Opinion

Nobody cares if you like Greta or not - her influence is unquestionably huge

By Ed McLeish

There’s a freshly-painted mural on the Benalla council building that’s sent social media into an uproar.

The mural’s subject matter has pitted the Sky-News-watching climate-change-denying “quiet Australians” against left wingers, a lot of whom are millennials, who believe climate change is one of the greatest challenges humankind will face.

Benalla's mural is of Greta Thunberg, teenage climate activist, the youngest person ever to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

As part of Benalla’s Window to Window Christmas festival, Benalla Rural City Council co-operated with local artist Tim Bowtell to create the mural, sending a clear message about climate change.

Some residents said on Facebook the mural “didn’t fit the Christmas theme”, while others said it was “absolutely beautiful”.

Thunberg, 16, rose to fame last year spending school days outside Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on global warming, and it caught other students’ attention to the point where there has been hundreds of marches and movements from all types of people globally.

She has encouraged many to reduce their carbon footprint, and she has led by example by ceasing to eat meat and travel by plane, electing to go to UN Climate Change Conferences by sailboat instead.

As effective as the sailboat plan appeared, her fame was the issue in travelling to this year’s summit in New York; the media's helicopters and planes following her journey would have created plenty of emissions in their expeditions.

Sure, climate change has been a topic dividing Australian dinner tables, university lecture theatres and election lines this year, and Thunberg has been a large part of changing its classification from a mere ``issue” to a “crisis”.

Whether you admire or resent her for this doesn’t matter; it’s fitting she was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year because of her staunch influence.

Earlier this week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said all political decisions New Zealand made from now on would be based around climate change, whereas American President Donald Trump said, "Chill, Greta, chill.”

Let’s think of, but not compare Greta to, other controversial recipients of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award. They include Adolf Hitler (1938), Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942), Nikita Khrushchev (1957) and Ayatollah Kohmeini (1979).

Regardless of these people's reputations, their influence on human affairs is undeniable.

Another thing to consider is the prestige and branding of Time Magazine, and whether people are putting the publication on a pedestal.

Time Magazine has a global readership of 26 million, 20 million of whom reside in the United States. That’s six million readers outside the US, which isn’t much, considering the global population is 7.7 billion.

The criteria used to select people comes purely from the amount of influence they’ve brought to the global community, not how popular they are.

So when you’re driving through Benalla, don’t shove your adoration or distaste for Thunberg down others’ throats.

Instead, acknowledge her influence and the fact she’s trying to clean up the environment — which, in the end, regardless of whether you believe in climate change or not, will benefit us all.