Noami Seibt agrees that human activity is a factor in global warming, but believes that impact has been overstated. She rejects the notion that she’s a climate change denier, saying critics use the label as “a way to shut down people on the other side”.
With her slight frame, long blonde hair and converse trainers, German teenager Naomi Seibt might not seem the most obvious candidate to front the growing climate scepticism movement. But holding court at America’s largest gathering for grassroots Republicans, expounding her controversial views on global warming, she exudes an air of self-belief that belies her 19 years.
As Greta Thunberg brought her climate awareness campaign to the UK last week – speaking at a rally of some 25,000 striking school children in Bristol – on the other side of the Atlantic, Seibt, dubbed the “anti-Greta”, was propelled onto the world’s stage in Washington, making an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and firmly positioning herself as the new darling of right-wing climate sceptics.
Thunberg, now the general of a worldwide teen army, was named Time magazine’s ‘person of the year’ after berating world leaders for their inaction at a United Nations summit last year. A video of the Swedish 17-year-old glaring at Donald Trump went viral. Seibt, meanwhile, uses her YouTube channel to challenge what she calls the climate change “alarmism” espoused by Thunberg, and joined speakers including President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in addressing the conference this week.
When we meet at CPAC, it’s clear there is no love lost between Seibt and Thunberg, nor does the German teen crave the same level of fame Thunberg had garnered. In fact, she says, Greta’s cult-like status is problematic. “I think it’s wrong we let people like Greta Thunberg – who is a young girl, who has no scientific or economic experience – or politicians or celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, talk about a scientific topic,” she says.
Couldn’t the same criticism be levelled against her?
“I don’t want people to follow me unconditionally, as many do with Greta,” she says. “My message is: start thinking instead.”
As it happens, it was the school strikes popularised by Thunberg which first sparked her interest in climate change. Seibt says she spent months researching the issue after watching the youth protests become a weekly fixture in her hometown of Münster, in western Germany. Eventually, she came to the conclusion that “C02 emissions do not have this terrible impact on the climate”.
She started her YouTube channel last May, and since then her videos warning against climate change “alarmism” have received around 200,000 views. Her argument is that any policies need to be rooted in science, not emotion. She says buzzwords like climate “crisis” spread panic without “really addressing the issue”.
It was this online success that led the Heartland Institute, a US think tank that rejects scientific consensus on climate change, to recruit Seibt as the face of its campaigns.
When Thunberg was first propelled into the public eye, critics across the world questioned who was pulling the strings, assuming there must be a team of adult puppeteers behind her. This turned out to be unfounded – by all accounts Thunberg is a law unto herself – but Seibt’s activism is backed up by a free market think tank based in Chicago. The organisation has funded her trip to Washington, where she headlined the CPAC event called “defeating the climate delusion” on Friday.
“Man vastly overestimates his power if he thinks he can, with CO2 emissions, destroy the climate,” Seibt told the audience at CPAC. Heartland staff handed out black T-shirts with Seibt’s image and her signature catchphrase: “I don’t want you to panic. I want you to think.”
Seibt said she would welcome a “casual conversation” with Thunberg. “I wouldn’t want to debate her on the science,” she added, “because I don’t want to destroy her.”
But though Greta has been hailed a hero, Seibt’s new-found platform has come at a heavy cost. “In my hometown, even in my extended family, I have lost friends because of this,” she says.
When she gave a speech in Münster recently, thousands showed up to protest. “It’s very strange to think there are people protesting against me,” she says, “I wish they had just listened to what I had to say, but they don’t want to talk”.
She says she has also become a target for Antifa, the anti-fascist group, and regularly receives rape and death threats over the phone.
Her eyes well-up as she recalls how one prankster even dispatched a funeral director to her home. “We can’t really do anything about it,” she says. “We informed the police and they told me, as long as you’re not really harmed, we can’t really do anything”. The abuse has, understandably, also taken a toll on her mother Karoline, a lawyer who works from home, and her 14-year-old sister.
“My sister doesn’t want us to talk about things like climate change at home when she has friends over, because she fears that their parents might talk negatively about it. She’s scared of the backlash,” she says.
But Seibt insists she will not be cowed into silence (“That’s more terrifying to me”). After all, she says, she is used to sticking out from the crowd. A gifted student, she was fast-tracked through high school, graduating when she was just 16. She went on to start an economics degree at the University of Mannheim, but dropped out after one semester because she felt she had already done enough reading on the subject.
She plans to return to her studies one day, but for now has more international events planned as part of her work with the Heartland Institute. The think tank has close ties to the Trump administration, and its senior fellows include Dr William Happer, who was part of the White House National Security Council until last year.
Seibt doesn’t like being labelled as Right-wing, insisting she’s “independent of any party affiliation”. Instead she describes herself as a libertarian, but names Stefan Molyneux, a Far-Right Canadian YouTuber among her heroes. I ask if she hopes to meet Trump, who also spoke at CPAC yesterday . “I would absolutely love to meet him one day, if that’s possible somehow, I’ll definitely do it”.
Once back home in Germany, she plans to make more YouTube videos on climate scepticism to appeal to her own generation. “There are so many shows and YouTubers doing videos about the mainstream climate change views,” she says. “I would like to do the same for the other side.”
Seibt agrees that human activity is a factor in global warming, but believes that impact has been overstated. She rejects the notion that she’s a climate change denier, saying critics use the label as “a way to shut down people on the other side”. She even goes as far as to suggest that many of those promoting fears over climate change are in fact using it as a way to “control our lives”.