And it seems she has an understudy from New Zealand: a young woman named India Logan-Riley, who claims to speak for indigenous communities.
Logan-Riley, who is described as Maori, is part of the official programme in Glasgow. In her address at the opening ceremony she used highly emotive rhetoric reminiscent of Thunberg. “Six years ago I spoke these stories into this space and every year since I have repeated the same words – wildfires, sea level rise, wildfires, suffering, sea level rise, biodiversity loss, sea level rise.
“This is an invitation to you, this COP: learn our histories, listen to our stories, honour our knowledge and get in line or get out of the way.”
Setting aside the fact that she borrowed her punchline from Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ – “Your old road is rapidly agein’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand” (though without the old-fashioned courtesy of Dylan’s “please”) – her speech was notable for its overweening sense of entitlement and self-importance. Logan-Riley is certain she knows the answers and assumes the right to be heard, although where and how she got her mandate isn’t clear.
This is something she has in common with the disturbingly manic Thunberg, who makes no attempt to conceal her contempt for the politicians in Glasgow. “They have led us nowhere,” she told her besotted followers. “Change is not going to come from inside there. That is not leadership – this is leadership.
“We’re sick and tired of it and we’re going to make the change whether they like it or not,” she raged, before leading her disciples in a chant of “No more blah blah blah.”
Later, looking immensely pleased with herself and bathing in the uncritical admiration of her fans, she sang “You can shove your climate crisis up your arse” to the tune of Coming ‘Round the Mountain.
But here’s the thing about people like Thunberg and Logan-Riley. They can afford to be contemptuous and disdainful of those in power, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to come up with practicable solutions to the challenge of climate change.
Thunberg and Logan-Riley can posture, moralise, ridicule and pontificate for all they’re worth, knowing they don’t have to bear any personal consequences for decisions made (or not made, as the case may be).
No one elected them and they’re not accountable to anyone. At the end of COP-26 they can walk away and start planning their next attention-seeking stunts. This is the crucial defining difference between the noisy, know-it-all activists and the politicians, who have countries to worry about and voters to answer to.
I doubt that the thought of collapsing economies and massive social dislocation keeps Thunberg awake at night, assuming that it even occurs to her. But these are factors politicians must weigh in deciding how far to go in countering climate change. Thunberg, on the other hand, just wants action, regardless of the human cost.
For all their glib talk and showboating, the politicians she disparages have to live with the consequences of whatever they decide. In that vital respect they are the moral superiors of Thunberg and her moronic followers. It’s a shame the fawning media coverage doesn’t reflect that.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.