Folks, the Washington Post had itself a Sunday night. The paper inexplicably published a puff piece on the “anti-Greta,” a German teen peddling soft climate denial who’s being supported by a group of old white guys at the Heartland Institute.
It took two reporters to do one of the most egregious pieces of both sides climate journalism in recent memory, and the paper even dispatched a photographer to shoot artsy images of said teen, Naomi Seibt, in the woods. The whole package is just absolutely maddening in its velvet glove approach to what is, frankly, a non-story since said teen is barely a blip outside the insular sphere of old climate deniers. But it does do one service: It shows the denialists are completely out of ideas and are now just trying to make anything stick.
The whole Washington Post piece is bleak as hell. You can hate-read it if you must, but the gist is that Seibt pushes tired ideas about solar activity causing climate change (it’s not) and that it’s “ridiculous to believe” that carbon pollution has a large influence on the climate (it does). It’s all part of the same slurry of shit deniers have pushed for decades. The only difference is the person is a teen instead of the usual crowd of blowhard older men.
Before I go on, let me say the Post generally does excellent climate journalism. This story is not one of those pieces. It breezily sets up Seibt, a 19-year old YouTuber, as the “anti-Greta” despite her having nowhere near the reach or following of Greta Thunberg herself. An estimated 60,000 young adults and supporters turned out to hear the 17-year old climate activist speak in Hamburg on Friday, an audience larger than Seibt’s entire following on YouTube. The only supporter of Seibt the Post quotes is James Taylor, a middle-aged man who runs the climate-denying Heartland Institute.
The real story here is that the climate deniers are flailing. The Heartland Institute, infamous for running billboards comparing those who understand basic climate science to the Unabomber, has never been a bastion of rational thought or moral clarity. But it has managed to stay somewhat relevant for years thanks to the media insisting on both-sidesing climate change until recently (the Seibt piece being a notable exception, which is why it’s so obnoxiously bad). And with Donald Trump in the White House, climate denial and delay clearly still holds sway in the halls of power.
But the reality is that the group and its climate-denying brethren have always been on a collision course with irrelevance because a) climate change is very real and very dangerous, and b) people were bound to wake up to that reality at some point. That point arrived in the past year as the world was pummeled by raging wildfires, abnormally strong hurricanes, and crippling heat waves. At the same time, climate scientists have gotten more direct with their warnings. Add in Thunberg as a driving voice of moral clarity, and popular young politicians like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushing for sound climate policies like the Green New Deal, and you have an asteroid-level extinction event for the ideas of deniers on the horizon.
By comparison, climate denial is largely the purview of old white folks, a tenacious but dwindling demographic. That a group like the Heartland Institute is trying to prop up someone like Seibt is the clearest sign they’re just throwing shit at a wall to see what sticks.
But chances are it’s not going to work. Recent research shows that presenting the moral case to stop polluting our atmosphere—as Thunberg and other youth activists do—has the potential to unlock a societal tipping point in favor of climate action. And there are growing signs that we may well be there. In the U.S., the world leader in climate denial, the percentage of people who inexplicably question the science behind the climate crisis has fallen to the lowest levels ever recorded while those alarmed is at the highest level according to polling by Yale and George Mason University. Largely young, diverse climate activists have turned out in the millions for marches and strikes worldwide and pressure is mounting on the world to act. Even the finance industry is starting to turn away from fossil fuels.
The fetid scent of desperation of deniers trying to make their “anti-Greta”A Thing sure seems like this is denial’s last gasp. And places like the Post should know better than to give them CPR.