People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier marked Greta Thunberg’s arrival in North America by viciously attacking the teenage climate activist, calling her mentally unstable in apparent reference to her having Asperger syndrome.

Bernier doubled down in a subsequent volley of tweets, in the manner of the self-described "very stable genius," U.S. President Donald Trump.

It was an odious bookend to the criticism levelled at Thunberg during her sailing voyage, which kicked off in earnest when New York Times contributor Christopher Caldwell denounced her climate activism as "radical" and undemocratic in “The Problem With Greta Thunberg’s Climate Activism."

Caldwell gamely rationalized his criticism, stating, “Kids (Thunberg’s) age have not seen much of life. Her world view might be unrealistic, her priorities out of balance. But in our time, and in her cause, that seems to be a plus. People have had enough of balance and perspective. They want single-minded devotion to the task at hand.”

Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish teenager who began protesting government inaction on climate change outside the Swedish parliament last August, has catalyzed the global school strike for climate movement (sometimes called Fridays for Future). After stealing the show at the COP24 climate change conference, she inspired an estimated 1.4 million students, including thousands of Canadian youth, to join her in a global student strike this past March 15.

Bernier, Caldwell and all the critics in between have been widely pilloried, but a more sympathetic view is warranted.

Older men are known to experience anxiety on realizing they lack what society’s vigorous youth possess. Psychoanalytic theory tells us their coveting of younger generations’ environmental conscientiousness leads to feelings of inferiority, and defensive or compensatory behaviour.

Seeing past the green-eyed monster

Not wanting to give oxygen to the outbursts of a sixth-rate Canadian party leader (according to, Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada is polling sixth behind the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, Green party and Bloc Québécois), I’ll focus on the New York Times piece, which paints its argument with a substantial intellectual veneer.

I’m not sure whether Caldwell is more of a Hatha or Ashtanga man, but his rhetorical yoga is supple, and he shows sublime command of advanced contortions. The root of his argument seems to be that the future should not be the purview of the young and the restless, but the old and the bloviating.

Alas, the days of sinecure-holding think-tank personalities imposing a tight monopoly on American public discourse are over. Social media has thrown the Overton window wide open, and in this newly free marketplace of ideas, Thunberg and company are running the table.

There can be nothing more democratic than an idea winning hearts and minds on the strength of its own merits in a deregulated marketplace, nor anything more dangerous to self-appointed gatekeepers of serious debate.

Sadly, Caldwell conflates his punditocracy with democracy — a Freudian slip? — and cobbles some logic for fearmongering’s sake. In truth, activism is the beating heart of a healthy democracy; the only threat it presents is to Caldwell’s favoured ancien regime.

While Bernier’s inchoate rage impoverishes rather than enriches the public dialogue, climate advocates would also do well to recognize that some of Thunberg’s critics’ core concerns do have merit. As Langley chemist Blair King noted in an articulate recent blog post:

"It is easy for climate strikers and their activist supporters, who go to bed well-fed and warm in Canada and Europe, to tell the world they should use less energy. But the governments of China and India still have deep poverty and hardship to fight and will ignore those cries because they are dealing with louder and more pressing cries of citizens who need food and shelter today."

While we must transition from fossil fuel combustion as quickly as possible, we must never over-simplify the complexities and challenges of doing so, or we will alienate those affected and risk shrinking our coalition into impotence.

Consider proposed bans on single-use plastics: I hesitate to declare my support unless such bans are narrowly targeted. Grocery bags may be easy to replace, but the sterile, single-use medical-grade plastics used when I donate blood are much less so. And while paper straws have been adequate for my drinking needs, permanent exemptions for those needing bendable plastic straws for accessibility seem warranted.

There is also the challenge of affirming the need to transition beyond fossil fuels while discouraging boasting by those naively believing they’ve already done so. I can think of few things more counterproductive than my fellow early adopters extolling their electric cars’ carbon chastity as if they’d been fitted for vehicular purity rings.

These boasts won’t only annoy the oilpatch but public transit and cycling advocates as well, given that climate nudges may reduce support for truly transformative change. As Green Leader Elizabeth May has noted, the enemy of climate action right now (which in cities means housing density, cycling and vastly expanded public transit) is incrementalism: the belief that switching from combustion to electric vehicles is magically adequate. Zero-emission vehicles are absolutely necessary, yet still insufficient as a complete climate solution.

While we loudly condemn the Berniers, compassion may be the most appropriate response to the Caldwells of the world. Pundits of such stature have not seen much of life; decades of curated company narrow their worlds and acculture them to the comforts of patrons’ stately pleasure-domes, from behind whose ideological fences they propound pseudo-profundities. They are courtiers of a modern Versailles, insensate to the experiences and fears of the global majority outside.

As tempting as condescension may be, we must never forget that if we ourselves travel in too narrow an intellectual circle, our opinions will also likely decay into reality-detached platitudes and ignominy. Our best hope is for exposure to a diversity of views, and to hope that even in the sunset of our faculties, our empathy even for those whose ideas we dislike or despise remains an ongoing and growing sunrise.

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Blair King: "It is easy for climate strikers and their activist supporters, who go to bed well-fed and warm in Canada and Europe, to tell the world they should use less energy."

I don't know of any climate activist who tells people in energy poverty to use less energy.
Less fossil fuel energy and more renewables would be desirable, of course. China and India are already global leaders in renewables. A pall of deadly smog covers big cities in Asia and around the world. The protests of local citizens are driving govts to invest more and faster in renewables.

It's the climate change deniers and climate action obstructors in the West who insist that China and India are responsible. Let China and India cut emissions. Little Canada contributes only 1.6% of emissions, they say. They demand that the poor villagers in India tighten their belts while the energy hogs in Canada with far bigger footprints carry on as usual.

Yes, Blair's comment is way off base - and shame on Matthew for citing it. A little research would show that Thunberg always talks about climate justice, as do many of the other young climate strikers. A typical statement: "Our house is on fire — let’s act like it. We demand climate justice for everyone." The very term means rich countries must act sooner and cut their emissions more than poorer ones.

"Zero-emission vehicles are absolutely necessary, yet still insufficient as a complete climate solution."

With their huge footprint, EVs wouldn't be green even if they ran on fairy dust. About half of the energy used over the lifespan of a car is expended during its production.
The automobile lifestyle will never be green or sustainable. No car is compatible with a one-planet Earth ecological footprint.
Cars drive urban sprawl, and urban sprawl drives cars. Hopelessly unsustainable. The energy expenditure is obscene. Not to mention lost productivity, lost green space, sedentary lifestyle, and social isolation.
Not a path to sustainability, but a detour.

Perhaps it's not cars, per se, that are the hugest problem, but the idea that every family needs to have a couple of them parked in their own yard, which also makes far more likely the prospect of driving the car to the supermarket a couple of blocks away, to pick up milk.
Mr. Klippenstein can rest easy re the bendable straws: the first bendable straws were in fact paper straws. They had little corrugations a couple of inches from the top of the straws. As I recall it, though, they were *waxed* paper straws: the wax comes from petroleum.
Perhaps what really needs to be given up is the ubiquitous use of straws, period. Most people can drink, just fine, from a bottle, glass, cup, etc. It's a matter of what is perceived as convenience, or necessity, that is (once externals are considered) neither convenient nor necessary.
As far as medical plastics goes, there's no reason at all why, since they're single use, they cannot also be biodegradable, and also since they're medical, be properly disposed of at source. They don't necessarily require petroleum either.
In Toronto, several environmentally conscious outlets began to use compostable, fully bio-degradable plastic bags, fast-food ware, and other packaging. The City's plastics recycling program still can recycle only a small proportion of the plastics used in packaging, and those compostable bags were messing with the salability of their recycling plastics.
No one, as far as I know, has entertained the prospect of regulating the types of plastics that cannot be recycled: the ones with a silvery sheen, that most chips come in. It's not necessary: the chips of my childhood came in paper, with a thin wax coating. There would be a very good place to start.
I am old enough to remember carrying home bags of groceries containing damp produce, and watching grapefruits and apples roll into the intersection when the moisture-weakened paper bag.

"Our best hope is for exposure to a diversity of views', claims the writer of this article. That, and 'compassion' for the old men of the old order.....and their psychological jealousy of the young.

Let me suggest a third alternative. Our best hope is for engagement with a diversity of implementations. That, and a lot more active support of the people, like Greta, who are calling us to real action.

Of course, electric cars aren't the silver bullet some hope for. But if we have any hope at all, they'd better have replaced our current oversupply of over advertised gas guzzling SUV's and wilderness trashing Jeeps currently on 2030. Yes. We need to move fast...and everyone capable of moving has to do so.

Trashing the few early adopters of Solar was fun for awhile also...we were told countless times 'that the sun doesn't always shine'...and no one barfed at the idiotic simplicity of that mantra. But in actual fact, we early adapters have helped bring solar to the point where it is now cheaper than fossil fuel electricity in many jurisdictions...........and unlike Scheer and his crowd.....'solar isn't finished 'evolving' yet.

The same will be true for electric vehicles. But only if all of us who can, commit to making the switch. It's not as expensive as we think........and if we have a future, costs will keep coming down.

Beyond that..........there's actually too many 'opportunities' to count....too many actions we can take to show we hear what Greta is saying on behalf of all our children. Absolutely, poverty is a climate problem...we have to work now to begin eliminating it.

And as to the third world........we need to work to build the new technologies, and sustainable food sheds....instead of playing the conservative Old Man's game, of claiming Canadian emissions aren't the problem, its China and India that has the emissions problem.

The truly shameful thing about the first world, and its old core of elite white that they tend to be know it alls, and do nothings. They aren't jealous of Greta, not at all. They're afraid that her truth will erode their monopoly on power. We have to act now, to prove them right.

Ditto to all the above.
And Canada's 1.6% is a whopping 400% over any possible computation of a "fair share" of today's GWGs, which as ought to be pretty clear to all by now, has to come down, and really quickly. As it decrases, our 1.6% will continue to increase, by simple arithmetic, as by every appearance we'll continue to "develop" the tarsands and their ever-increasing numbers which have by now eclipsed the total reductions made by all the other provinces and territories.
I'd also like to observe that the contention of lack of sufficient experience to produce wisdom is a particularly odd claim, since it's not the young and inexperienced who've got us in the mess we're in now. "Experience" as used seems to imply learning how to be acceptable to the overlords. Plenty of us have "experienced" a multitude of downsides to the prevailing order.

The vitality of the comments on this article is a heartening sign of the growing engagement, both emotional and intellectual with the idea that humanity has to adapt - or die out, probably taking the rest of life on earth with it.

Using "poverty" as an excuse for delaying green transition is hypocritical and wrong-headed. It will ultimately be proved that implementing green technologies to human societies will be empowering, equitable and reduce, one hopes, the expanding inequalities between the rich and the impoverished. One has to suspect that it is this "levelling" of social wealth/status that has the privileged and entitled bawling in panic.

The costs of creating and maintaining the massive infrastructures necessary to sustain the modern consumer focused economies are outrunning the capacities of either public or private finance - and are major contributors to the indebtedness of the "advanced, industrial" nations. Finding sustainable ways to go "off grid" may be exactly what the free market economies need for their salvation.

All of that depends somewhat on how it's done. If it's only implemented in a way that maintains the profit levels of the existing polluters, it'll be more expensive for the poor, not less.
We could go a long way to "getting there" by promoting solar panels on every rooftop: we've had no problem requiring all manner of things that cost money ... and there's no reason why the kind of $$ spent on buying disastrous pipelines can't be diverted to loan guarantees and subsidies where required to enable a transition to distributed supply.
It'd make it so we didn't have to endure days-long power outages, as well, just because some raccoon or squirrel had a misadventure with the power line.

Microgeneration is to my mind, absolutely essential to a sustainable on every suitable roof has so many advantages. Besides making more of us producers rather than creates a more flexible grid, something extreme weather is going to continue to teach us is preferable to huge centralized 'farms' run by the global corporations. It also brings us in touch with the limits of energy.....and the advantages of not wasting. Electric vehicles can also serve as battery back up.....and we'll pretty quick figure out that sometimes, its advantageous not to drive those two blocks to the store.

Too many folk think that we have to maintain current levels of energy use...and waste. I've lived long enough to remember colder houses, longer winters, better food, and less gadding about. Perhaps we'll sit and talk by candle light when the sunshine is less plentiful; perhaps we'll slow down things in the colder months and spend more time in our homes and communities, revive old pastimes, hobbies, crafts. Puzzles anyone?

Mandating 0 net housing....built for at least a century...and getting rid of the fashion craze that renovates because of trends instead of when it is actually needed.....would go along way to making our homes more liveable....

Personally........I wish I was younger, and could live in a more localized economy....this present one, replete with so much trash from away, and so little time or community, isn't as much fun as we imagine.

Colder houses and less travel. Great. We weren't tricked into warm houses and seeing relatives across country by evil Exxon ads, you know; that stuff's pretty popular.

Would you try an experiment for us? Run for office on a platform of colder houses and less travel. Your electoral performance, if greatly successful, will inspire others to run on the same platform, and appropriate policies will be enacted! Or, you'll be crushed like a bug, and others will run on platforms of replacing the energy sources we've got with others that will still allow at least most of our current lifestyle.

George Monbiot wrote a book ages ago, called "Heat" about this exact problem. He starts off saying pretty near page 1, that we can't offer proposals that greatly restrict lifestyle. No democracy would vote for them, and even a tyranny would probably be overthrown for attempting them.

Tell me one thing Roy....why do discussions about the complex changes we need to contemplate so often deteriorate into mud slinging? And who's doing the dirty?

This article is primarily about the attacks a 16 year old is receiving from experts like yourself. I've read Heat...and Monbiot has some good proposals...all of which have been ignored by pundits who essentially argue as you do. It was written quite a few years ago. Recently in the Guardian, he sounds more desperate, arguing that 'only a revolution can save us now'. So maybe change is coming whatever either or choice we make in our pantomine of a free democratic election...maybe radical change doesn't depend on either Scheer or Trudeau.

My attempts to question what we call 'comfort', or the role massive consumption of imported crap has to do with that comfort, are not panaceas...or total answers. But we all know that 0 net housing isn't cold, and some of us know it could be mandated in our building codes, so that housing would have a smaller footprint...and long term, no fossil fuel footprint at all. However, I grew up in colder winters, initially with no central heat...and remember being far happier than many urban children of the poor today. Central heating is a recent frill....its air conditioning we're going to crave in the future.

Instead of talking about those changes, discussing them together, sharing ideas and knowledge...old men insult and respond to thinkers like myself as if we were morons. It's shameful....and it isn't going to save any of us from a future bearing down on all of us much faster than we realize.

Grab some humility and listen to Greta. Her generation isn't going to have to vote for colder homes; extreme weather is going to bring them to her age cohort for free.....and while all of us should have the wit to know this....
Old white men continue to drag their feet, proclaim how impossible transition is, and look away from the death threats...the ones sounding the warnings are receiving. Especially if they're women.
That's the point of this article. You could learn from it.

"Older men are known to experience anxiety on realizing they lack what society’s vigorous youth possess. Psychoanalytic theory tells us their coveting of younger generations’ environmental conscientiousness leads to feelings of inferiority, and defensive or compensatory behaviour."

Isn't compassion for EVERYone facing ageing's inevitable loss of vigour in order — as is challenging any potentially "compensatory behaviour" when it's damaging to others?

Should the anxiety powerful sensitive men can create for others be subsumed by our concern for them?

One would think that the right wing would be thanking Greta for pointing out, in a very visible way, that there are only two ways to cross the Atlantic:

1) Burn a whole lot of carbon in a boat's, or airplane's, engines;
2) Know a very rich person with a solar-powered sailboat, also, have two weeks handy.

That's not a statement for-or-against a particular strategy: it just defines the size of the problem. I don't think it can be successfully argued that the flow of people and goods across oceans can simply be stopped; we're not talking "Great Depression" if we did, we're talking about "A Lot of People Dying". If the best answer we have for continuing that is to ship everything by sailboats, then we have no choice but to die or keep burning carbon until we develop alternative means of moving millions of tonnes (and millions of people, also necessary to economic activity) across oceans without burning fossil carbon.

What would the cost of cargo transport be if it were all done with biofuels? Can we make biofuels without fossil carbon footprint of their own, as we do now? Can a farmer grow enough corn to make the fuel for the tractor that grew the corn, with any left over? How is it going with biofuels that can burn in aircraft at -40C? They all went clumpy (biodiesel) in the cold, or absorbed water from the air (alcohols) last time I read up on it...which is not recently, because there are no articles on it. Or, what would air and sea transport cost us if we switched them all to hydrogen, and had to make the hydrogen without releasing carbon?

Those are not rhetorical questions. I honestly don't know the answer. I don't see anybody writing on it.

Instead of talking about how to solve the problem the teenager has highlighted, we're talking about the teenager.

On the biofuels issue, my understanding is that avenue is essentially closed. Without updating my research, I seem to remember that those fuels aren't as efficient as we'd like, that they cost too much in land better used to grow food....and that there are no ways to ramp up that production anywhere near what would be needed...if its a replacement fuel for oil that we're looking for.
Greta's means of travel might not be as bad an idea as you propose however....if we consider one change that might be good for us all.

SLOW DOWN. Why assume that taking two weeks to cross the Atlantic poses an unsurmountable problem?? A lot of social research is now suggesting that speed is a killer....for those of us in human bodies. Sure we can produce faster, go faster, consume faster.....with our automated technologies. But who do these feller bunchers etc. serve??? And what benefits do they bring with them? The forest analogy isn't really a non sequitor, if you consider that we now strip riparian slopes double quick, with next to no jobs created....but lots of down stream nasty consequences. Returning to sustainable logging, with horses and men, would be better for the health of our streams, our urban water supplies, and our loggers....but we won't consider it. Its too SLOW...profits won't roll in fast enough. Truth is, profits aren't rolling in much at all. Where I live, governments subsidizing FAST methods of clear cutting......the jobs in the industry are government program jobs.

Now imagine if we look to the forests and other back country places for biofuels??? Racing the mega fires to get our 'product' no doubt. In short, it makes no sense.

Instead, why not consider all the ways we need to change our economy. The west wastes almost half of the food it produces. We can stop that if we choose....but we'd need more local production and processing. Lots of jobs there, were we willing to pay for that produce renewable necessary products.

Do we need to export everything we produce, in order to import everything we want to consume????
Perhaps that's the insanity that Greta is asking us to reconsider. Perhaps we're moving into a future of less trade, and more local resilience. Bet the Bahamas now are wishing they didn't bet their lives on one foreign dependent industry........the tourist trade.

Perhaps they'll retool for eco-tourism, and insist all their visiters come via solar sailboat. If they put their minds and lots of R and D into it...they could transform that sustainable mode of travel. Sure..we'd need more vacation time to get there......but with all these robots the smart boys are funding...I'm sure 4 week vacations for those of us lucky enough to still have a job at all......are only a few years away.

In short. We need to think in new ways....across disciplines and industries. Climate change is not a light bulb changing moment......and it won't be stopped by legislating against light bulbs, lol

Our biggest problem is fear - fear of change, fear of sacrifice, fear of our own power. We know how bad it is, and we know what we need to do. No positive social change has ever happened unless people were prepared to disrupt the status quo, and overcome their fears to confront the forces that are presently going to make the planet uninhabitable.

We listen to the climate scientists, how about listening to the social scientists?