Colin Brazier: How dare Greta Thunberg belittle Britain

Colin Brazier
Colin Brazier

When the Swedish teen speaks, we are meant to listen as if her words are holy writ


It doesn’t matter that the pronouncements of Greta Thunberg are historically illiterate. When the Swedish teen speaks, we are meant to listen as if her words are holy writ.

This week she told Sky News that the climate crisis “…started in the UK, since that's where the Industrial Revolution started, we started to burn coal there, so of course the UK has an enormous historical responsibility.”

I’m not a climate change denier. Some of what Thunberg wants, I agree with. But to conclude that Britain, crucible of the Industrial Revolution, should be singled out as if we had committed an Original Sin, is an act of vaulting ingratitude and contrived amnesia.

We had no right, this tiny, tiny island nation, to inaugurate – about 300 years ago - an era of prosperity that pulled millions out of poverty and produced a quantum leap in the story of human progress on a scale that hadn’t been seen since the domestication of animals.

It was something bordering on the miraculous that one country should produce, per capita, so many men – and they were almost all men – who would use science and engineering to find ways of solving seemingly insoluble technical problems.

How many children now learn the names of Jethro Tull, Richard Arkwright or James Watt? How many adults know how much the course of civilization was changed by inventions like the seed drill, the blast furnace or the steam loom. Chemicals and mining, canals and railways. Agriculture and shipping. Our entire human species was enhanced by breakthroughs made in Britain. To even say that now sounds uncomfortably nationalistic. But it’s true.

The world in which we live, full of human comforts made possible by technology, have their roots in the Industrial Revolution which took root here. Cities like my birthplace of Bradford sucked in thousands of rural peasants and created wealth with a speed never before seen. It was often ugly, unfair and dangerous. Children worked and died in conditions that would now be seen as utterly barbaric. There was mass enrichment, but also exploitation.

Our people, my ancestors, perhaps yours too, toiled and bled and perished for the innovations that the world, including Greta Thunberg, now takes for granted. She can’t have it both ways. Yes we may have fired up the steam engines that blackened cities like Bradford with soot, but we also set in train a process of machine-driven evolution that gave us advanced healthcare, transportation and communication. Take away Britain’s Industrial Revolution Greta, and you take away the spark that lit centuries of human advancement.

Her belittling of Britain is all of a piece. It’s fashionable to blame us for things we were once encouraged to find praiseworthy. We obsess about slavery and colonialism, and ignore how we bestowed on the world a global language and way of life that is emulated everywhere. We talk as if none of this would’ve have been possible without immigration or the proceeds of the slave trade, even when they frequently had no bearing on the leaps of imagination which made the Industrial Revolution possible.

Of course it’s true that few inventions happen in isolation, that all innovators stand on the shoulders of others, but what was remarkable about the Industrial Revolution we gave to the world, was how much it relied on what Britain was; a place of stability, of contracts and commerce, of parliamentary democracy and freedom of conscience. Incredibly boring but terribly important things like the rule of law and patents.

Greta Thunberg ignores all this with her sweeping and puerile indictment of the Industrial Revolution and her casual libel of British achievements.

She is the epitome of a culture that actively rewrites history to fit a simplistic story of good and evil.

And she has the temerity to say to us “How dare you?” How dare she.

That’s the Brazier Angle.