We Turned Greta Thunberg Into An ‘Influencer’ And Now We’re Paying For It

October 9, 2020 By Justin Lessner

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is putting all of us on blast but not for what you might expect. She wasn’t speaking directly about our leader’s failed attempts to combat climate change or our personal inability to make small changes to benefit the Earth. Instead, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist basically came for us and our obsession with celebrity culture, and to be honest – we kind of deserve it. 

Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival, Thunberg said that world leaders would rather pose for photo ops with the now world-famous climate activist, instead of actually trying to reduce environmental destruction and create a healthy planet for future generations. 

“Instead of focusing on the climate and listening to the scientific message, people are instead listening to and talking about me,” she told an audience during a virtual event at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). 

The more you think about it, Thunberg has a very valid point about celebrity culture overshadowing the issue itself.

Our obsession with celebrities and what they’re doing, where they’re going, or what they’re wearing is truly distracting us from the global battle against climate change. Society’s attachment to celebrity culture is drowning out the climate change movement at a time we need it the most – as wildfires rage across the Western United States and in the Amazon, floods inundate Japan and Nicaragua, and record-breaking droughts are leaving millions at risk of famine.

At the premier for her Hulu documentary, Greta, Thunberg said that celebrity culture distracts from the global climate change movement by crowding out red flag warnings from the scientific community. 

And she’s right. How many of us are guilty of talking about Leonardo DiCaprio and his generosity rather than the actual issues he is working to fight, such as greenhouse gas emissions and factory farming? Even with Greta Thunberg, so often the focus is on her age, her social life, or even her “gift” of living with Asperger syndrome, rather than the issues she is championing in her activist work.

Thunberg even admitted that her own documentary should have focused more on the issues of climate change instead of her.

Thunberg is the subject of a Hulu documentary called Greta that traces the activist’s path from school strikes in Sweden to being a climate change superstar for a global movement. But Thunberg says that the film’s director, Nathan Grossman, should have focused less on her and more on the climate crisis itself. 

However, the film does speak to Thunberg’s larger point of celebrity culture and it’s detrimental effect on all of us and our efforts to combat environmental destruction. She added she hopes the film will “really show how absurd it is.”

Obviously, celebrity and influencer culture play an important role in inspiring people to take action. But when the stars themselves become the talking points, the movement has lost the battle. And with an entire planet and billions of people hanging in the balance, Thunberg is right to ring the alarm.

Thunberg has a long history of calling out inaction – especially among people who are elected to actually do something.

One of Thunberg’s most talked about moments came when the 16-year-old activist gave a powerful speech addressing the United Nations and criticized world leaders for not doing enough to reverse the environmental crisis. She basically accused some of the world’s most powerful leaders of using her as a prop, saying “It just feels more convenient because if you pose next to a climate activist, you say you care about the climate and don’t have to do anything.” 

Now, she’s trying to drive that same point home to the rest of us. 

It’s incredible that there are celebrities working behind the scenes, donating hundreds of millions of dollars, and helping create global initiatives to help create a healthier planet. But we need to keep our eyes on the all important objective – of reversing environmental destruction – and not get distracted by the day-to-day activities and actions of celebrities and politicians. 

Thunberg herself admits that celebrities – although oftentimes distracting – have a place in the global climate change movement. She said that celebs have the influence “to help turn individuals into movements.”

Thunberg has long made it her goal to make sure that climate change is the actual issue people are talking about.

Last year, at an awards ceremony in Berlin, then 16-year-old Greta did not mince words.

We live in a strange world… Where a football game or a film gala gets more media attention than the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. Where celebrities, film, and pop stars who have stood up against all injustices will not stand up for the environment and for climate justice because that would inflict on their right to fly around the world visiting their favorite restaurants, beaches, and yoga retreats.“

However, it wasn’t all shade. She also implored the celebrity audience for their unique star power in helping inspire the world to take action. 

“People see you celebrities as gods, you influence billions of people, we need you, you can use your voice to raise awareness about this global crisis. You can help turn individuals into movements, you can help us wake up the leaders and let them know that their house is on fire.”

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