Greta Thunberg ends year with one of the greatest tweets in history
Thunberg’s funny exchange is a reminder of the connection between machismo, misogyny and hostility to climate action
On 27 December, former kickboxer, professional misogynist and online entrepreneur Andrew Tate, 36, sent a boastfully hostile tweet to climate activist Greta Thunberg, 19, about his sports car collection. “Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions,” he wrote. He was probably hoping to enhance his status by mocking her climate commitment. Instead, she burned the macho guy to a crisp in nine words.
Cars are routinely tokens of virility and status for men, and the image accompanying his tweet of him pumping gas into one of his vehicles, coupled with his claims about their “enormous emissions”, had unsolicited dick pic energy. Thunberg seemed aware of that when she replied: “yes, please do enlighten me. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Her reply gained traction to quickly become one of the top 10 tweets of all time; as I write, it’s been liked 3.5 million times and shared directly 650,000 or so, and the interchange became the topic of countless news stories around the world, from India to Australia.
There’s a direct association between machismo and the refusal to recognize and respond appropriately to the climate catastrophe. It’s a result of versions of masculinity in which selfishness and indifference – individualism taken to its extremes – are defining characteristics, and therefore caring and acting for the collective good is their antithesis.
“Men resist green behavior as unmanly” is the headline for a 2017 story on the phenomenon. Machismo and climate denial, as well as alliance with the fossil fuel industry, is a package deal for the right, from the “rolling coal” trucks whose plumes of dark smoke are meant as a sneer at climate causes to Republicans in the US who have long opposed nearly all climate action (and are major recipients of oil money).
Thunberg’s takedown clearly stung Tate, who 10 hours later tweeted out a pompous video in which he tried to reassert his masculinity and status by blathering on in a dressing gown, with a cigar and a pizza box as props. Not long after that, he and his brother Tristan Tate were arrested by Romanian authorities in connection with appalling allegations of sex trafficking. Tate is a troll and a creep; he’s also alleged to be a pimp and rapist. Tate denies all wrongdoing.
Tate is part of a huge network of far-right men online and he’d been banned from most social media platforms. Elon Musk’s Twitter let him back on not long before the tweet that was heard around the world.
He was hoping to promote himself with his sneer at Thunberg; he managed to raise his visibility just in time to make news of his arrest and the charges international news. By at least one account, the Romanian-brand pizza box in his video helped cue police to his location, although the authorities have thrown doubt on that. “Funny, but no,” a spokesperson told the Associated Press. Still, had he not harassed Thunberg, the news of his arrest and the charges would not have been major news. He went looking for attention; he got it.
Thunberg drily tweeted the morning of the 30th: “this is what happens when you don’t recycle your pizza boxes,” mocking her own earnest public image. So far it has 2.6 million likes. Beyond the entertainment value of what transpired over the past few days is a serious reminder of the intersection between machismo, misogyny, hostility to climate action and climate science, and the dank underworld of rightwing characters like Tate recruiting white boys and young men to their views.
Rebecca Solnit is a Guardian US columnist. Her most recent books are Recollections of My Nonexistence and Orwell’s Roses
COVER PHOTO: ‘He was hoping to promote himself with his sneer at Thunberg; he managed to raise his visibility just in time to make news of his arrest.’ Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images