Greta Thunberg needs to get a grip.

The celebrity teen climate activist addressed the United Nations and excoriated the assembled worthies for coming “to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Someone may have stolen her childhood, but the guilty parties can’t be found at Turtle Bay. A 16-year-old from Sweden, Thunberg thundered, “I should be back at school on the other side of the ocean,” which would have been easy enough to achieve, beginning with not taking two weeks to sail across the Atlantic last month in a jet-travel-eschewing publicity stunt.

Rich Lowry mug

Rich Lowry

Greta Thunberg is the leading edge of a youth movement against climate change — including a global climate strike last week — that is being promoted and celebrated by adults who find it useful for their own purposes.

Kids are powerful pawns. The catchphrase “for the children” has a seductive political appeal, while kids offer their adult supporters a handy two-step. The same people who say, “The world must heed this 16-year-old girl” will turn around and say to anyone who pushes back, “How dare you criticize a 16-year-old girl.” (I can feel the tweets filling up my mentions right now.)

There’s a reason that we don’t look to teenagers for guidance on fraught issues of public policy. With very rare exceptions — think, say, the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who was a child prodigy — kids have nothing interesting to say to us. They just repeat back what they’ve been told by adults, with less nuance and maturity.

Much of the climate advocacy of young people boils down to the plaint that all parents know well: “I want it, and I want it now.” As one headline on a National Geographic story put it, “Kids’ world climate strikes demand that warming stop, fast.”

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Behind the foot-stomping is the idea that a long-running global phenomenon can be quickly stopped, if only adults cared as much as the kids. This fails to account for such recalcitrant factors as costs and complexity, but when do children ever think of those? (And who can blame them? They’re children.)

Instead, the youthful climate activists claim they’ve been sold out by their elders. Greta Thunberg put it with her usual accusatory starkness at the U.N.: “You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”

This is laughable. By no global measure of social and economic well-being have we failed kids. According to HumanProgress.org, the global poverty rate fell from 28 percent in 1999 to 11 percent in 2013.

Life expectancy increased from 63.2 years to 71.9 years from 1981 to 2015. The completion rate for primary school increased from 80 percent in 1981 to 90 percent in 2015. The same benign trends hold for hunger, child labor, literacy and so on.

If climate change proves a significant challenge, today’s youth will have more resources and technology to grapple with it than any other generation in the history of mankind.

Of course, the adults they listen to don’t tell them any of this. Instead, they feed the kids a diet of apocalyptic warnings that children repeat back as if they were urgent insights. One speaker at the youth climate rally in Washington, D.C., last week said we have just 18 months — yes, only until the beginning of 2021 — to forestall irreversible environmental harms.

According to National Geographic, “More than a few teens who began as fervent activists have dropped out, citing depression, anxiety and other fears that the world’s leaders will not act in time to prevent their lives — and the lives of their children — from being irretrievably altered by climate change.”

This is nuts, and it’s the adult enablers who are ultimately responsible. As for the kids, they’ll be all right. One day, they will grow up, even in a warming world.

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Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry.


(22) comments


Imagine being so mad that you write a letter to the editor about a sixteen year old girl who is trying to keep the planet from being destroyed because you're too stupid to believe the overwhelming scientific consensus and do something about it. Truly childish would be to ignore the data and spend your time criticizing those calling for change rather than making change. Searching for a reason the Tribune would even print this garbage.


Lowry is not writing a letter to the editor. He's a nationally syndicated political columnist as well as editor of National Review.


Right wingers have no shame. I have read today of conservatives making fun of Greta because of her youth and her Asperger's. Right wingers get a lot of practice rationalizing bad behavior and bad opinions.


Lowry does have a point. This girl is being used as a pawn. Teenagers, by and large, don't know what they're talking about, and just parrot what their elders teach them. Kids are used by all political factions to promote their causes; it's a time honored tradition.

We should pay attention to the facts about climate change and Humanity's part in causing it. I, for one, don't need to watch some teenager's rant to get the message.


a sad day indeed Montee, when the kids act as adults, and the adults are acting like kids.


I agree up to a point, Montee. I don't need it, either, but I don't think anybody should sit on a kid for expressing an opinion. I recall my much younger sister, long after I was out in the world supporting myself and building a career, as a teenager being inspired by Earth Day and teaching my parents, avid gardeners both born on farms, the importance of composting. They bought into it, composting for as long as they had gardens. One of my younger sister's sons is now an instructor who helps communities with ecological planning. She still composts. I, not entirely thrilled about it, am tasked with turning our compost pile weekly by my gardening wife. So youthful enthusiasm should be encouraged, but it should never be exploited. I listened to this Swedish girl's speech to the UN, and I thought it was a bit too practiced. The anger that she expressed seemed melodramatic rather than authentic. Did she help the cause she represents? Beats me. But what do I know?

A Veteran

oldphoney did you start your career before or after( according to sources) of hiding in Canada from the draft during the Viet Nam war???????


You got me dead to rights, A Veteran (of no known military unit). Two days after I graduated from college, I went to Canada. I went to see Expo 67 in Montreal. Marvelous time. The week after that I started my first post-college job back home, and stayed with the same company for the next 45 years. And though I had to work my way through, college was relatively cheap then, and I graduated without owing a dime and money in the bank. It was a different time in history. What "sources" do you consult, by the way? It would appear to be Ricky. I guess that is what makes you such a go-to guy for information and profound thought that all of the rest of us so treasure, though certainly I should not pretend to speak for crank.


The girl as you put did this all on her own volition. She got her parents to change their lifestyles with the power of her own determination. Her mother is an opera singer. Greta got her to quit using airplanes. She gave up her international career because of her daughter. Greta is a fiercely determined young woman. She has Asperger's Syndrome but is not mentally ill. Our president is the mentally ill individual. You could learn something by paying attention. Though I doubt you will.


"You could learn something by paying attention. Though I doubt you will."............ That was really lame, PhysicsIsFun. It contributed nothing to the conversation.


"contributed nothing?" that's because monteee you haven't been paying attention.


Lowry hates teenagers ,Rock and Roll and whatever else. As a card carrying member of the Orange Carcass Clown Posse, who can blame him ,right?


Has anyone ever seen Lowry tell us what he thinks the world should do about global warming -- a problem he acknowledges here? I have seen him repeatedly spurn all plans forwarded about mitigating for the problem, but I have never seen him commit himself to any sort of plan of action. It is easy to snipe from the sidelines, but apparently he is afraid of being sniped by being honest himself about there being a problem and an effort to take it on. That goes ditto for most of the deniers and conservatives who populate these comment boards.


The thing that often bugs me the most about conservatives is how they dismiss people who say things they disagree with as lightweights and immature. Conservatives think they are the grownups, but what they are are people who only see things their way and look to belittle all who disagree.


Lowry's toxic logic is EXACTLY what today's youth are complaining about. But he doesn't care what kind of world he leaves behind as long as he and his ultra-rich pals con continue to make money.


Mr. Lowry, how dare you!


Lowry may be an adult but his argument is childish. He may be correct that standards of living are high and that's great and all, but that's not even the point. If we are achieving higher life expectancy and a wealth of material pleasure at the expence of a crashing ecosystem and a planet warming up too much then none of that really matters. Rich knows that of course. The Tribune can surely find a better columnist to print. This guy is a hack.


Oh big tough Lowry takes on a 16 tear old from Sweden. Bad mouthing a young girl who wants a better world, a cleaner world, and a world worthy for future generations. Must make Lowry feel like a big tough guy brow beating the young women. Meanwhile Lowry ignores the corruption going on in the White house, and the war talk going on in the middle east and the plethora of other important issues facing this country. Instead he focuses on a 16 year old. Such a big man with little hands.

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"Vet" why don't you ever have anything constructive to add? Delete your account.

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Deep thoughts by A Veteran. Do you ever make a reasonable point or are you too busy name calling to do that? You and Ricky are a toxic sludge of stupidity.


You just fell into their level. There are about 5 of you that “we” read and laugh at you. You are my entertainment. If you don’t think your one of them....

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anytime fake veteran types a post he reminds me of hemorrhoids, good for nothing and a pain in the but. Preparation H does a lot more good in this world than fake veteran/ricky boy ever will.

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