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Greta Thunberg and the Plot to Forge a Climate Warrior

Dominic Green, The Times

The teenage activist Greta Thunberg wants nothing more than to change the world. The shadowy cabal behind her has other goals.

Greta Thunberg aboard the Malizia II
Greta Thunberg aboard the Malizia IITWITTER/@GRETATHUNBERG

Greta Thunberg’s great American adventure has begun. Last Wednesday, she set sail from Plymouth like the pilgrims did, her Mayflower a zero-carbon but very expensive racing yacht; her goal not religious liberty but a camera-rich turn at the UN’s climate change conference in New York.

Meanwhile, on dry land, GQ magazine recently appointed Greta its “game changer of the year”, with a cover image in which the teenager, whether she realises it or not, strikes a stern, finger-pointing pose reminiscent of Lord Kitchener’s First World War recruiting poster and tells Britain’s feckless carbon-emitters: “To do your best is no longer good enough.”

Greta is just an ordinary 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl whose fiery visions have convinced the parliaments of Britain and Ireland to declare a “climate emergency”. Her parents, Svante Thunberg and Malena Ernman, an actor and opera singer respectively, are just an ordinary pair of parent-managers who want to save the planet. Query their motives and you risk being accused of “climate denial”, or of bullying a vulnerable child with Asperger’s syndrome.

Greta and her mother, Malena Ernman
Greta and her mother, Malena ErnmanMALIN HOELSTAD

However, the Greta phenomenon has also involved green lobbyists, PR hustlers, eco-academics and a think tank founded by a wealthy former minister in Sweden’s Social Democratic government with links to the country’s energy companies. These companies are preparing for the biggest bonanza of government contracts in history: the greening of the western economies. Greta, whether she and her parents know it or not, is the face of their political strategy.

The family’s story is that Greta launched a one-girl “school strike” at the Swedish parliament on the morning of August 20 last year. Ingmar Rentzhog, the founder of a social media platform, We Don’t Have Time, happened to be passing. Inspired, Rentzhog posted Greta’s photograph on his own Facebook page. By late afternoon, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter had Greta’s story and face on its website. The rest is viral.

But this isn’t the full story. In emails, Rentzhog told me that he “met Greta for the first time” at the parliament and “did not know Greta or Greta’s parents” before then. Yet in the same emails, the media entrepreneur admitted to having met Greta’s mother “3-4 months before everything started” — in early May last year, when he and Malena shared a stage at a Stockholm conference called the Climate Parliament.

Nor did Rentzhog stumble on Greta’s protest by accident. He now admits to having been informed “the week before [via] a mailing list from a climate activist” named Bo Thoren.

Rebecca Weidmo Uvell, an independent journalist, has obtained an earlier email that reveals Thoren, the leader of a group called Fossil Free Dalsland, was searching for fresh green faces.

In February last year, he invited a group of environmental activists, academics and politicians to plan “how we can involve and get help from young people to increase the pace of the transition to a sustainable society”. In May that year, after Greta won second prize in an environmental writing competition run by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Thoren approached all the competition winners with a plan for a “school strike” modelled on the walkouts by pupils after the shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida, a few months before.

“But no one was interested,” Greta’s mother claimed, “so Greta decided to do it for herself.”

Fortunately, Greta’s decision coincided with the publication of Scenes from the Heart, her parents’ memoir of how working to save the planet had saved their family. Unfortunately, Malena omitted to tell her publisher that Rentzhog had commandeered Greta’s stunt.

“We had a problem,” recalled Malena’s editor, Jonas Axelsson. “Journalists asked if it was promotion for the book. It wasn’t at all. It was a nightmare.”

It was, however, a dream for Rentzhog. He combined Thoren’s plan, Malena’s musical fame, Greta’s uncanny charisma and his social media platform’s mailing list. And that turned Greta into a viral celebrity.

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