Bully mammoths

In America, they’re already apologising. A spokesperson for Fox News said comments broadcast by the network were “disgraceful”. Earlier, a guest had called Greta Thunberg a “mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left”.

In Australia, it doesn’t matter. The Murdoch press ridicules Thunberg’s age and mental health. They express anger at her for telling the truth. In Miranda Devine’s column, Thunberg is an “autistic Swedish schoolgirl” and a “prophet of climate doom”. Devine likens her reasoning to that of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. She calls the speech Thunberg delivered at the United Nations sad and frightening.

“Someone should be arrested for child abuse,” Devine writes. “It is grotesque that a child, already emotionally vulnerable due to her condition, has been so indoctrinated by adults … But she does believe it with all her heart. She has taken literally the cynical scaremongering of climate activists who deliberately are using children as human shields in their mission to destroy capitalism.”

In the news pages of The Australian, Thunberg is described as unusual. Her autism is listed, along with her obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism. It is suggested that her activism is a ploy to help her mother sell parenting books. “Could her leap into the limelight have had less to do with chance than a masterful publicity campaign?”

More than anything, the Murdoch press has made it possible for the government in this country to do nothing on climate change. Its campaign against carbon pricing was embraced by Tony Abbott before he became prime minister. Emissions have risen every year since 2014. As with all Murdoch campaigns, winning is all that matters. The scale of damage is of no consequence.

Thunberg is a useful distraction. The old men who doubt science can join together in hating her youth. Maybe it comes easily because it was learnt in the schoolyard. These columnists are bullies and it is most plain when they are bullying a child.

Scott Morrison says he wants children to be positive about the future, although he does nothing to secure one for them. He wants young people to know they will have an economy to live in. “The worst thing I would impose on any child is needless anxiety. They’ve got enough things to be anxious about,” he says. “We’ve got to let kids be kids. We can’t have them growing up as mushrooms, but we’ve got to get a bit of context into this.”

Morrison blames negative media attention for the criticism Australia receives over its climate inaction. He says what’s important is “practical environmentalism”. He wants to focus on fishing plastic bottles out of the Pacific.

The truth is he has no plan. He does not intend to approach the urgent action necessary to stall climate change. While his supporters in the press mock Thunberg, his own actions ensure that the future she fears is the one in which her generation will be forced to live.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 28, 2019 as "Bully mammoths".

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