Media Must Take Responsibility For Greta Climate Panic – OpEd


For years, the media told us that Greta Thunberg was driven by a love of nature. As I noted yesterday, it’s now clear she is more driven by a hatred of capitalism. Overconfident and smug, Thunberg inadvertently let her green mask slip at a book event in Britain. Now, some in the news media are turning against her.

The marketing of Greta Thunberg by her parents and cynical media elites over the last three years was appalling. Thunberg became the primary vehicle for an anti-human, pro-scarcity, and anti-capitalist agenda that contributed significantly to the energy crisis ravaging Europe.

Thunberg’s defenders say she was a model of youth engagement. What she did required courage, they say. We should applaud her. 

But Thunberg incited panic, made outrageously false claims, and triggered a wave of climate anxiety. 

“Around the year 2030,” she said in 2019, “we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it.”

Thunberg repeatedly attacked the two main sources of emissions reductions, nuclear energy, and natural gas.

Nuclear is “extremely dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming,” she said, at the very moment Germany, Belgium, and Sweden were shutting down nuclear plants.

Thunberg repeatedly encouraged dangerous behavior. “I want you to panic… If standing up against the climate and ecological breakdown and for humanity is against the rules then the rules must be broken.”

Two days later, two male Extinction Rebellion protesters stood on top of a train, to block it from moving forward, in the London Tube. Angry commuters kicked and beat one of the young protesters and another young man filming the event.

I was frightened by the scene and watched it several times. My thought each time was that the commuters could quite easily have killed the two men. Many in the crowd were gripped by a sudden, uncontrollable fear and wildly unthinking behavior. In other words, they were in a panic

Time and again, Thunberg used fear and anger to bully people. “This is all wrong,” she screamed at the U.N. “I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!”

Thunberg’s behavior over the last three years was obnoxious. Her parents should never have allowed it. Her handlers and hosts should never have allowed it. Instead, they encouraged it and smeared anyone who dared to raise concerns about it.

It was clear from the beginning of Thunberg’s stardom that she suffered from an anxiety disorder, and yet she, her handlers, and her parents all suggested that it stemmed from her profound concern over climate change. That turned out to be a lie.

Thunberg’s mother admitted as much in 2020 when she decided she needed to publish her own book. The media lapped it all up without ever asking: is this healthy psychologically for the Thunbergs and the rest of the society?

Of course, it wasn’t. Thunberg, more than anyone else, contributed to a wave of climate anxiety disorders.

And yet the media egged her on and insisted that anybody who dared question whether it was ethical or healthy for the world’s most influential teenager to urge panic was a “climate denier” who was somehow psychologically threatened by a child. The gaslighting was grotesque.

Let’s be clear about what occurred. The news media weaponized a teenage girl suffering from severe anxiety disorders to advance a radical, anti-capitalist agenda. That’s textbook psychopathic behavior: lack of empathy, lack of control (panic), and anti-social behavior.

And they’re not done. Thunberg Inc. and the media are now delivering her up as a savior from the mass psychopathology they created. You couldn’t make it up. This isn’t just cynical it’s also inhumane.

At this point, it’s pointless to blame Thunberg and her handlers. They clearly have an agenda, and Thunberg’s made it clear that it’s a radical anti-capitalist one. 

The problem is the news media which has uncritically championed her and shouted down anyone who raises concerns.

The news media don’t owe Thunberg more puff pieces. They owe her an apology. Her parents, too, owe her an apology. And they all owe the public an apology, not just those of us who are parents, but certainly us. What they did, and are doing, is unethical at multiple levels.

Happily, some are starting to do that. They are still a minority, for now. Many journalists still abdicate their ethical and professional duties because they think Thunberg is a child, even though she’ll be 20 years old on January 3.

Beyond changing news media coverage from uncritically fawning to balanced and critical, journalists should reflect upon their irresponsible coverage of Thunberg and climate change. It was actively harmful not just to Thunberg but to billions around the world.

Around one-third of people in the world think climate change will make humans extinct. That’s pseudoscience on the same level as believing that Earth is flat. People didn’t come to that belief on their own. It was drilled into their brains over 30 years.

Climate change is real, but it’s not the end of the world. Emissions have dramatically declined in rich nations and globally over the last decade, thanks mainly to natural gas and nuclear. We need more of both

In other words, we need to do more of what we have been doing over the last 50 years, in terms of emissions reductions and adaptation. What we should not do to do is panic or weaponize teenagers with anxiety disorders. That’s unethical in itself and actively harmful.

Some in the media can see the winds shifting and are starting to pivot, but most have proven to be untrustworthy. I am filling in the gaps with evidence-based reporting and temporarily reducing an annual subscription’s price by 50%.

Much more must be said to properly process the outrageously irresponsible media coverage of climate change over the last 30 years. Hopefully, Thunberg’s admission that she is motivated more by hatred of capitalism than a love of nature will trigger greater self-reflection.

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD and at

4 thoughts on “Media Must Take Responsibility For Greta Climate Panic – OpEd

  • November 6, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    To my mind there is a lot of truth in what is being said here, but (and is there not usually a “but” on its way?) I find expressions such as: “Beyond changing news media coverage from uncritically fawning to balanced and critical, journalists should reflect upon their irresponsible coverage of Thunberg and climate change.” to be grossly oversimplified. “The media” has always been a contested space and, alongside the fawning there are many expressions of “anti-Thunberg” or “maybe-Thunberg” sentiment. This article has inadequate context – and yes, I know that context is complex and can take up many hundreds of words.

    My biggest complaint about this article is that the Thunberg “we must panic” message would have had next to no traction if over the past five decades “the media” had dealt responsibly with the many “we must change our current course” messages being put out. Had the media played a responsible role and not merely maximised the overall profits of those powerful persons controlling said media , I would have expected many governments around the world to have been able to engage in “better energy practices” (to collect under one label a vast range of initiatives involving the expenditure of billions of dollars) and for us to be closer to achieving the global warming targets discussed in various COP’s, I wonder how many millions of dollars/pounds/yen/dinars etc were spent, sometimes in a conspiratorial fashion, on minimising what we were hearing in the same media about, say “The Limits to Growth (published 1972) or the Stern Review (2006).#

    By all means criticise the media for their Thunberg positions, but to be fair, and therefore credible, please also appraise the media’s handling of related “stories”.

  • November 6, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    This op-ed is nothing but a hit piece. Big Oil and run away capitalism apologist. Makes generalizations and in most cases makes stuff up. Screw this Shellenberger, a liar for hire. A person with no scruples and morals. Every climate scientist says global warming is going to cause irreparable harm to the environment yet 30 paid liar scientists say otherwise, and they get more weight than all the science. Capitalists are ruining this world and humanity.

  • November 6, 2022 at 9:31 pm

    capitalism is based on endless growth, and growth means consumption of resources, which means more emissions, which means disaster. So Greta is right.

    • January 12, 2023 at 11:52 pm

      You’re not really the smartest cookie, are you?


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