Updated: Oct 16, 2019
We all have strengths and weaknesses. To many in the world, some of Greta Thunberg’s greatest strengths are her passion and fearlessness. To many of those same people, some of Donald Trump’s greatest weakness is his disdain for knowledge, expertise, and lack of humility. There are also many, many people who would not agree with any of these characterizations. To those that do believe both, however, I would caution that in our justifiable desire to encourage Thunberg, we may be instilling in her the exact characteristics so many of us find dangerous in Trump.
I would like to thank 3 of my friends for helping me develop the content for this blog – 2 of whom are young mothers and legal professionals, the third is a schoolteacher, one lives in Greater NYC, the second in Greater Minneapolis, and the third in the SF Bay Area.
A Pattern and Tone
I am making this judgment and providing constructive feedback having read transcripts and watched videos of Thurnberg’s most recent high-profile speeches, having been a moderately informed American political and current affairs enthusiast since the mid-2000s, and a reasonably informed follower of Donald Trump since a few months into his 2016 Presidential candidacy. I should also state that I only learned about Greta Thunberg a few months ago, and really wasn’t too interested until her most recent September 2019 speech at the United Nations.
I have found Thunberg’s speeches to mention quite a wide variety of climate-related topics: the famous 1.5 or 2 degree threshold, the concept of zero net-emissions, statistics on fossil fuel consumption, “sixth mass extinction”, acknowledgement of poor countries not positioned to lead…etc. By most standards this demonstrates awareness on a breadth that I think most would consider impressive for someone her age, if not those much older.
I’ve also noticed that she seems to feel by and large, adults and those in-power: 1) are not aware of these things, and/or 2) are not able to “solve” the problem because of selfishness, laziness, or maliciousness.
What I have found almost zero evidence of, is awareness of: 1) what efforts and solutions have been completed, under implementation, or being developed to address these challenges, 2) what are, and to what degree of tractability, are the scientific, technical, financial, political, security, social and moral dimensions of the numerous potential solutions to countless interconnecting problems, and 3) knowledge of and acknowledgement of those who are actually investigating solutions and solving problems.
A Point of Feedback
I’m glad that Thurnberg believes in the importance of science and the value of scientific consensus. But I would caution her and others to not over-weigh the actionability of scientific conclusions.
As an example, consider the difference between a physicist, an engineer, and a mechanic. All three of these disciplines require knowledge of one-another, but it doesn’t always mean an expert in one discipline is remotely qualified to add value in the other. The physics community helped humanity discover the laws of thermodynamics, the engineering community designs cars, trucks, and trains, and mechanics build and maintain these products for society. Just because one knows something is possible, doesn’t mean one knows how to make it happen. One is not easier than the other and is not more important than the other.
As a note not specifically to Thunberg, but to many of her biggest fans whom I believe are generally politically liberal, I would also propose, that this focus on the scientific community, whom are generally liberal, and not enough attention on the mechanic community, whom are generally conservative, is: 1) a source of self-inflicted frustration, and 2) motivated by the same destructive biases that can be found in the politically conservative against the scientific community.
A Point of Concern
Despite Thunberg’s focus on the problems (or at least the headlines, to my understanding she has not demonstrated real scientific expertise) and no demonstrated understanding of implementation issues nor the wonderous efforts by countless others, I’m noticing that she is being encouraged at every turn to bring about awareness using the most provocative language and body posture that I would characterize as purposely insulting and designed to bring about shame. There certainly could be situations where this tone is justified, but for someone like Thunberg, who again, has not demonstrated scientific expertise, or even awareness and empathy for engineering, mechanical, and other domains – this is highly inappropriate and dangerous, especially if we’re legitimizing and promoting this behavior by affiliating it with prestigious institutional endorsements.
Donald Trump should be commended for being one of the few political leaders who grasped the socio-economic challenges in our country, and his passion and fearlessness earned him a following. He also rose to fame not by demonstrating humility or curiosity in learning about the problems, but by using provocative language and body posture to purposely insult and accuse shame – implying his voice is the only one that matters, with no consideration towards acknowledging and learning from others.
Are we teaching our children, and inspiring in our public discourse, that disrespectful passion combined with cursory knowledge, and a voice that confidently insults but betrays shockingly low expertise, empathy, and gratitude, is how to engage in discussion and what we want in our leadership?
I would respectfully caution those who are promoting Thunberg in this manner, and using the following language not to be snide, but to reinforce a point using a term I have found anti-Trumpers use to express their frustration – be careful you’re not enabling Donald Trump in Greta Thunberg.
I’ll also acknowledge that if you’re an anti-Trumper who hates him principally for his positions and are just criticizing his style because it works, but have no problem with someone like Thunberg, whose position you agree with, taken on those same characteristics, then this blog’s message is not for you.
An Important Addendum
None of the aforementioned opinions deny that both Thunberg and Trump have in each of them, varying degrees of the best and worst of each other. This is true for any and all of us.
I’ve chosen to write on this particular topic because my impression is that those that make up the super-majority of my social circle are of the opinion that Trump’s lack of respect for knowledge and expertise, and disdain for humility is a key driver of his divisiveness. Given my personal reservations against Trump, and that I was brought up to try as much as possible to “be the change you want to see in the world”, I guess I felt a good way to contribute to the betterment of our national political discourse was to convey changes that “my community” can do to: 1) make ourselves better, 2) stop inspiring in others those behaviors we find dangerous, and 3) learn and perhaps teach a thing or two.