With her school strike for climate protection, Greta Thunberg makes some people furious. Climate change deniers and right-wing circles spread that the girl is „instrumentalized“. But the critic to whom the Greta haters invoke denies all of that.
(This is a summary of my article: „Ist Greta Thunberg eine PR-Marionette?“ („Is Greta Thunberg a PR puppet?“) that was published by Spiegel Online on the 6th of February, 2019. I have translated it into English because some people in Sweden tend to misquote from the article.)
One thing can not be blamed on Greta Thunberg: that she leaves people cold. Hardly any public figure is polarizing these days as much as the 16-year-old Swede skipping school to strike for climate protection. She is a role model for thousands of young people who follow her. But for her opponents, Greta is a hate object and an artificial character. The girl is actually exploited by adults for their egoistical purposes, they claim.
Is Greta a puppet?
Most people who spread this are relying on Andreas Henriksson. The Swedish business journalist, who has long reported on the PR industry, wrote on his Facebook page a few weeks ago that the school strike was a „PR campaign“ for a new book by Greta’s mother, opera singer Malena Ernman. And the great strategist behind this campaign, according to Henriksson, was „the PR-professional Ingmar Rentzhog“.
That’s exactly what Greta’s opponents had been waiting for. Hundredfold Henriksson’s article has been disseminated. Especially climate change deniers and right-wing groups claim since then that the girl is controlled by others.
Is Ingmar Rentzhog the puppeteer? Did he devise Greta’s speeches that sound so amazingly mature and polished?
One thing is certain: the 40-year-old from Stockholm is himself an environmental activist. He knows how to do PR: for years he led the agency Laika Consulting. And he was the first to report on Greta: on his Facebook account. On day one of her strike, when the girl sat unnoticed in front of the Reichstag. Rentzhog’s contribution drew the first media’s attention to Greta – and in the same week Gretas mother published her book, which included her daughter’s diagnosis of Asperger’s and her fight for the climate. „These were strange coincidences,“ says critic Henriksson.
Later Rentzhog organized a small solidarity concert for Greta. And he took advantage of the popularity of the girl for his own start-up: „We Do not Have Time“ is supposed to become a global social media platform for those who are interested in environmental protection. At the end of 2018, Rentzhog collected 13 million Swedish kronor from investors, equivalent to 1.25 million euros. In the investor prospectus, Greta’s activities were presented several times. It also states that Greta was a consultant on the advisory board of a foundation affiliated with the company – which is to receive ten percent of the profits.
Does the activist serve as a figurehead for millionaire profiteering, as right-wing blogs claim?
„Greta is not Rentzhog’s PR puppet. The people who spread this are crazy and right-wing extremists.“ Andreas Henriksson
Journalist Henriksson himself sees it today more differentiated: „I am convinced that Greta and Ingmar work together,“ says the 50-year-old in an interview with the SPIEGEL. „But Greta is not Rentzhog’s PR puppet. The people who spread this are crazy and right-wing extremists. It is sad how they try to break Greta.“
Rentzhog resolutely denies the allegations. „We never planned Greta’s strike,“ says the 40-year-old in an interview with the SPIEGEL. Rentzhog sasy that at time he had only briefly known her mother and that had never talked to the girl herself until her first strike day before the Riksdag. The fact that Rentzhog passed there was indeed no coincidence: an environmental activist had announced in a mailing that there would be an action in front of the parliament.
„Greta started this strike all by herself, we had nothing to do with that,“ says Rentzhog. „But then, with our platform, we helped bring the story to life – just as we would help any other climate activist. That’s our job.“ Over time, Greta and he would have become friends. He did not pay or receive any money from the girl, Rentzhog says. And he also claims that he never wrote a speech for her.
Greta does not promote „We Do not Have Time“ in her speeches. At the request of SPIEGEL, she declares not to do any business with Rentzhog. She had met him only on the first day of her strike. And her family already writes in the foreword to the book that all profits from its sale should go to charities.
„A Greta campaign last summer would have been pretty bad timing“
According to Rentzhog, Greta was only appointed to the foundation in October. The girl did not even get a travel expense, let alone a salary. In the meantime, Greta is no longer a consultant on the advisory board. And with the profit share, the foundation should promote new climate initiatives – if Rentzhog’s start-up will ever make a noteworthy profit.
At the moment the company is still tiny. „We Do not Have Time“ has only five full-time employees in Sweden. In 2018, it did not even make a million crowns (96,000 euros) turnover. And the app, which is supposed connect environmentalists from all over the world, will be ready at the earliest in April. „Had we created a Greta campaign last summer, that would have been pretty bad timing,“ says Rentzhog. „And you know: Greta can not be controlled at all, she’s too stubborn for that.“
Henriksson says he was disturbed by the fact that Greta is portrayed as being a saint. „She’s an activist who believes in and fights for her good cause, and I have great respect for her. But life is not as black and white as she sees it. And we should look to climate scientists for a complex issue like climate change hear.“
Greta herself listens to these scientists. For her speeches, she asks climate researchers for advice, especially two of the most renowned experts worldwide: Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in Manchester. And Glen Peters, research director of the Oslo Cicero Center for Climate Research. (…)