Gaslighting the climate-striking students

Julia Steinberger
6 min readFeb 17, 2019

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” a quote commonly misattributed to Gandhi, nevertheless encapsulates his understanding and that of many other social justice leaders. Given the recent attacks against hundreds of thousands of climate-striking students, though, it is clear that it misses a stage: right after they ignore you, they gaslight you.

Photograph from Andrew Simms

Gaslighting means to manipulate someone’s perception of reality so that they doubt their own sanity. Right now, we are seeing world leaders, government ministers, editors of major media, all lining up to try to gaslight us, their citizens, the public. They want us to disbelieve our own eyes and ears, our own minds, reasoning and emotions — because the alternative is simply impossible for them to bear. They cannot bear the fact, the reality, that a new generation is rising up and raising its voice, showing its power through striking and non-violent civil disobedience, demanding a habitable planet, and thus casting a bright spotlight on the older generation’s abject failure to curb the power of fossil-fueled industries and halt climate breakdown.

Exhibit 1: Attacking Greta the Great

Since Greta Thunberg started the student strike for climate movement, it was perhaps only to be expected that various rumor-mongers, unable to attack the crystal-clarity of the message, would attack the messenger instead. It was heartbreaking to read Greta’s response: a 16-year-old with the weight of the world on her shoulders, being distracted from her mission, having to spend any time at all responding to such baseless attacks.

The goal of Greta’s attackers was clear: to discredit the climate-strike movement by manufacturing doubt in the integrity of its foremost leader. Unfortunately for them, Greta’s integrity is so large, it can be seen from space. It shine out in her TED talk. We can trust our eyes and ears and reason and emotions: based on her own intellect and reasoning, Greta is demanding of all of us that we stand up…

Julia Steinberger

Immigrant, Swiss-American-UK ecological economist at the University of Lausanne. Research focus on living well within planetary limits. Opinions my own.