An Italian politician elicited gasps at a European Union meeting Wednesday when he told teen climate activist Greta Thunberg to “go back to school.”
Pietro Fiocchi, an Italian member member of the European Parliament, made the comment during a meeting of its Environment Council in Brussels, Belgium.
Fiocchi started by thanking Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swede, for “raising public awareness” about climate change. But he then offered her what he described as some fatherly advice.
“At the same time, I would like to give an advice as a father gives an advice to a daughter — go back to school and go back to a normal life,” he said.
“Your childhood is as precious as the climate, and if you don’t do something about it, you will lose it forever, [just] as if we do not do anything about the climate, we will lose it forever.”
MEP Pietro Fiocchi to Greta Thunberg: "Go back to school and go back to a normal life." pic.twitter.com/35VLlg3hu5
— The Hill (@thehill) March 4, 2020
Thunberg was on hand to witness the European Commission’s approval of a proposed climate law. If passed by the European Parliament and its 27 member states over the next several months, it would require the commission to factor climate goals into every piece of legislation.
European officials had hoped to win Thunberg’s support for the bill, The New York Times reported. But she publicly decried it as inadequate.
“‘Net zero emissions by 2050’ for the EU equals surrender. It means giving up,” she and 33 other youth climate activists said in an open letter published on Tuesday. “We don’t just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come.”
On the other hand, Fiocchi said at the meeting that he had “serious reservations” about the precedent such a law would set. He also said European action on climate change was worthless outside of a global framework.
How dare Pietro Fiocchi cross Greta Thunberg?
The clip of Fiocchi addressing Thunberg circulated online, inflaming the culture wars in the United States. Some commenters cheered the Italian for showing the fortitude to challenge Thunberg despite her international celebrity. Others, though, called Fiocchi a “jerk” or a “fool.”
Thunberg’s supporters have often proved defensive about any criticism of the two-time Nobel Prize nominee.
Last week, the Bristol Post published the names and pictures of six men who posted derogatory comments about Thunberg after she addressed a climate protest in the English city.
Another British publication, the Independent, in October published an interview with two feminist academics who argued that anti-Thunberg sentiment is the result of male sexism.
“Thunberg obviously scares some men silly,” Camilla Nelson, a media researcher said. “The bullying of the teenager by conservative middle-aged men has taken on a grim, almost hysterical edge. And some of them are reaching deep into the misogynist’s playbook to divert focus from her message.”
However, some conservatives have countered that the left cannot have it both ways: deploying Thunberg to fight their ideological battles while simultaneously declaring her effectively off-limits in the culture wars.
In a September essay, National Review editor Rich Lowry lamented that Thunberg is a “pawn being used by adults for their own interests.”
“Kids are powerful pawns,” he said. “The catchphrase ‘for the children’ has a seductive political appeal, while kids offer their adult supporters a handy two-step. The same people who say, ‘The world must heed this 16-year-old girl’ will turn around and say to anyone who pushes back, ‘How dare you criticize a 16-year-old girl?’”