The Curious Case of Jeremy Clarkson vs Greta Thunberg

I have been called a fence sitter by many people over the years, and I am in a sense that I always try and see both sides of a story. By the same token, I do tend to have an opinion on things, which is sometimes polarizing.

You have probably heard of Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist from Sweden who has made waves with her School Strike for Climate and her work with Extinction Rebellion. She is someone who is so passionate about what she believes that she even convinced her parents to make changes, including going vegan and stopping flying.

Then there is the other person who is mentioned in the title of this piece and you have probably also heard of Jeremy Clarkson, co-host of the Grand Tour and writer for The Sun newspaper in the UK. Most recently he has had this article published in the newspaper, which brings me to the topic of the title of this piece.

I respect Greta Thunberg’s passion for what she believes. I also think its a very good thing to be passionate about. The environment of our little blue marble sees itself getting more out of control and more and more we see our most powerful individuals turn a blind eye. It is a bit sad that a lot of people still don’t care enough about keeping our world habitable and in modern society, it is very easy to take a lot of what we have for granted.

“I’m sorry Ms Thunberg, but if you’re going to lay into my generation, you must accept it when I lay into you and yours.” Started the retort from Mr. Clarkson. Whilst he rightly went on to list a lot of things we all take for granted, and I am quite sure even Greta Thunberg would even take a lot of the modern conveniences we have for granted too, he also takes something of a fight fire with fire approach. He makes a lot of decent points about education and learning genuine ways to help combat climate change, but he does so through calling her a spoilt brat. You can’t accuse someone of being spoilt because they’re having “a tantrum” by responding with a tantrum! I mean you can, but why should anybody take it seriously?

Now I can agree, that the way she addressed the UN this past week was, for want of a better word, unsavoury. Her (what I shall call) “How dare you?” speech lamenting on how her, and I’m paraphrasing here, dreams and childhood are ruined and that her audience only talk of eternal economic growth, whilst not entirely unfounded I would say, is also aimed at the wrong people. “Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!” she blasts. Yes, yes we do. We as people of the world have made a lot of mistakes, it is true, but politicians can’t make change without a plan. And yes, we rely on the young scientists doing real research to make those plans. Yes, many of us all wish things could be different, but addressing people in outright anger, regardless of applause, is not going to change anything.

Extinction Rebellion has said its piece and done what it needs to do, yet still we see days of blockades in major cities and worldwide protests. What are they achieving? Many of us are painfully aware of the situation at hand, and those who don’t want to listen aren’t going to change their minds because you inconvenience the common people. If anything, by attacking the wrong people you create more rifts in the debate. 

We live in an age where anger seems to topple all, from social media all the way to the mass protests we keep seeing and even from the media, all we see is anger. Everyone is angry at someone. We see it in many topics. We see it in discussion about Brexit. We see it in discussion about Donald Trump. Social media has very little constructive debate and an awful lot of throwing angry comments and we all know how much they get done. Surely, then, we can’t expect anger-induced speeches and angry retorts from the newspapers to have any effect either.

We all need to take a step back, find some civility and address each other with respect, no matter how wrong we might think the other side is. But truthfully it feels like prominent figures welcome the angry ranting, rather than the constructive discussion. It was welcomed in the UN with thunderous applause. It was welcomed in The Sun in an angry retort. We see it in our parliament buildings on a daily basis.

Free speech is great. We can all say what we want, how we want. And people are allowed to retort to anything you say in any way they see fit. That is how free speech works. You’re allowed to disagree with everything I say here, and I am allowed to stand by what I say. But we all need to take a moment to take some responsibility for our self respect, and respect for others and then, maybe, we might see some change.