Is Greta Thunberg Actually Smart Or Is She Just A Propped-Up Celebrity Armed With A PR Machine?

When pressed to defend her stances on climate change issues, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg responded with giggles and sarcastic replies, prompting critics to say it shows she has little understanding of climate science and is following a script her handlers give her.  

January 27, 20237 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg became a global celebrity after her 2019 “How dare you?” speech before the United Nations Climate Action Summit. 

Since then, she’s been influential in people’s understanding of climate change, especially for young people, and regularly rubs elbows with policymakers around the world. 

The activist has had plenty of critics over the years, but reporters who gained access to the celebrity crusader have by-and-large served her up softball questions, at-times fawning coverage and very little scrutiny of the claims she makes about climate change. 

Last week, independent Canadian reporters caught Thunberg on a walk in Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum (WEF) is being held. 

Other Reporters Try To Answer For Her

Thunberg was asked about her refusal to criticize coal-loving China, the alleged staging of her arrest in Germany where she protested a coal mine and if she supports the vandalism that activist groups like Just Stop Oil engage in. 

Thunberg, who turned 20 on Jan. 3, responded to independent journalists Ezra Levant and Callum Smiles with giggles, sarcastic replies and nothing in the way of the substance she gives when she’s on a stage shaming the world for using fossil fuels.

Journalists from other media who were present tried to answer for Thunberg as the activist laughed. 

“They’re narrative enforcers. They’re conformists,” Levant said of the friendly press Thunberg is accustomed to receiving. 

Nervous Tic? 

Dr. Matthew Wielicki, an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Alabama, said the confrontation revealed that Thunberg is likely the innocent face of a PR machine that’s using her to promote a political agenda. 

Wielicki is outspoken in his belief that, while the globe is warming and carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to that, it’s not producing the kind of existential threat that Thunberg regularly says it is. 

“I really feel sorry for her,” Wielicki said. “I don’t think she realized how big this stuff was going to get. Clearly, she didn’t want to speak about it, but she doesn’t seem like she really knows what to say.” 

Thunberg has been vocal about her diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. Wielicki suggested the activist’s laughter may have been a nervous tic. 

Climate change “is a complex issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of nuance, and it appears she really wants to avoid that stuff.”

People Are Dying

Many of Thunberg’s critics have said that, as much as Thunberg fashions herself a champion of science, she shows little knowledge of what climate research actually says about the impacts of global warming on extreme weather. 

While Thunberg claimed during her “How dare you?” speech that “people are dying,” deaths from climate-related natural disasters have fallen 98% since 1920, according to the nonpartisan International Disaster Database. 

Thunberg has claimed that we have until 2030 to reverse global warming before the world faces cataclysmic disasters, which critics have pointed out is not reflected in the research of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a government consortium of the world’s leading climate scientists. 

The research of the IPCC shows a much more nuanced perspective of the impacts of global warming, and it contains none of the apocalyptic predictions Thunberg is known for. 


Steve Milloy, an adjunct analyst with Competitive Enterprise Institute who served on the EPA transition team for the Trump administration, said the questions Lavant and Smiles threw at Thunberg didn’t probe into questions about how Thunberg presents climate science. 

Instead, they asked her basic questions, which Milloy said she should have been able to answer. 

“It’s embarrassing. I think she’s an empty-headed child who doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” Milloy said. “She exhibited the fact she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, even at the most basic level.”

Milloy, who has authored several books on scientific misinformation, published hundreds of articles in major newspapers and runs the Junk Science Blog, said the encounter shows she can give speeches in which she gives memorized facts, but synthesizing her comments into coherent thoughts on the fly isn’t something she appears capable of doing. 

“I thank God that the climate movement is led by these blowhards like her and Al Gore and John Kerry,” Milloy said. 

Looking To Experts

Thunberg did answer some of the reporters’ questions, but her replies were sarcastic. 

When asked if she had any thoughts about the key figures, such as Kerry and Gore, flying private jets to Davos and taking helicopters to the events, Thunberg replied, “Yes, because I have many private jets of my own.”

Smiles replied, “The point being, you have to condemn them all equally. Otherwise it’s hypocrisy, right?” 

Thunberg laughed and Smiles said he didn’t think it was funny. 

“I don’t take anything seriously. So I laugh all the time. So don’t take it personally,” Thunberg said. 

When asked what she would tell her critics to convince them of her arguments, Thunberg replied, “I wouldn’t say anything.” 

Gregory Wrightstone, executive director of the CO2 Coalition, said when considering the influence Thunberg has on issues surrounding climate change, her responses fail to show any knowledge of the topics she regularly speaks on. 

“It’s just ridiculous. Instead of looking to experts, like those here at the CO2 Coalition, they’re relying on an uneducated young lady that can’t string together sentences very well,” Wrightstone said.

Laying The Blame

Wielicki said it’s good that some reporters are trying to ask her tough questions. 

Maybe it’s not best to ambush someone in the street, he said, but it’s unlikely Thunberg would ever agree to meet with reporters who don’t support her agenda. 

“If they want to ask her some of these questions, this is kind of the only way for them to do it,” Wielicki said. 

Wielicki said much of the criticism, however, should be directed at the adults who are using the young woman to promote a political agenda. 

“She’s an adult now, but I really blame the older adults who are her handlers and making her the face of this. It’s bringing in tons of money,” Wielicki said. 

It also suggests that Thunberg might not know that the apocalyptic narratives she promotes are not backed up by any absolute scientific consensus among climate researchers, he added. 

“If that’s all she’s getting, how wouldn’t she be all freaked out?” Wielicki said. “If she’s only getting that side, I can understand why she thinks that the planet is in some catastrophe mode. I really blame the adults who are telling her this stuff.” 

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