When 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed French lawmakers on Tuesday, some of her comments were intended for a group of people notably absent from the chamber: a handful of far-right and conservative politicians who boycotted her appearance and belittled her on social media ahead of her visit.
“Some people have chosen not to come here today, some have chosen not to listen to us," she said. “And that is fine. We are, after all, just children.”
“We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things because no one else wants to, or dares to,” she added.
Thunberg inspired a global movement of young climate activists over the last year, after she launched a solo school strike in which she sat outside the Swedish parliament once a week to protest what she saw as inaction on climate change. Soon, other students were following suit. In May, students around the world boycotted school in a coordinated strike, taking to the streets of major cities in a day of protest.
She has been celebrated globally as the face of her generation and was at the lower house of France’s Parliament on Tuesday at the invitation of more than 160 French lawmakers involved in a climate advocacy group.
But she’s also provoked some who see her as unqualified and aggressive in her approach.
On Twitter, Guillaume Larrivé, who is running for leader of the conservative party Les Républicains, called on his colleagues to skip Thunberg’s remarks, saying France “needs not apocalyptic gurus but scientific progress and political courage.”
In a TV interview Tuesday morning, Larrivé went further, saying “the public debate should not be focused on one single person, who has a symbolic strength and who also at times says a lot of nonsense.”
“My problem with Ms. Thunberg,” he said, “is that she refuses to go to school.”
“To strike from school, from learning, from knowledge because it’s the apocalypse at our doors, I can’t approve of that," he added.
Julien Aubert, who is also running for leader of Les Républicains, tweeted in French: “Do not count on me to go and applaud a prophetess in shorts, Nobel Prize of fear.”
Jordan Bardella, a French member of European Parliament, told French television station France 2 that he disapproved of “using children to hawk a fatalist message about the world going up in flames, and skipping school and going on strike," calling it “a deeply defeatist approach.”
Thunberg’s visit came just before the French Parliament voted in favor of a controversial European Union-Canada trade deal that critics say will put unfair competition on French farmers and could be harmful to the environment because Canada’s food safety rules are less stringent than those in place in France. On Monday, former French environmental minister Nicolas Hulot wrote in a letter to lawmakers that they should “have the courage to say ‘no’ tomorrow” in the vote.
Earlier this week, Thunberg was feted in a different part of France, when she was awarded the Normandy Freedom Prize. After meeting two D-Day veterans, she said she thinks “the least we can do to honor them is to stop destroying that same world that [they] and their friends and colleagues fought so hard to save.”