was with this cynicism that I started reading about Thunberg. This, surely, was another case of social media identifying a cause célèbre and giving them way too much credibility. I was even a little snooty about her boat trip to New York, not because I didn’t think it was admirable, but because the message that many people would have taken from this symbolic journey was: “From now on, it will take a month to get to New York, and you’ll have to crap in a bucket.”

But then I got over myself, and looked at what this girl was doing. In a time when many claim children are apathetic and self-involved, here is a girl who has put her life on hold to try to save the world. She is angry and passionate, and as our world descends into discord and lava, she is the role model that my three sons need right now.

The most compelling argument in support of Thunberg is that she is upsetting twats. Dinesh D’Souza, the far-right filmmaker, compared an image of her with her hair in plaits to Nazi propaganda. Middle-aged men on the right have been denouncing her as a tool of the left, and claiming that she should have more respect when speaking to world leaders. My own TV profile has left me open to a lot of trolling on social media, which can become tiring and frustrating. But this is just a fraction of what Thunberg has received, and not gradually, over time: she has exploded into the public consciousness. She gets horrendous comments about her Asperger’s, for example, rather than: “Why is this unfunny gimp on everything?”

This has taught me an important lesson when it comes to our boys. Not only will I be engaging with them about how the world needs saving, despite my doubts that this is still feasible, I will also talk to them about how Thunberg is someone to be admired, and encourage them to be passionate about issues close to their heart. It would help if those issues were important, because my son recently launched a speech with a similar level of passion as Thunberg about how he should be allowed to have both pick’n’mix and popcorn at the cinema, which if filmed could easily have gone viral.

Finally, I will share with them the fact that I was cynical about Thunberg, and explain why cynicism is not always a good attitude. I was distrustful of her because she seems too good to be true. I feel bad about that. And, while I want the boys to be questioning and inquisitive, I would love for them to be less of a misanthropic idiot.

Although, truth be told, it probably doesn’t matter, as we most likely have only about six years left.

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