On Monday, 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg stood before the United Nations General Assembly in New York to deliver a searing indictment of the global community's failure to meaningfully address the destruction of the planet. "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!" she said, a week after similarly shaming Congress for making her leadership necessary in the first place. "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."
Later that day, Donald Trump—who at best does not care about the climate crisis, and at worst does not believe such a crisis exists—responded to Thunberg's impassioned pleas by issuing the social media equivalent of a pat on the head.
The president is only one of many prominent right-wing media personalities jockeying to reveal their very worst selves in the aftermath of Thunberg's address. Thunberg has Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism she has referred to as a "superpower" that allows her to focus on the work of activism. For former Trump advisor and Wikipedia enthusiast Sebastian Gorka, this was sufficient to ignore her altogether: On Twitter, he compared Thunberg's "performance" to that of a "victim of a Maoist 're-education' camp," and opined that "the adults who brainwashed this autist child should be brought up on child abuse charges."
On Fox News, Laura Ingraham carried on her show's longstanding tradition of mocking teenage activists by comparing Thunberg's delivery to that of characters in Children of the Corn, a 1984 film based on a Stephen King short story of the same name. ("I can't wait for Stephen King's sequel, Children of the Climate," she added.) Considering that King's story is about a mysterious, malevolent force concealed in the natural environment that—spoiler alert—kills townspeople who defy it, perhaps it was not an ideal vehicle for making fun of a teenager committed to warning the world of the existential threat global warming poses to humanity.
Fortunately for Ingraham, this bit of amateur film commentary was not her network's most offensive offering of the night. During a segment on Fox News's The Story earlier in the evening, Daily Wire podcaster Michael Knowles claimed that what he called the "climate hysteria movement" is "not about science." If it were, he explained, "it would be led by scientists, rather than by politicians and a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left."
Neither Asperger syndrome nor autism are "mental illnesses," and even if they were, of course, mental illness diagnoses do not disqualify anyone from asserting opinions that deserve to be treated with respect. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Autism Self Advocacy Network executive director Julia Bascom called it "absolutely unconscionable to attack someone for their disability, especially when that person is a child." Fox News apologized to Thunberg and its viewers and condemned Knowles's words as "disgraceful," adding that they have "no plans" to book him in the future.
Scientists estimate that unchecked greenhouse gas emissions could raise global atmospheric temperatures by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by as soon as 2040, flooding coastal areas, exacerbating economic inequality, triggering armed conflicts, warping agricultural production, and otherwise rendering large swaths of the earth uninhabitable. "Climate change will cause a permanent shift in the relationship of humans to nature," said David Spratt, research director at Australia's Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, to GQ earlier this year. This shift may occur so rapidly, he added, that "no political, social, or military system can cope with it."
Given the scale of the problem and the terrifying stakes of our collective failure to address it, perhaps it is not a surprise that Greta Thunberg's adult critics chose to attack not the substance of her arguments, but instead the manner of their delivery. A conspicuous change to her Twitter bio indicates that she is well aware of the proper method for dealing with bullies: not taking anything they say or do especially seriously.
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Originally Appeared on GQ