Keep children out of political activism

Damian Sanchez | Columnist

It has now been roughly two weeks since Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, addressed the United Nations on the 23rd of September. The 16-year-old seemingly took the news cycle and the United States by storm, and became an even greater overnight sensation than she already was weeks prior. 

Thunberg was praised by sympathizers of her message as a voice for a voiceless generation and a necessary scolding voice, championing the planet’s future. Public figures have rushed to praise her; figures such as Samantha Bee, Leonardo DiCaprio, and even former President Obama, who said of her in an Instagram post, “At just 16 years old, Greta Thunberg is already one of our planet’s greatest advocates.” However, as is true for any astronomical rise to fame, there will inevitably be detractors. 

And it has clearly come. In spades. Detractors have characterized the 16-year-old as a pawn for agenda driven climate-change activists and assert that she is meddling in a topic out of her intellectual capabilities. In regards to Thunberg’s speech, Rich Lowry wrote in the conservative National Review, “Kids are powerful pawns, there’s a reason that we don’t look to teenagers for guidance on fraught issues of public policy.” Meanwhile, Fox News apologized for guest Michael Knowles of “The Daily Wire” who called Thunberg mentally ill, saying he would never appear on the network again. 

It is at this point that I must clarify that I do not assert that children should be kept out of political activism because I agree with Thunberg’s detractors, but because I wholly disagree with them. The unspoken rule that children were immune from ad hominem attacks for their passions and opinions has evidently gone to the wayside on the political right. 

There is, however, a grain of truth, though wholly distasteful in its delivery, to the message of her detractors: Thunberg is swimming out of her depth. Climatology is an incredibly difficult science that requires an advanced degree of study and understanding of scientific data to be able to fully comprehend; study and understanding Thunberg does not yet possess. Yes, it is understood by most that Thunberg is not portraying herself as an authority on the subject, but rather a child who, like most of us, takes it on the authority of credible, learned scientists that climate change is indeed a threat of apocalyptic proportions. 

But that is not what her detractors see. And as long as they do not see her or any other child as an emotional appeal but as a sad attempt at an authority on the subject, they will continue to treat them as political pawns and attack them as disgustingly as they have to young Thunberg. But finally, is it not irresponsible, to some degree, for us to put children out to pundit slaughter on national TV and before the UN world stage? Especially when there are perfectly brilliant and competent Ph.D. experts on the subject that can withstand the scrutiny and promote the truth far better than any 16-year-old?