A few days after 16-year-old Swedish climate activist made an emotional speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23, a school principal in Australia told his students in a newsletter not to believe “a little girl…with mental problems”.
“You can skip school. Hold up a piece of cardboard in the streets and call out for the government to ‘do something to stop it all happening’… really???” Principal Rodney Lynn of the Coffs Harbour Christian Community School in New South Wales wrote in a weekly newsletter without naming Thunberg.
“You can listen to a little girl with self-declared various emotional and mental problems that she thinks give her a special insight into a pending doom of ‘climate change’. She says she is anxious. You too can be anxious. You can call on the governments of the world to ‘do something’. You can worry, worry, worry… really??? Please don’t,” Lynn advised his students.
Thunberg has spoken about living with Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. According to Asperger’s Society of Ontario, Asperger Syndrome traits may make it difficult for children to function well in school and for adults to find and keep employment. However, many individuals with Asperger Syndrome exhibit extensive knowledge of a specific interest and therefore are capable of major accomplishments.
Speaking about her condition, Thunberg had tweeted in August: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And — given the right circumstances — being different is a superpower.”
“No one knows when the final wind up of the world will be,” Principal Lynn wrote. “Jesus said no one, only the Father God, knows about that day or hour.”
Quoting God’s promise to Noah after “the first, and only, complete catastrophic climate change”, he told his students to believe in God. “Do not be afraid. Your world’s future is in the hands of God, not in the predictions of a little girl and false prophets. God’s promises have never failed yet,” he wrote.
Many local religious leaders criticised Lynn for his Biblical perspective. The Dean of Grafton Cathedral, Dr Greg Jenks, said Lynn’s views were a “horrible expression of Christianity”.
“I guess the newsletter is primarily aimed at parents rather than children, but it’s a view that encourages people to not to take any responsibility for looking after the planet,” he said. “It’s a complete misuse of scripture, it’s a very naive approach.”
After Thunberg’s emotional speech to world leaders and days before Lynn’s letter, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had warned against creating needless anxiety among children about climate change. “I think there’s a lot of disinformation out there about, frankly, what Australia is doing,” Morrison said. “I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future.”
Though Thunberg has become a cult icon for millions of people all over the world, she has come under criticism from various quarters for emotionalising the very complex issue of climate change. Due to her radical approach, she is also seen at odds with democracy.