Greta Thunberg isn’t the first teenager roped into delivering an emotive plea cynically designed to emotionally manipulate the international community.
The 16-year-old Swedish activist has today delivered a heart-rending performance, worthy of a Razzie award, to the UN Climate Change COP24 conference. The cringe-worthy display replete with overacted facial gestures – no doubt intended to transmit how super duper mad she is – has drawn both fawning praise and hearty derision from various camps.
This manipulative display prompted me to remember a similar display of child exploitation in which a teenage girl was used to push an agenda.
Some of our readers may have read about or be old enough to remember a little event in 1990 called ‘The Nayirah Testimony’. It’s important that manipulations of the public such as the Nayirah testimony not be allowed to fall from the memory of the collective consciousness.
The Nayirah Testimony
On October 10, 1990 a false testimony was delivered by 15-year-old ‘Nayirah’ to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in which she testified to have been witness to Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, leaving them to die.
It was later revealed that she was actually Nayirah Al-Sabah, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Nayirah had been enlisted on behalf of Kuwaiti interest group Citizens for a Free Kuwait as a part of a public relations campaign run by US PR firm Hill & Knowlton.
As it turns out, her testimony was concocted and coached by consultants at Hill & Knowlton. Awkward.
“Nayirah’s charges, they said, were totally false. I think it was just something for propaganda,” Dr. Matar said. In an ABC-TV News account after the war, John Martin reported that although “patients, including premature babies, did die,” this occurred “when many of Kuwait’s nurses and doctors stopped working or fled the country” (Cohen 2002).Cohen, M 2002, ‘How Bush Sr. Sold the Bombing of Iraq’, Counter Punch, 28 December 2002, viewed 24 September 2019, < https://web.archive.org/web/20110429012920/http://www.counterpunch.org/cohen1228.html >.
This carefully crafted lie was backed by Amnesty International, which later issued a correction and claimed that it had been manipulated by the Bush administration of the time.
By then, however, the damage had been done. The horrifying testimonial image of vulnerable babies being ruthlessly and callously murdered by bloodthirsty Iraqi soldiers had already been broadcast worldwide.
The resulting public outcry was manipulated by warhawks in the US government to shift public opinion on intervention in Kuwait, leading to the 1990 Gulf War. The rest, as they say, is history.
Then, for war number two, the lie of Iraq possessing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was manufactured to manipulate the public and international community again.
It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Every new decade, a new big lie is wheeled before the masses to evoke an emotional reaction that provides PR cover until the damage is done.
This time, the big lie is climate change. Now I’m no climate scientist, but I can tell you that the current top sources of world carbon emissions don’t entirely consist of post-industrial western nations such as the United States and Australia.
2018 data presented by the International Energy Agency showed that 29% and 7% of global emissions from fuel combustion came from China and India respectively. Recent findings (Union of Concerned Scientists 2018) suggest that developed nations do emit significantly more per capita than developing nations, with Australia emitting 16.2 tons of CO2 per capita compared to 1.7 per capita from our neighbour Indonesia. I am not suggesting that the developed countries cannot do more to care for the planet, I merely question the motives behind punishing developed countries while being lenient on developing nations that still emit significant amounts.
One interesting measure of pollution that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is the plastic pollution making its way into the world’s oceans. Top polluters include Indonesia, Phillipines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Egypt and of course China (McCarthy 2019).
There are certainly many improvements to be made, and action undoubtedly must be taken to prevent the wholesale rape of the one habitable planet we currently have access to. What then is the solution? Taxing everyone? Maybe. Driving up the cost of living with levies paid to benevolent and incorruptible (a bit of sarcasm there) international masters?
Personally, I believe that we should have another look at nuclear energy.
Cohen, M 2002, ‘How Bush Sr. Sold the Bombing of Iraq’, Counter Punch, 28 December 2002, viewed 24 September 2019, <https://web.archive.org/web/20110429012920/http://www.counterpunch.org/cohen1228.html>.
Union of Concerned Scientists 2018, Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions, viewed 24 September 2019, <https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html>.
McCarthy, N 2019, ‘The Countries Polluting the Oceans the Most’, Statista, viewed 24 September 2019, <https://www.statista.com/chart/12211/the-countries-polluting-the-oceans-the-most/>.