Breaking the Glamour of Greta Thunberg

Breaking the Glamour of Greta Thunberg September 26, 2019

Glamour, Rebirth, and Black Magic

The word “glamour” originally meant a small spell of illusion. As Allan Ramsay defined it the glossary of his 1720 collection of poems, “When Devils, Wizards, or Jugglers deceive the Sight, they are said to cast Glamour o’er the Eyes of the Spectator.” (I’m sure my juggling friends are proud to be mentioned next to devils and wizards.)

Greta Thunberg is not casting such a spell. She is, I believe, an honest true believer in her message. But the phenomenon around her, the social-media-viral cult of personality, is a glamour being very deliberately cast. And it is being cast as what part of artist Hiroyuki Hamada has described as a rebirth ritual — the rebirth of a monster:

“When capitalism reaches its point of diminishing return, it deliberately creates a crisis or an appearance of a crisis in order to stage a ritual of a rebirth. The crisis is designed to corner everyone to rely on the capitalist framework for survival. This functions to divide people into two groups: a group which sees through the mechanism and a group that insists on solving the “crisis” no matter how (meaning solving it according to the acceptable ways). The establishment destroys the anti-capitalist momentum while co-opting dissident voices, giving them credentials, awards, positions in the hierarchy. The process eliminates enemies while augmenting the capitalist hierarchy.”[Steppling]

This ritual is the sort of black magic we have discussed before. For if, as Dion Fortune put it, “Magic is the art of causing changes in consciousness at will,” then black magic can be defined as that which changes our consciousness in accordance with someone else’s will: magic which fools us for the benefit of someone else.

Photo from European Parliament on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

And this sort of black magic, the magic of marketing and branding and social control, is what sustains the entire status quo power hierarchy.

Using a crisis to both co-opt dissidents and do a little rebranding, to give an appearance of change while keeping the same type of exploitative structure in place…Pete Townsend summarized it well when he sang “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

We’ll delve into the nature of this glamour later in this post, but we need some background first.

Alternatives To Fossil Fuel Capitalism

As the climate crisis deepens and it becomes more and more evident that we must take control of the planet away from the fossil fuel industry and its fellow travelers, there are two options.

We can restore the ecology to the state of a commons, owned and managed by the people, and dig exploitative capitalism out by the roots. Of course this could be done in either an authoritarian or a libertarian (in the original, anarchist, sense of that word) manner. We could have an eco-Maoism where The People own the commons only indirectly via The State, where dissident intellectuals are sent off to labor camps to restore damaged land or grow biofuel crops and True Comrades engage in regular struggle sessions to keep their praxis pure; or we could move towards an eco-anarchy of empowered individuals and communities working in voluntary cooperation to see that all human beings can have their basic needs met, both today and for generations to come.

Or, we can give capitalism a rebirth. We can put a stake in the heart of fossil-fuel industrial capitalism only to hand control over to a different set of capitalists, ones who mouth words like “sustainable growth” as they plan to profit via the “financialization of nature”.

As biologist and activist Jutta Kill explains,

‘Green growth’, however, redefines ‘green’ not ‘growth’: Nature is described in the language of financial capital to better suit the new Green Economy. This Green Economy needs a flexible idea of nature. A nature divided into different “ecosystem services” that can be quantified, measured and above all, broken up into individual units, so profit can be made from selling rights to these individual units of nature. We call this financialization of nature.

It is such a perverse world where corporations are people and forests are bundles of carbon, water and biodiversity offsets. Financialization of nature is a symbol of this perverse world, not a solution to its problems. Financialization represents further reduction of community control over their territories and an extension of the social license for corporations to destroy the web of life we depend on and which is showing increasing signs of multiple crises. Financialization extends the damage done by a predatory and exclusive development model that activists have been fighting against for years. It is a model that favors companies that pollute and cause irreparable environmental impacts, while destroying local communities’ and Indigenous Peoples’ cultures, and eroding or annihilating their historical and collective rights. Financialization of nature, and in particular markets in ecosystem services, provide a lifeline for this corporate destruction to continue, despite the blatant and multiple ecological crises associated with it.[Kill]

This sort of financialization is, at root, every bit as authoritarian as either the current reign of fossil fuel capitalism or the eco-Maoist vision I describe above.

That extends not just to the capitalists and the corporations, but to the non-governmental organizations that give them cover.

Title card of Zembla episode, Via REDD-Monitor. Fair use.

The World Wildlife Fund, for example, has provided combat training and support equipment to park rangers in India’s Kaziranga National Park, which has a “shoot on site” policy for poaching suspects. In an episode of the Dutch documentary TV series Zembla titled “Victims of the World Wildlife Fund”, villagers accuse the WWF of managing oppression against them like “an invisible hand”. The documentary reminds us that the WWF was founded by aristocratic hunters.

In recent years communities living in Kaziranga have been violently evicted to make room for a rhino preserve; villagers were shot with rubber bullets and beaten. Two people died.

And this is only one example. Millions of people around the world have been displaced to make space for national parks — in general, the people who have contributed least to the climate crisis. [Lang; “Victim”] The WWF has been accused of equipping and working directly with paramilitary forces that beat, torture, rape, and murder indigenous and other poor rural people in national parks across Asia and Africa.[Warren and Baker]

This is a preview of how turning nature into a basket of “ecosystem services” will evolve into just as bloody a business as petrochemical extraction.

We might think of non-profits and non-governmental organizations as the good guys, motivated by the desire to do good without personal gain. But besides the fact that many non-profits are set up for the interests of the upper classes, there has always been a tension between the intentions with which these organizations are created and the need to appeal to both state and private sources of funding. This makes them ripe for co-option into a sort of “non-profit industrial complex (NPIC)”.

As defined at a 2004 conference titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond The Non-Profit Industrial Complex”, the NPIC

…is a system of relationships between:

  • the State (or local and federal governments)
  • the owning classes
  • foundations
  • and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements.

The state uses non-profits to:

  • Monitor and control social justice movements;
  • Divert public monies into private hands through foundations;
  • Manage and control dissent in order to make the world safe for capitalism;
  • Redirect activist energies into career-based modes of organizing instead of mass-based organizing capable of actually transforming society;
  • Allow corporations to mask their exploitative and colonial work practices through “philanthropic” work;
  • Encourage social movements to model themselves after capitalist structures rather than to challenge them[INCITE!]

It’s been 15 years since that definition, and we should assume that the NPIC has gotten more sophisticated in its methods. In this post-Occupy world, it will try to mask its operations as being bottom-up, grassroots movements — to cast a glamour over their actions to hide their true nature.

The Davos Class

Every year the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, brings together heads of state and high government officials, bankers and financiers, corporate executives, important figures from international organizations like the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and OECD, as well as cultural elites, occasional celebrities, and various hangers-on.

As writer Andrew Marshall summarized, it functions “as a socializing institution for the emerging global elite, globalization’s ‘Mafiocracy’ of bankers, industrialists, oligarchs, technocrats and politicians. They promote common ideas, and serve common interests: their own.”

In 1997 political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Man” for this elite who “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that are thankfully vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.”

Since 2000, the participation of NGOs and non-profit organizations has increased.[Marshall] The non-profit industrial complex has become part of the Davos class.

Davos is a gathering of the powerful. Anything that happens there, is meant to preserve or gain power for at least one faction of the status quo power structure.

This past January, Greta Thunberg spoke at the WEF, first to a informal lunch gathering with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, and an array of bankers and investors, as well as celebrity music stars Bono and Will.i.am; then at a session titled “Preparing for Climate Disruption”.[Kottasova and Mackintosh; Landy]

The popular narrative suggests that, rather than being at Davos because she is of some use to the transnational ruling class, Thunberg is just so inherently awesome that the most powerful people in the world are open to being scolded by her and will be moved to reform their sinful ways. This is certainly a pleasant, hopeful, feel-good interpretation.

It’s also one entirely at odds with the history of capitalism.

The Creation of the Greta Thunberg Glamour

Greta Thunberg is the child of well-connected celebrities in Sweden. Her father Svante is a moderately successful actor; mother Malena Ernman is an opera and music star — and co-winner of WWF’s “Environmental Hero of the Year” for 2017.[“Artisten…”] The glamour of the NPIC, it seems, starts with Greta’s mother; the WWF would certainly prefer to be associated with the singing star than with paramilitary park rangers evicting, torturing, and killing poor people.

October 26, 2018, Facebook: Greta Thunberg, We Don’t Have Time, via wrongkindofgreen.org. Fair use.

In May of 2018, Ernman shared a stage at the “Climate Parliament” conference with tech CEO and financier Ingmar Rentzhog. Rentzhog is the founder of We Don’t Have Time, a social media company aimed at (and thus selling to and profiting from) people concerned about climate change; and of Laika, an investment relations company. He is on the board of Svenska Bostadsfonden, one of Sweden’s biggest real estate funds. We Don’t Have Time’s investors include Gustav Stenbeck, whose family controls one of Sweden’s largest investment companies.

Rentzhog was at the time also chairman a think-tank called Global Utmaning (Global Challenge), whose founder, Kristina Persson, is heir to an industrial fortune; his board’s vice-chair was a member of one of Sweden’s most powerful green energy investment groups. Another board member was chair of the Swedish Environmental Objectives Council.

In short, Rentzhog is a dedicated member of the capitalist class with strong connections to the financializtion of nature movement, as well as his own profit motives to sell climate concern.

Around that same time, climate activist Bo Thorén approached Thunberg and other winners of a recent environmental op-ed writing competition with a plan for a “school strike”, modeled on student walk-outs after the shootings in Parkland, Florida.[Green]

(We have here an interesting parallel, in that the Parkland students were promoted as figureheads by firearm prohibition advocacy organizations and their allies in the media. The famous “March For Our Lives” was backed by “Everytown for Gun Safety”, a group founded and originally funded by authoritarian ex-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg[Dwilson], whose anti-gun work as mayor involved the infamous “stop and frisk” policies of police harassing young black and Latino men. But that is a tangent for another time.)

The only student who was interested in Thorén’s idea was Thunberg, so she decided to go ahead on her own with a protest at the Swedish parliament on August 20, 2018.

Rentzhog learned about Thunberg’s solo strike in a mailing from Thorén[Green], and saw a fantastic branding opportunity. He showed up to take pictures and posted about her on We Don’t Have Time’s Twitter account, launching Brand Greta. The company’s “chief marketing and sustainability officer” Mårten Thorslund took many of the first promotional photos of Thunberg; some of them were used in a article written by chief operating officer David Olsson and published on Medium a few days after her protest.

(It didn’t hurt that this coincided with the release of Ernman’s book Scenes from the Heart, a memoir of green lifestyles and the challenges of her daughters’ developmental disorders.)

In short order, Thunberg was listed as one of two “special youth advisors and trustees” to We Don’t Have Time.[Morningstar, “Manufacturing”]

In Rentzhog’s own words, “I have not invented Greta, but I helped to spread her action to an international audience.”[Green]

Image via wrongkindofgreen.org. Fair use.

He also spread Brand Greta to investors, invoking her at least eleven times in promotional material for a share issue announced last November. He spoke to investors of the potential to be “extremely profitable” with viral environmental content supported by advertising. (The venture would channel just 10 percent of its profits to a charitable fund.)

Selling their ability to produce viral content, they cited their creation of Brand Greta: “Leading representatives from We Don’t Have Time were the first to pay attention to Greta Thunberg’s protest through Facebook and Twitter posts as well as Youtube films that received viral spread. The company thus played a central role in giving Greta Thunberg’s protest great national and international attention.”

They raised 10 million Krona, over $1 million, from the issue.[“Start-up…”]

It’s not clear how much of this Thunberg or her parents knew or understood. Her father claims that “we have never worked with” We Have No Time or Global Challenge. But Greta Thunberg served on We Have No Time’s advisory board between November 2018 and January 2019, and Ernman signed an op-ed (about, ironically, the need for “bottom-up” environmental action) alongside Rentzhog, Persson, and three other Global Challenge board members.[Green]

The Nature of the Glamour

What is clear is that a very large piece of the story is missing from the dominant media coverage of the Greta Thunberg phenomenon. And this is not accidental – we are being deliberately fooled, manipulated by black magic.

The Thunberg phenomenon is a brand being put forward by the transnational power class, not a grassroots solution. (I am not, to be clear, saying that Thunberg is a knowing or willing participant in this; her youth and her developmental disorders make her vulnerable to exploitation.) The supposed “youth led” protests are being organized by groups in the non-profit industrial complex, such as the Rockefeller-funded[Morningstar, “Climate Cartel”; Leonardi; “What’s behind”] 350.org[Conley]. The kids are a glamour to hide the monied interests

Thunberg’s role is to push the urgency, to instill panic. That is literally the language she used at Davos:

But I don’t want your hope. 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.[Thunberg]

But just what action are we supposed to take? No doubt Thunberg thought she was urging the Davos class to take positive and humane action, but they see things differently. They see that once we’re good and panicking, then we’re ready to buy solutions — and not be too choosy about them.

We’ll demand massive spending of public monies on the climate crisis. And the Davos class will be ready to sell — everything from lifestyle products like Rentzhog’s social media site to the financialization of nature.

And if those solutions don’t actually solve the underlying problems, which is the existence of a ruling group like the Davos class? (Whether it’s made of petrochemical capitalists or “green” capitalists?) Well, caveat emptor. There will be no refunds when we parcel the natural world into bundles of ecosystem services.

And we’ll think we’re doing it for the children, as the capitalists laugh all the way to the bank.


References

“Artisten Malena Ernman och biologen Rebecka Le Moine utsedda till Årets Miljöhjältar av WWF / Artist Malena Ernman and biologist Rebecka Le Moine appointed Environmental Heroes of the Year by WWF.” WWF. 5 Oct 2017. https://www.wwf.se/pressmeddelande/artisten-malena-ernman-och-biologen-rebecka-le-moine-utsedda-till-arets-miljohjaltar-av-wwf-2689982/ / https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wwf.se%2Fpressmeddelande%2Fartisten-malena-ernman-och-biologen-rebecka-le-moine-utsedda-till-arets-miljohjaltar-av-wwf-2689982%2F

Dwilson, Stephanie Dube. “Who Is Funding & Organizing March for Our Lives?” Heavy.com. 24 Mar 2018. https://heavy.com/news/2018/03/who-is-funding-paying-for-march-for-our-lives/

Green, Dominic. “Greta’s very corporate children’s crusade.” Standpoint. 30 May 2019. https://standpointmag.co.uk/issues/june-2019/gretas-very-corporate-childrens-crusade/

INCITE! “Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” https://incite-national.org/beyond-the-non-profit-industrial-complex/

Kill, Jutta. “Financialization of Nature” (brochure). Amsterdam, Friends of the Earth International, 2015. https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Financialization-of-Nature-brochure-English.pdf

Kottasova, Ivana and Mackintosh, Eliza. “Teen activist tells Davos elite they’re to blame for climate crisis”. CNN. 25 Jan 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/25/europe/greta-thunberg-davos-world-economic-forum-intl/index.html

Lang, Chris. “WWF scandal (part 11): Dutch documentary exposes the shoot on sight policy in Kazira.” REDD-Monitor. 5 Jun 2019. https://redd-monitor.org/2019/06/05/wwf-scandal-part-11-dutch-documentary-exposes-the-shoot-on-sight-policy-in-kaziranga-national-park-india/

Landy, Heather. “A 16-year-old tells Davos delegates that if the planet dies, she’s blaming them.” Quartz. 25 Jan 2019. https://qz.com/1533904/greta-thunberg-blames-davos-delegates-for-climate-change/

Leonardi, Michael. “The Great Pipeline Scam.” CounterPunch. 19 Jan 2012. https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/19/the-great-pipeline-scam/

Marshall, Andrew. “World Economic Forum: a history and analysis.” Transnational Institute. 2015 Jan 2015. https://www.tni.org/en/article/world-economic-forum-a-history-and-analysis

Morningstar, Cory. “The Climate Cartel: 1Sky, 350.org And Rockefeller Brothers | Stronger As One”. Countercurrents.org. 11 Jul 2011. https://www.countercurrents.org/morningstar110711.htm

Morningstar, Cory. “The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent: The Political Economy of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex [ACT I]”. Wrong Kind Of Green. 17 Jan 2019. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/01/17/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-the-political-economy-of-the-non-profit-industrial-complex/

“Start-up used teen climate activist to raise millions: Swedish paper”. The Local [Sweden]. 9 Feb 2019. https://www.thelocal.se/20190209/start-up-used-child-climate-activist-to-raise-millions

Steppling, John. “A New Volkisch Mythos”. CounterPunch, May 23, 2019. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/23/a-new-volkisch-mythos/

Thunberg, Greta. “‘Our house is on fire’: Greta Thunberg, 16, urges leaders to act on climate”. The Guardian. 25 Jan 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/25/our-house-is-on-fire-greta-thunberg16-urges-leaders-to-act-on-climate

“Victim of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund)”. ZEMBLA Onderzoeksjournalistiek. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHH_vlhnC0

Warren, Tom and Baker, Katie J.M. “WWF Funds Guards Who Have Tortured And Killed People”. BuzzFeed News. 4 Mar 2019. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tomwarren/wwf-world-wide-fund-nature-parks-torture-death

“What’s Behind the Money Behind McKibben?” Inside Philanthropy. 12 Oct 2013. https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/climate-change/2013/10/12/whats-behind-the-money-behind-mckibben.html

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