As a Bristolian, something that I’ve been asked a lot recently is what I thought of Greta Thunberg’s visit to Bristol. Bristolian’s and non-Bristolian’s alike have been curious to know my thoughts on Greta’s visit. While opinions on Greta are rather divided, this is my own personal take on things.
Who Is Greta Thunberg?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, by now most people are familiar with the Swedish climate activist. Assuming you really have just clambered out from under a hulk of limestone, Greta made fame by encouraging fellow students to take a day off from school to protest against climate change. Greta has mixed reactions all over the globe, with many inspired and impassioned young (and older) people joining in with strikes, and some world leaders criticising her for not pursuing her education.
Perhaps most controversially, Greta made fame by taking to the podium at the 2019 UN General Meeting and challenging world leaders to take a stand against climate change. Her words “how dare you” became a statement of both empowerment and a subject of mockery.
Why College Green?
Something that media failed so well to cover was the significance of College Green. Why, of all places, is College Green so important for protesting? Is it because of the college?
While you’d be correct to guess that College Green is indeed near one of our college campuses, College Green is in fact directly outside Bristol City Council’s main offices. The curved structure with the fountains that acted as a backdrop for Greta’s speech houses, amongst other important people, our MPs. In spite of her speech being made on a cold, rainy day in February, the location that she made her speech in was strategically perfect for getting her voice heard. Kudos, planners. Kudos, Greta!
What Was It Like On The Day?
A lot of Bristol’s central-based employees are still reeling over the blockades caused by Extinction Rebellion’s climate protests. Protests in Bristol are generally held without causing hold-ups to the traffic, and so upsetting the status quo like this caused a lot of ill feelings.
Bristol City Centre houses 5 hospitals (including the children’s hospital), an oncology centre and a heart unit, so the carnage caused when emergency services couldn’t get through it caused a lot of upset. When this impacted young children who couldn’t access necessary treatments, Bristol became angry.
When it came to Greta’s visit, there was a lot of anxiety that it would be more of the same. People had witnessed arguments between protesters and members of the public and they were keen not to see it again. Extinction Rebellion had left a lot of litter (or so I’ve been repeatedly told) and so people didn’t want to see a repeat of that mess. There was the traffic hold-ups, the hospitals, and the numerous people who worked in or around the centre who would struggle to go about their day.
For the most part, Bristol settled into a sort of acceptance. Greta was there, “the kids” (of which about 40% were actually adults) were doing their thing and everyone else was doing something different. People generally understood why, but they didn’t all feel the need to drag themselves out to protest – especially not on a cold, rainy day in February.
After the protests, a lot of people complained that College Green had been left as “a mess” or “a mudbath”, and fundraisers were set up to help fund the repairs for the damage. Perhaps most interestingly enough, only a week later and the grass has dried out somewhat and started to shoot through as green grass again. The attendees didn’t trample the flower beds, and the organisers compacted litter to make it easy for the waste disposal teams to take away. Town did still run smoothly, albeit very, very slowly. Another +1 for Greta Thunberg!
What Do You Think Of Greta Thunberg?
I wrote a now-deleted piece last year following Greta’s UN appearance in which I pointed out that her aggressive tone may not make world leader’s want to listen. Unfortunately, I was right as both Trump and Putin later mocked the poor girl. In my time speaking to those older and more knowledgeable than me, tone and demeanour are amongst two of the most powerful tools that you can use if you want to be listened to. Greta’s passion, care and enthusiasm is great, but her delivery to people in power could perhaps have been a little different. Her ability to lead the collective is nothing short of admirable, but I would still strongly advise her to stay in school, strengthen her knowledge and interpersonal skills and lead with cold, hard facts. Having studied climate change myself at college, I would encourage her to conduct a few experiments in her field and let her statistics speak for themselves. People listen more when the only person you are quoting is yourself, and you lead, rather than lecture.
When I saw Bristol Post’s video of Greta disembarking the train at Bristol Temple Meads, what really struck me about her is how demure and unassuming she is. I didn’t see a 17-year-old who was bold, confident and ready to whip up a furore, instead, I saw a young girl in a knitted hat who wanted to get off of the platform as quickly as possible and to be left the hell alone. It seemed clear to me that Greta is quite uneasy with all of the press coverage, and that, perhaps, was the saddest part of all. Away from the podium, she actually seems like an incredibly anxious, reserved young woman.
If you listen to Greta, really listen to her, she doesn’t even want you to copy her and she doesn’t want to be seen as a role model. Greta wants to inspire us to take action against climate change, however that is and whatever you can do. Greta’s point is not to provoke a monkey-see, monkey-do pattern, she simply wants you to step up and do something for the planet. Protests are great, but they don’t mean so much if you drive to and from the event and then feast on McDonald’s afterwards. I’ve never been to a climate protest as I find large, noisy crowds very challenging. However, I do recycle, I do eat a lot less meat (especially red meat) and I decided not to learn to drive in favour of more affordable, more environmentally-friendly options. You don’t need to protest or sail the seven seas in a carbon-neutral yacht, you just need to do whatever you can to cut down your carbon emissions, as much as is reasonably possible.
Do You Think Greta Is Being Manipulated?
There is an ongoing conspiracy theory that Greta Thunberg is being manipulated, either by her mother or left-wing media. While I personally don’t jump onto conspiracy theories without seeing some solid evidence, I do find it at least interesting.
The first thing a lot of naysayers like to point out is that Greta is the daughter of Malena Ernman, the Swedish opera singer who appeared on Eurovision in 2009. Some would have you believe that Malena is angry about not having won Eurovision and is now exploiting Greta to make fame through her reputation, but is that the truth? Who knows. It would be nothing if short of awful for a mother to behave that way, but without any evidence, nobody has the right to point the finger at anyone. Is she being exploited by the media? Having experienced first-hand how manipulative the media can be, I would say that the second scenario is possibly more likely, but nobody really knows for certain.
As I mentioned above, Greta doesn’t appear to be comfortable with being centre of attention. As much as I think she is an inspiration for young people to follow their passions, I also think that she needs to be permitted to move at her own pace. Greta has Asperger’s Syndrome and people with Asperger’s Syndrome can find other people exceptionally difficult to deal with. If Greta is going to continue to lead and inspire for generations to come, then Greta also needs to be allowed to inspire at a pace and in a way that she feels comfortable with.
Did you see Greta’s visit? What did you think?
Until next time,
Stay safe & have fun,