Greta Thunberg spent her weekend in France supporting two environmental campaigns. On Sunday she appeared at a rally in Bordeaux against an oil drilling project; twenty-four hours earlier the twenty-one-year-old Swede was further east, adding her voice to those activists opposed to the construction of a new stretch of motorway between Toulouse and Castres. “We are here in solidarity with those who are resisting this project and this madness,” said Thunberg in English, her now familiar keffiyeh around her neck.
Some French media described Thunberg as an “anti-global warming icon” and the “figurehead in the fight to protect the planet.” She might have been once.
Now, however, in her ubiquitous keffiyeh, appearing to chant “Crush Zionism” or endorsing slogans such as “Palestine will be free” she has become — perhaps unwittingly — the figurehead for what conservative commentators in France call “the green alliance.”
Three years ago Jean Messiha, the spokesman for Éric Zemmour during his 2022 presidential campaign, wrote of this strange coalition between Islamists and ecologists: “They share one color: green. But not only that. They also share a totalitarian approach to society.”
Among those present at the weekend’s protest rallies was the environmental campaign group Soulèvements de la terre (Earth’s uprising). There is no ambiguity about whose side they are on in the Gaza conflict. In a press release published three weeks after the slaughter of 1,200 Israelis, they described the terrorists who carried out October’s pogrom, as “Palestine fighters,” saying “The murderous attacks of Palestinian fighters against Israeli civilian populations cannot justify joining those of the Netanyahu government against Palestinian civilian populations.” They added that Palestinians “have been crushed for more than half a century by the colonization that has deprived them of their land and their right to self-determination.” Israel was accused of being an “apartheid regime.”
Last March Soulèvements de la terre made headlines when one of their protests — against a large water basin in western France — turned extremely violent. Nearly thirty gendarmes were injured, and four of their vehicles were destroyed, as they came under attack from a large well-organized mob throwing Molotov cocktails and other projectiles.
France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, subsequently ordered the dissolution of Soulèvements de la terre but this decision was overturned by the council of state, who judged Darmanin’s action not “appropriate and proportionate.”
In describing for The Spectator the violence at the water basin, I referenced a recent book by the journalist Anthony Cortes, The Coming Confrontation: From Eco Resistance to Eco-Terrorism. He had spent time living among a group of radical environmentalists and found that they were far more than just eco-warriors. They were anti-fascists, Trotskyists, anti-capitalists and anarchists, more interested in toppling the “system” than saving the planet. And to that list one can also now add anti-Zionists, or perhaps antisemites is more accurate.
This green alliance extends beyond France. JustStopOil protesters are among the activists marching through London each Saturday in the Palestinian cause, as are Extinction Rebellion. They released a rambling statement a month after the Hamas attack, in which they demanded a ceasefire in Gaza and blamed the conflict on Britain: “The climate and ecological emergency has roots in centuries of colonial violence, exploitation and oppression — for which the UK bears a disproportionate share of responsibility.”
XR have expressed their “solidarity” with the climate activists who, along with the Free Palestine Coalition, occupied the British Museum at the weekend. They did so to “demand that the British Museum end its ten-year partnership with British Petroleum, an energy company profiting from Israel’s colonial genocide.”
British environmental groups target any company and any individual who they regard as pro-Israeli, including government ministers. In November British politician Michael Gove had to be rescued by police after he was confronted by protestors.
In 2019 Gove, then energy secretary, listened with rapt attention when Greta Thunberg addressed members of parliament in Westminster. She excoriated Britain for giving the world the Industrial Revolution, what the Swede described as a “mind-blowing historical carbon debt.” Thunberg also snarled that the government’s support of shale gas fracking and the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields was “beyond absurd.”
Thunberg received a thunderous ovation at the end of her tirade. “Your voice — still, calm and clear — is like the voice of our conscience,” Gove told the sixteen-year-old. “I am of your parents’ generation, and I recognize that we haven’t done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create… When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt.”
Does Gove still admire Thunberg in the light of her recent position on Israel? Does he still feel a responsibility to act given that environmentalists are becoming increasingly violent, what Gerald Darmanin has labeled “eco-terrorism?”
Thunberg was arrested or detained by police in three European cities in 2023, including London. Convicted by a Malmo court of refusing to obey a police command, Thunberg was unrepentant. “It’s correct that I received an order that I didn’t listen to, but I want to deny the crime,” Thunberg told the court. She claimed her disobedience was justified because “we are in an emergency that threatens life, health and property.”
The one politician who has always been immune to the Greta effect is Donald Trump, once tweeting that she needed to “work on her anger management problem.” Joe Biden, on the other hand, is in thrall and told Trump that he “could learn a few things from Greta on what it means to be a leader.”
Thunberg is a leader, and an icon — for the immature and the idiotic. For students waving Palestinian flags and singing “From the river to the sea,” without knowing what river or sea they are singing about; for politicians who for years pursued ruinous environmental policies until the fury of protesting farmers across Europe forced them to think again.
The West has changed a great deal since 2019, the year Thunberg toured the world, haranguing and hectoring world leaders in London, Paris and New York. People who should have known better lapped up her angry and accusatory rhetoric. The novelist Margaret Atwood likened Thunberg to “Joan of Arc” and TIME magazine named her its Person of the Year.
Five years later the world is far more violent, volatile and dangerous. Serious politicians are urgently required to address the myriad challenges facing the West. It’s time for the grown-ups to make a comeback. The age of glorifying Greta is over.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.