Green capitalism is using Greta Thunberg

Translation of ‘Le capitalisme vert utilise Greta Thunberg’, an article published by French media outlet Reporterre on 9 February 2019

9 February 2019 / Isabelle Attard

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Our columnist lived for several years in Swedish Lapland and chaired the French-Swedish Friendship Group at the National Assembly. It is therefore from a place of fondness that she examines the story of the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Isabelle Attard served as a Green deputy for the French department of Calvados. She describes herself as a green anarchist.

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Isabelle Attard

For about five months now, a 16-year old Swedish girl with Asperger syndrome has found herself in the international media spotlight. To make her voice heard, she went on school strike. Her cause is just. For her, it is about sending a message to billionaires and political decision makers — be that at the COP24 in Poland, or recently at Davos, asking them to respect their commitments to climate action. Her last speech moved almost every environmental activist the world over:

“I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is. […] We still have a small chance to stop greenhouse gases and save a large part of the population on our planet a whole lot of suffering.”

Behind these powerful moments, we find a Swedish public relations genius, Ingmar Rentzhog. The other side of the fairy tale is less pretty, but more interesting.

According to my research, Swedish investigative journalist Andreas Henriksson is the first to have investigated this issue. His article was published on the blog of Rebecca Weidmo, on December 11 2018.

Everything was carefully planned to transform the young Swede into an international heroine

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Greta Thunberg on strike in front of the Swedish Parliament

Greta Thunberg’s story begins on August 20, 2018. Ingmar Rentzhog, co-founder of the start-up We Don’t Have Time, bumps into Greta in front of the Swedish Parliament and publishes a moving post on his Facebook page. We are on the first day of a strike started by Greta. August 24 sees the release of an autobiography on the Thunberg’s family crisis and the climate crisis. Scener ur hjärtat (Scenes from the Heart) is co-authored by Greta’s mother Malena Ernman, her father Svante Thunberg, her sister Beata, and Greta. Her artist parents — an opera singer and an actor — are very well known in Sweden; Greta, not yet.

In fact, Ingmar Rentzhog and Greta’s family already know each other, having taken part in a climate conference on May 4, 2018. The encounter between Ingmar and Greta on the pavement in front of the Parliament in Stockholm was hardly by chance then.

Everything was carefully planned to transform the young Swede into an international heroine, right from the time the first article appeared in the most read paper of the country, Aftonbladet — only a few hours after Rentzhog’s Facebook post.

We Don’t Have Time, the start-up Rentzhog co-founded in 2016, aims to create a social network of more than 100 million members who will influence politicians and business leaders to do more to tackle climate change. That’s what’s on their website at least.

Now this is where it gets complicated. Among the shareholders of the start-up, we find members of the two interconnected families: the Perssons, children of the billionaire Sven Olof Persson, who made their fortune in large part by selling cars (Bilbolaget Nord AB), and the Rentzhogs. The two families of investors, who met in the region of Jämtland, have no connections to environmentalism, they are specialists in finance.

Saving the planet by continuing to pursue economic growth and demanding more globalisation

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Ingmar Rentzhog, or how to use Greta Thunberg to promote green growth

In May 2018, Ingmar Rentzhog is recruited as chairman of Global Utmaning (Global Change), a think tank promoting sustainable development. It declares itself politically independent. Its founder is none other than Kristina Persson, daughter of the billionaire and former Social Democrat minister (2014–2016) who was responsible for strategic development and Nordic co-operation. An analysis of the think tank’s tweets reveals strong political engagement. At the beginning of the EU election campaign we see a focus towards an alliance covering the Social Democrats to the Swedish right. “Nationalisms” — emerging all over Europe and internationally — are painted as the enemy. Ideas which would go down well with our dear President Macron.

On 16 January, 2019, Global Utmaning proudly announced on its social media its new collaboration with Global Shapers, a community of young leaders aged between 20 and 30 “equipped with strong potential to play a role in the future of society and who work to improve the situation of populations around them”. This network was created by the World Economic Forum in 2011. Its leaders intend to save the planet while continuing to pursue economic growth and demanding more globalisation. An entire agenda.

To sum up: on the one hand, we have a digital platform under construction, We Don’t Have Time, which took off in a big way within a matter of months thanks to Greta Thunberg who served as a youth advisor to the foundation running the platform. Incidentally, I forgot to point out that the hundreds and thousands of email addresses collected by Rentzhog are worth a fortune. On the other hand, we have a family of billionaires including a former Minister who after investing in the start-up recruits Ingmar Rentzhog to a think tank working on green growth, the circular economy — what we can, in short, call greenwashing.

It is this greenwashing that enables capitalism to continue. Greta Thunberg finds herself advising those she castigates. As Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard said, “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

  • Post-script: So that things are clear — the cause of this young teenager and all the young people following her, all over the world, is righteous and a great source of hope for environmental awareness. That being said, we shouldn’t be fooled by the role of certain adults in her entourage — spin doctors, mentors, specialists in greenwashing, green growth and capitalism. To wage an effective fight, we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled.
  • This column by Isabelle Attard was translated into Italian by the Osservatorio internazionale Per i Diritti.
  • In a post published on her Facebook page on February 2, 2019 and translated by Reporterre, Greta Thunberg responded to her critics.
  • Reporterre was the first French media outlet to interview Greta Thunberg and to communicate her call in December 2018 at the United Nations: read it here.

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