Greta Thunberg’s emotional speech at the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit in 2019 rattled our social media feeds. She shed tears as she shamed our global leaders for stripping her childhood away with their ineffective environmental policies. In 2019, Thunberg was chosen as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. At the age of 17, Thunberg has already gained more international prestige than most politicians.
Thunberg has kick-started a powerful climate change movement, which climate change deniers have countered with their own movement. The Heartland Institute is a conservative and libertarian think tank that hired Naomi Seibt, a 19-year-old girl from Germany, to be the new face of climate skepticism. Seibt calls herself a climate realist and speaks out for other climate skeptics by questioning the scientific community’s assertion that humans contribute to climate change.
Seibt is the new face of the climate change counter-movement. However, she is not nearly the threat she appears to be: she has been employed to lead against climate activism, has made no new campaigning progress and has failed to reach a larger base.
It seems like climate change doubters have been tossed aside as data emerges warning of the very real effects of climate change, including an 11-year timeline for humankind to save the environment before the effects are irreversible.
Seibt has several qualities that could make her a worthy opponent for Thunberg. She finished her secondary education at the age of 16 and has a background in science and technology. Now, she tells her followers: “I don’t want you to panic. I want you to think.”
Seibt is attempting to build a base among youth — a necessity to combat Thunberg. However, Seibt has not gained as many followers as Thunberg simply because her campaigning is mostly on social media. Heartland hired Seibt specifically to speak out to youth on her YouTube channel, which now has 86,300 subscribers. Meanwhile, videos of Thunberg, showcased on channels like TEDx Talks, receive millions of views. Seibt’s campaign is extremely modern, yet Thunberg has been on the ground hosting protests, speeches and marches. Seibt’s tactics so far have seemed inadequate in reaching millennials, Gen X and wider audiences. It shows how disconnected she is from the movement. Unlike Thunberg, who started protesting because she is passionate about the fight against climate change, Seibt is speaking out because she is being paid.
Like Thunberg, Seibt is reaching out to politicians and global leaders, attempting to affect their environmental policies. Seibt spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February. CPAC hosts high-profile conservatives including President Donald Trump, who has previously dismissed science and called climate change a hoax. Trump would agree with Seibt in claiming that climate change is not a result of humans’ impact and he has been vocal about his negative opinion of Thunberg through Twitter; his support would give Seibt the momentum she needs to be a true threat to Thunberg. However, not even Trump has spoken out in favor of her. Her campaign consists solely of one CPAC speech. It is not robust enough to stand on its own precisely because it was only created to counter Thunberg.
As the number of people fighting against climate change increases, her goal is to convert those who believe we should fight against climate change into climate change doubters. Europe, along with the rest of the world, has thousands of students participating in Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. It would be easier for Seibt to start gaining a base in Europe than in the U.S. simply because the U.S. appears to be behind in climate activism, while more people are acting on their climate beliefs in Europe. According to skeptics, there are also more people wrongly convinced of climate change in Europe and Seibt can win over more followers by knowing the cultural and societal values.
The U.S. has the most climate change doubters among Western countries and is surpassed only by Indonesia and Saudi Arabia — 31 percent of Americans either are unsure of or disagree with the fact that climate change exists. Meanwhile, in Europe, only 1 in 10 people disagree or are unsure. The U.S. is not leading the world in climate activism in the public eye. The abundance of American climate change doubters may come as the result of several faults in U.S. society, such as an improper science education or the president’s outspoken denial of climate change. The U.S. is winning at the number of doubters among rich countries — therefore Seibt does not need to focus on winning over Americans.
Heartland hired Seibt to be a foil to Thunberg — one eloquent, educated young European woman to go after another — yet she still falls short. Even if Seibt were the perfect opponent for Thunberg, I had never heard of her before CPAC, and probably, neither had many Americans. Seibt’s tactics have not changed in order to gain more momentum, and it is unknown if Heartland will change her strategies or if Seibt has enough power to make the decision to do so. Now that CPAC has passed, Seibt is no longer in the news, while Thunberg remains relevant.
As Americans, we can choose to not listen to Seibt. Americans will need to demonstrate climate activism if they want their opinions heard, and by doing so they will need to choose the face of the environment’s future. Heartland tried to create a robust debate surrounding climate change, but its efforts have failed: this issue is not a debate. It is time to unify behind those who rely on facts, not whoever promises to absolve humankind of blame.
Juliette Ruaux is a first-year Comparative Studies in Literature & Culture (CSLC) major. She can be reached at email@example.com.