You can easily imagine the scene: Inside the archconservative Heartland Institute, moldy Skeksis leaders convene in a dark conference room. Climate denial is a withering industry. The changes are happening too quickly, the evidence is too dramatic, and the public is losing interest in their decades-old, monotonous rhetoric. But what to do to update the Heartland denial message? What will breathe new life into the anti-science, anti-evidence movement? What does the public like these days? From somewhere in the huddle, a croaking voice pipes up:
“Blonde European teen girls who seem to really believe in things?”
And behold, the Heartland Institute’s newest climate denial campaign is born. Meet
Climate Denial Poochie Naomi Seibt, the institute’s newly hired “anti-Greta Thunberg.” You like European teens talking about the climate, right? Here, now we have one too! And she even copies Greta’s most famous lines, but this time it’s to mock climate science!
The cynicism of all involved is, to be honest, damn impressive. As reported by The Washington Post, there seems to have been no particular effort made to hide that the Heartland Institute went out to collect an “anti-Greta” to push as a new, hip public face for its climate denial, and did so for no reason other than Thunberg’s worrying worldwide popularity. Seibt, a 19-year-old German YouTuber of middling popularity who had been making a name for herself among the German far-right for her climate denial, anti-feminism, and anti-immigration clips, was seen as someone who could be groomed into being that Greta Thunberg counter.
And she’ll now be popping up, as Heritage brand name and as paid anti-crisis actor(!), at places like the Conservative Political Action Conference, giving speeches that sound much like Greta’s and use some of Greta’s most famous moments, such as the “How dare you?” line, to how dare you the audience into thinking that “manmade CO2 emissions having that much impact on the climate” is something, in her words, “ridiculous to believe.”
Her qualifications for thinking so? She’s a 19-year-old on YouTube. Get it? She’s like that other, more sincere, more evidence-based teen that’s been getting all the attention these days. Screw you for questioning her!
Having watched the conservative movement as it slid down the political mountainside with all the grace of a, cough, pyroclastic flow, I can tell you right now that the hard-right crowd will eat this gratuitously insincere, smarm-infused performance up with a spoon. Seibt is cast in the Fox News blonde, ambiguously Aryan news presenter mold, and quite obviously so, mirroring the movement’s unsubtle conflation of what we’ll call a “certain look” with actual credibility. But she has been hired on as a clown whose shtick is pretending to be an assassin: Her task will be to say gratuitously mean, nasty things about climate activist Thunberg, but to do so as a fellow teen who, the movement reasons, will therefore be herself protected from attacks that would be leveled at a similarly mean-spirited hack only a few years older.
Mark my words: The Matt Schlapp crowd is going to love this act. Donald Trump is going to quite nearly wet himself in satisfaction watching this act. It is everything conservatives love: It mocks someone who is sincere, replacing sincerity with nothingness. It mocks science and expertise, demanding vapid, substanceless puffery be given the very same respect, if not more. It is mean for the sake of mean, lumping white nationalism, anti-feminism, and anti-climate bluster all together, effortlessly, because of course those things would go together. You’ve never seen them apart, have you?
So you’re going to be seeing a lot of Climate Denial Poochie in the coming year. It is a paid gig. This person, quite literally, has been hired by Heartland to be its new climate denial brand. Think Pepsi vs. Coke, if Pepsi hung around with the German far-right and had opinions on immigrants that seemed oddly superfluous to its core soda-themed message.
And that, in turn, may present a small wrinkle. The Post‘s report hints that Seibt has willingly put herself adjacent enough to the German far-far-right for there to be some advocacy there that the Heartland Institute may not have quite realized it was signing up for. (Or, just as likely, the anti-immigration, anti-feminism, German-far-right connections were considered a bonus?)
We’ll see. We will see if Climate Denial Poochie lasts longer than her close cartoon equivalent, and by how much. It may primarily depend on whether the movement really is as clawingly cynical as the Heartland Institute believes it to be, which is, to be honest, not something you should bet against: These people are just achingly gullible and dumb, and revel in being so.