Climate Change Rhetoric, Hope, and the “Brainwashing of Children”

Climate Change Rhetoric, Hope, and the “Brainwashing of Children”

So a few weeks ago, when I posted the article about Greta Thunberg and the complexities of (self-)censorship, we got a whole bunch of trolls popping in on that article when I advertised it on Facebook. The next week I published a response from an AS follower to some of those trolls’ views. This week I’m finally getting around to analyzing some of the troll rhetoric myself. In this blog post I’ll look at the ways in which the themes of young people being “brainwashed Hitler Youth” conveniently plays into unhealthy rhetoric that climate change naysayers unfortunately fall for and perpetuate. I’ll dive into the rhetoric of the theological views as well as the scientific ones. And as always, I’ll encourage you to keep speaking up on behalf of healthy views.

Why I’m Publishing This Now

I know not all readers will practice the Christian liturgical season of Advent, but I particularly wanted to publish this analysis just now because this will come out on the first Sunday of this season. The traditional theme of the first Sunday of this season is about hope, and promise, in the midst of dire times.

To me, Greta Thunberg’s climate movement—and so much of the other grassroots civic engagement I see emerging these days toward looking out for the common good—is such a sign of hope for me. As I described in an earlier piece, both as a Christian and a scholar of stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I believe Greta Thunberg’s success at speaking truth to power shows that one person can make a difference and that negative self-fulfilling prophecies and self-censorship can get in the way of better things happening.

Signs of Hope

Indeed, the reading from Isaiah (2:1-5) that many churches will read from today is about swords being beat into ploughshares, and spears into sickles—in other words, about cultivating and promoting growth and healthy outcomes from the planet as opposed to creating tools for war. Which is exactly what the climate change awareness movement is asking for.  

As someone raised in the Christian faith and with these rich Scriptures, I find it’s so weird—and, frankly, hypocritical—that so many of the Christians I know are joining in with the cynical rhetoric saying young people who are trying to follow such similar aims are automatically being “brainwashed.” As I’ve described before, I actually find that to be antithetical to the spirit of the Christian understanding of these holidays that are about finding hope through new voices coming from young people.

Grieving and Fighting Unhealthy Rhetoric

And yet the season of Advent is as much about exploring and mourning—and, indeed, countering—the unpleasant side of the “not yet” as well as making room for hope and promise of better things. And so that’s my goal in the remainder of this post.

So Let’s Talk About This “Brainwashing by ‘Liberal Educators’” Thing

One of the interesting threads that kept popping up among the trolls was the idea that Greta Thunberg was being “brainwashed” by a propagandistic system of “liberal educators.”

It didn’t just stop there, though. These trolls were explicitly suggesting Greta Thunberg was part of a Hitler Youth-type system. As I’ve discussed before, Nazism is a real thing—and a highly unhealthy thing in its natural form. It’s also something that’s easily used to demonize groups that have diametrically opposed views to those of fascistic Nazism.

To cut to the chase, that whole demonization of groups with diametrically opposed views to those of fascistic Nazism thing is just completely the case here.

Undermining the Scientific Experts

See, to believe that “liberal educators are brainwashing Greta Thunberg, just like the Hitler youth” involves saying that peer-reviewed consensus after rigorous checks and balances among academics and researchers is automatically some sort of evil authoritarian conspiracy with dire outcomes.

And that simply doesn’t play for a lot of reasons. Let me briefly list a very few:

  1. Nazism was a totalitarian dictatorship with no room for dissent. Anyone who’s ever been to an academic event of any kind knows that academics, including scientists, dissent from one another left and right. Any agreement that’s reached only comes through a lot of testing and disagreement first.
  2. Nazism’s philosophy ended up committing genocide. Climate change activism based on scientific consensus is designed to save lives threatened by climate change. Profits of big businesses may be threatened, but no actual lives are at stake.

Science and Carefully-Reached Consensus

So yes, with these differences laid out, it should be clear that the scientific program behind climate change consensus or near-consensus is actually really democratic in many ways, in that it makes space for dissenting opinions.

The problem of course for many climate change denialists is that the people coming to consensus on the matter aren’t asking everyone’s opinions on the matter. But that doesn’t mean that the consensus is not hard-fought or valid. It is certainly not at all the same thing as unreasonable tyranny passed down from some sort of totalitarian regime.

In fact, the fact that these scientists keep speaking up even though their reports keep getting squashed by powerful corporations and governments is a good sign that these scientists are not themselves totalitarians. Which is an excellent sign that the comparison between climate science and Nazi Germany is incredibly inaccurate.

Climate Activism—Shockingly Not Genocidal

By the same token, there is no threat to life from climate activism based on this science. In fact, lives are being taken by the current state of things.

Cynical Theological Perspectives?

One of the most disturbing lines of specifically theological reasoning that I’ve seen among climate change denialists is that these lives are being taken as part of “God’s will,” which means to try to make things better involves going against God. As may be guessed from in the statements I made about Advent above, it should be clear I see this line of reasoning as a sort of cynicism and burnout disguised as piety.

The Theologies of Care for People and for the Earth

I know that before on this blog I’ve called out some of the issues in some of the people I was raised among in a moderate denomination, but here I stand completely with the denomination I was raised in. That denomination has a crisis response branch that tries, not shockingly, to save lives and provide relief in the midst of hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and tsunamis. It also has a statement strongly affirming care for the world and careful stewardship of its resources.

These are parts of my denomination from my youth that align thoroughly with many many mainstream theological views within Christianity, and they are carefully based in interpretations of the Bible. The denomination actually doesn’t see these as in conflict with the views of science.

Greta Thunberg as Championing Hope

Through the lens of the theology of my youth, Greta Thunberg is fighting on the side of hope, of love, and of promise. She is calling out powerful oppressive leaders who are hurting people and refusing to accept interpretations that class their actions with those of God’s.

In fact, she is asking them to stand to account for loving their neighbors as themselves. In short, she acts as an assertively prophetic voice offering hope in bleak times when many have little hope.

Definitely Not a Tool of Totalitarians

Whether or not we approach the topic of climate change and related activism through any Christian lens, may we all see that Greta Thunberg is incredibly far from being a tool of totalitarians that are trying to hurt people.

Those who are saying she is a tool of totalitarians, on the other hand…they maybe ought to carefully analyze their own group for signs of fascistic rhetoric.

A Call to Join Her in Speaking Up

This much is clear: with the voices of so many bullies spreading such unhealthy rhetoric, more voices are needed to ensure the bullies don’t have the loudest voices.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! May we all do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap toward a literally healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Need More Resources to Deal with Conflict?

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Climate Change Rheto…

by DS Leiter Time to read: 6 min