Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has inspired a generation of youths to step up their game in the fight to preserve our planet. She also acquired her fair share of enemies, the most prominent being a girl not much older than Thunberg who is actively trying to slow down the climate movement.
Meet Naomi Seibt, or the ‘anti-Greta’ as she’s often dubbed. Seibt is a 19-year-old German YouTube personality who became the darling and paid spokesperson of the conservative movement to promote climate scepticism. A self-described “climate realist”, Seibt is of the opinion that the heating of the planet is far less severe than the mainstream scientific consensus claims it to be and that human activities are not the driving force behind the changing climate.
Over the past couple of months, Seibt has become increasingly ubiquitous among conservative circles around the world, and while paying too much attention to her risks amplifying her campaign, it is important to understand the factors at play behind her notoriety and explore the cultural and political issues her presence on the scene underscores.
A native of Münster in western Germany, Seibt came from a conservative-leaning background. Her mom, who is a lawyer, represented members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and it was the family’s connection to AfD that helped Seibt gain attention. After Seibt’s essay was published by the ‘anti-Islamisation’ blog Philosophia Perennis in 2017, the teenager made her Youtube debut in 2019, reading out bits of a poem she submitted to a contest organised by the AfD.
Seibt’s rising popularity on YouTube and Twitter had attracted the attention of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute—a conservative think tank that ranks among the world’s most aggressive promoters of climate scepticism. Heartland Institute is reportedly paying Seibt a monthly salary of nearly €1,900 in order for her to post content on her platform denouncing climate science.
In one of her sponsored YouTube videos, Seibt states that “We are currently being force-fed a very dystopian agenda of climate alarmism that tells us that we as humans are destroying the planet. And that the young people, especially, have no future, that the animals are dying, that we are ruining nature,” an ‘agenda’ she views as “despicably anti-human.” In another video, Seibt claimed that “Science is entirely based on intellectual humility and it is important that we keep questioning the narrative that is out there instead of promoting it, and these days climate change science really isn’t science at all.”
In addition to funnelling money into Seibt’s online platforms, Heartland Institute is also booking the young climate sceptic some serious gigs around the world. In December of last year, Seibt spoke at a Heartland Institute climate conference in Madrid, just as Thunberg addressed the UN COP25 global warming summit a few miles away. Last month, Seibt was invited to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which was headlined by US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
And just last week, Seibt appeared on Australian Sky News, stating that “I don’t like the term climate denier, because I don’t deny that it’s warming… of course CO2 is a greenhouse gas so it does contribute to some warming, but I believe that the effect is absolutely insignificant, and on top of that we have gained many benefits not only from using cheap and reliable energy sources efficiently, like fossil fuels but also from warming, for example, better crop yields and we can feed the population because it’s been getting warmer.”
Seibt’s claims are not supported by scientific evidence. In fact, the catastrophic implications of human-induced activities on the environment have become the consensus among the world’s top scientists, and are already being felt across the globe. And yet, distortions like the ones made by Seibt continue to find an audience in right-wing circles, primarily due to the politicisation of the issue by the fossil fuel industry. Starting in the 1990s, fossil fuel giants embarked on an expansive campaign to debunk climate science, and have since been funnelling enormous amounts of money into conservative media outlets and the pockets of right-wing politicians in order to portray the climate crisis as a partisan issue.
But we’d be remiss if we ignored another important aspect of Seibt’s success—her function as a social media ‘influencer’. By buying into a trend of paying individuals to promote brands on their online platforms simply because they have a following, we inevitably legitimise the placing of profit over substance. Seibt practically fulfils the same role as the influencer who’s trying to sell you beauty products on their story—neither takes the time to actually check the science behind the brand they’re advertising. Our blind permissiveness when it comes to the promotion of branded content on social media gives companies free rein to capitalise on our naivety and embed their products—be it granola or fossil fuels—in our feeds and minds.
Seibt is, fundamentally, a prop. While she certainly is passionate about conservative ideals, she is both a victim and an agent of anti-environmental propaganda motivated by nothing but greed. It seems that her meteoric ascent to public attention didn’t result from genuine, widespread excitement around her ideology, but rather from the well-funded backing of far-right lobbyists searching for a youthful gen Zer to promote their agenda. It is probable that Seibt will fade into obscurity, but let us not ignore the conditions and circumstance that contributed to her rise as the anti-Greta.
I recently answered a poll on social media that first asked if I cared about climate change. I ticked yes. The next question asked if I had ever attended an Extinction Rebellion protest. I immediately ticked no.
This isn’t because I’m not available to attend protests, or that I’m lazy, and don’t care. If anything, as someone who’s self-employed, works in left-wing circles, and has the privilege of being educated in what’s happening to the Earth and having a flexible work schedule, I’m probably the kind of person who should be attending these kinds of marches. Yet, even with all the ways that should make it easier for me to stand up and talk about climate change, I’m also still another brown body marching—and that isn’t exactly as welcomed as my climate protesting peers.
Extinction Rebellion has become a household name. The grassroots organisation has raised millions in donations, money that goes towards funding volunteers, whether that’s feeding protesters lunch or keeping the platform running. Those who are a part of Extinction Rebellion have altered traffic and excelled in their aim to disrupt urban spaces in order to wake everyone up: the ice-caps aren’t just melting, polar bears aren’t just struggling, the Earth is dying.
But so are brown and black bodies when we speak up. So much of Extinction Rebellion is about gaining attention, and I can’t help but wonder what would happen to people of colour if they tried the same tactics; what would the response be, or has been, when we’ve tried to push the same messages.
There’s also an issue with class when it comes to protesting for anything. You need time in order to march for your rights or demand change. The Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that 35.7 per cent of ethnic minorities were more likely to live in poverty compared with 17.2 per cent of white people. The ethnic pay gap within ethnic minority communities reflects that Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black people are paid the lowest with Bangladeshi people doing the worst.
When working in menial, manual, and zero contract jobs, where there is barely any movement to take a sick day, never mind shout for the Amazon rainforest, a large number of ethnic minorities in Britain are only able to think about the basics before they can prioritise protesting. Look around the next Extinction Rebellion protest and ask yourself, does this represent London, the UK, and, more importantly, all those who inhabit the world?
‘What will the world look like for future generations?’ is a great point that is asked consistently to encourage people to join the movement. But as climate change activist Muna Suleiman pointed out during The Amaliah Podcast on What Has Race and Religion Got To Do With The Climate Crisis?, “There’s an inherent assumption that people at present are not affected by the climate crisis, which we know is not true. It’s through the lens of trying to tweak around the edges and not provide the system changes we need.”
Countries like Bangladesh, who have the most ‘green factories’ and do not produce nearly as much waste as the global north, is said to be the Venice of South Asia, in other words, sinking, and not so slowly. It seems like we’ve forgotten about the brown and black bodies around the world who are already the most sustainable with the little they have, and yet are being affected the most by climate change.
Extinction Rebellion is aware of this white privilege in its collective, and told Screen Shot that “Extinction Rebellion still has work to do to ensure that the movement is welcoming and inclusive to all. Structural oppression is present throughout society and we are no exception to that. Important work is happening on this, both within the movement and with the assistance of allies outside of Extinction Rebellion. We ask that allies continue to work with and challenge us in this area.” The movement has also created initiatives within the group, such as XR Connecting Communities and Extinction Rebellion Liberation.
Although Extinction Rebellion acknowledges this lack of diversity, it fails to see how the work accomplished by people of colour (whether it is within Extinction Rebellion or not) stays, almost always, unnoticed to the majority who makes up the marches.
In regard to Greta Thunberg, we’ve listened to her cries, seen her on billboards, and, most importantly, taken her seriously. But we also need to remember the other young women of colour who are speaking out for the communities that are most affected. Autumn Peltier. Artemisa Xakriabá. Isra Hirsi. Ridhima Pandey. Say their names and look up their work.
In our quest to save the planet, we also need to curb the snobbery found within climate change initiatives, as well as the denial of class or race issues that are deeply entangled with it. The western revolution towards climate change has only happened in the past thirty years. Our recyclability is fairly new. Moon cups, reusable coffee cups, and solutions out of throwaway culture are all new. Brown and black people, especially working-class black and brown people, have been the most resourceful when it comes to using what we have—so let’s not pretend that marching for climate change is based on this sole revolution by white people when black and brown countries have been tackling the issue for centuries.