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Thunberg vs. Seibt: Assessing a Right-Wing Appropriation of the ‘Politically Engaged Youth’ Figure

By Francesca Rosser

Image credit: the Indian Express

From a realist perspective, conscientious issues have always been tackled in a one-up type of way within international relations. Whether this is nuclear weapons or human development, the right and left have always wanted to make their stance the most convincing, through innovative and exciting methods. However, with the rise of, “anti-Greta Thunberg”, Naomi Seibt it is evident that such a “relative gains” approach has gone too far.

To pit against experienced politicians and statespeople is an accepted part of IR, but to pit against two teenage girls is an affront to the female empowerment that we hope is the norm by 2020.

In recent years, climate change has increasingly come onto the world agenda. Significantly, the rise of Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg has taken the world by storm. Her honest and hard-hitting speeches have rightfully gained international recognition, urging parliaments and UN Climate Change Conferences to take immediate action to address the climate crisis. However, her unprecedented rise to fame has not only made her a leader in the environmental debate, but a target to right-wing critics.

Such criticism is embodied in the rise of Naomi Seibt. Last December, as Thunberg spoke at the UN’s global warming summit in Madrid, Seibt gave a rival speech merely a few miles away at a conference organised by the Heartland Institute. Historicallt, this US thinktank has been financed by fossil fuels and recognised for pushing anti-science theories about environmental change. One of its largest donors, the Mercer Family Foundation, is a key donor for Donald Trump. Thus, the promotion of Seibt and her belief that “climate change alarmism at its very core is a despicably anti-human ideology” is unsurprising.

Of course, to simply label Seibt as an “anti-Greta” is to overlook her other uncompromising views. Her own entry into politics began out of concern for rising immigration in Germany. Her earlier articles argue that criticising other cultures does not amount to racism, and has shown support for white supremacist Stefan Molyneux. She is clearly a rightist political figure in her own right.

Nonetheless, while Thunberg spoke at a rally of nearly 25,000 individuals in Bristol last month, Seibt appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and discounted Thunberg’s determination as simply perpetuating the “climate alarmist” ideology. Similar to what had occurred in December, Seibt was again used by the right to lessen the ‘Greta effect.’ Of course, this arguably shows the unoriginality of the right: climate sceptics choosing to promote their stance by emulating the left, through a young, female activist. Yet it also, most shockingly, suggests that the right view Seibt, just like how they view Thunberg, as a political tool. She is a puppet exploited to get their point across.

Such actions are dangerous, as pitting two individuals against each other always is. This is common in politics, but it only tends to be over specific issues. Of course, the same could be said for Thunberg and Seibt. The two clearly have conflicting views on climate change, but the fact that Seibt has undeniably gained international recognition as an “anti-Greta” suggests that a comparable figure is what the right were specifically trying to find. It is toxic and unacceptable, especially, in a world where teenage girls are constantly forced to compete and compare themselves to one another.

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