Whitt & Wisdom: The Thunberg Effect

By Jim Whitt  Contributing Editor 


Years ago, I walked into a feed store displaying a sign that read, “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.” I’m sure teenagers found the sign offensive but, as an adult, I could laugh and appreciate the sentiment. The worst thing about being a teenager is that you simply haven’t had enough life experience to tell you that you aren’t nearly as smart as you think you are. To become an adult is to admit that you are a recovering teenager. 

Years later, I was having lunch with Doug Hickey, one of our consulting clients who owned Lynn Hickey Auto World in Tulsa, and his father, Lynn, who at one time owned the largest Dodge dealership in the United States. Lynn asked me how old I was. I told him I was 45. He said that was good. I asked him why. I’ll never forget his response, “Because I’ve found a man is not much good until he’s past the age of 40.” 

I’m not sure that 40 is the magic number, but there is a point in your life where you start to understand you’re not a kid anymore. I tend to believe you are on your way to becoming a fully functioning adult when you start having kids. There is something about having responsibility for someone’s life other than your own that makes you grow up. 

What provoked this diatribe is a headline I saw on the Fox News website: “Teens are pouring milk out in grocery stores in new trend to raise awareness about dairy production emissions.” According to the article, “All across the United Kingdom, teenagers concerned about the environment are doing ‘milk pours.’ The new trend involves going into grocery stores, picking up cartons of cow-produced milk, and pouring out their contents, according to the animal rights group Animal Rebellion.”  

I watched the video embedded in the article that featured two teenaged girls in a grocery store taking cartons of milk from the shelves and pouring the contents onto the floor while spouting nonsensical proclamations. A very nervous teenaged boy stood nearby holding a sign announcing, “Plant Based Future.” Frustrated grocery employees pleaded with the protesters but to no avail. Undeterred, they then vandalized the meat and cheese counters. 

This is a result of the Greta Thunberg Effect. Greta Thunberg apparently became so traumatized by climate change that she temporarily stopped speaking at the age of 11. She regained her voice and convinced her parents they should reduce their carbon footprint. She dropped out of school at age 15 to become a full-time climate activist. Apparently, education and activism don’t mix. 

Thunberg has become an international celebrity. She has not even completed a high school science course but has been hailed by politicians and celebrities as one of the world’s foremost authorities on climate change. By her own admission, her efforts have not even resulted in any significant climate legislation in her native Sweden. Her most significant accomplishment is becoming the most recognizable protest poster child. 

Remember the “I want to be like Mike” commercials from the 1990s featuring Michael Jordan? I imagine privileged teenagers with nothing better to do than play on their iPhones thinking, “I want to be like Greta!” And what better way to save the planet than by vandalizing grocery stores?  

According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing acute food insecurity has gone from 135 million to 345 million since 2019. Imagine what children who live in third-world countries – who are dying of starvation – would think if they saw videos of these obviously very spoiled, well-fed teenagers dumping milk, meat and cheese on grocery store floors. 

Now, I can accept the fact that these teenage vandals don’t realize they are stupid. But here’s the part that is difficult to accept. These kids are simply modeling the behavior of activist adults suffering from arrested development. What if these adults who are stuck in adolescence would grow up and tell these kids we must double food production by 2050 in order to feed the world’s population? What if these activists would raise awareness for starving children instead of destroying food that could save them? 

Unfortunately, some people will only change their behavior when the pain of not changing is greater than continuing their current pattern of behavior. This winter may be that painful when those European activists wake up to the cold, hard reality that there may not be any milk on the shelves to dump, not enough fuel to heat their homes and no electricity when they plug in their cars. Maybe then they won’t want to be like Greta.