Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is getting her own documentary with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). I’m guessing you probably didn’t know that. Or, at the very least, perhaps you don’t even care. Most North Dakotan’s likely don’t.
But what if I told you that a proposal was in the works to put a mural of her in downtown Bismarck? It’s true.
As you can see in this report from KFYR yesterday:
“Wet Plate Artist Shane Balkowitsch has proposed to the Renaissance Zone Authority to install a mural of Greta Thunberg on the south side of the Brick Oven Bakery Building.”
You’ll notice I said the proposal “was” in the works. That’s because the outcry in opposition to the idea was so great that Balkowitsch pulled the plans on it today.
I first learned about this issue last night and decided to write about it. As a result of other commitments today, I had to delay finishing what I’d begun. It’s amazing how quickly strong public feedback can change things.
At just 16 years old, Thunberg gained fame last year with this short speech at the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit. She repeatedly declared, “How dare you!”, as she lectured attendees — and all who would listen through the media — about “people dying”, “ecosystems crumbling”, and our being in the “beginning of a mass extinction” as a result of climate change. It was… well… interesting.
To prove just how committed she is to reducing carbon emissions, Thunberg used a zero-emissions sailboat to make her way to North America. That might seem admirable to some people. But not all. For example, one writer suggested that Thunberg’s carbon footprint isn’t nearly as small as we might have thought— to the point of hypocrisy:
“But there’s another side to this eco-friendly journey: Two crewmembers had to fly across the Atlantic to New York to bring the boat back, and two of the crew members that made the original voyage had to fly across the Atlantic from the US to return home. That’s four flights to keep Greta from making two. We won’t even mention the train trip Greta took to get to Plymouth, England, in order to set sail, nor will we mention the numerous freeze-dried meals, which we assume are encased in some single-use plastic product, which by our estimations, the two-man crew, Greta, her father, and some cameraman documenting the experience equated to over 200 meals. We also won’t talk about how Greta will return home, since the boat has since returned to Europe.
“In a nutshell, the 5,337-kilometer flight times four people generated 2,134,800 grams of C02 by our calculations, just for the flights alone.”
To understand how this mural controversy came about, it might be best to give it some context.
About two weeks after her appearance at the Climate Action Summit, Thunberg visited the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Yes, the same Standing Rock that gained worldwide notoriety for its role in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests.
Among those welcoming Thunberg to Standing Rock was fellow 16-year-old “activist” Tokata Iron Eyes— daughter of Chase Iron Eyes. As you might recall, Chase Iron Eyes was the Democratic-NPL candidate for U.S. House back in 2016. He got hammered by Kevin Cramer— garnering just under 24% of the vote. You might also remember him for having been arrested during the DAPL protests. He later signed a plea deal, and the most serious charges against him were dropped.
These are the kind of folks Greta Thunberg came to rub shoulders with at Standing Rock. I don’t mean that in a condescending kind of way. What I’m trying to get at is that politics on Standing Rock are vastly different than those found in Bismarck— or most of the rest of North Dakota for that matter.
The aforementioned Shane Balkowitsch — who is himself “against fracking, against oil” — offered to do a wet plate portrait of Greta Thunberg while she spent time at Standing Rock. With the permission of her father, that shoot resulted in two portraits.
What did Balkowitsch hope to accomplish by doing the photo shoot? Simple. He wants to “immortalize” Greta Thunberg.
And this is where everyone needs to be honest about the situation. This proposed mural had absolutely nothing to do with “beautifying” downtown Bismarck— at all. It had everything to do with Balkowitsch’s desire to glorify and immortalize a political activist he agrees with. Period.
Did Balkowitsch — and anyone else who might have thought it a good idea — honestly believe that the people of Bismarck would think this was a spectacular way to beautify downtown? Give me a break.
In my original draft of writing about this, I speculated that following through with the mural might actually hurt downtown, not revitalize it. After all, people who aren’t fans of Thunberg could simply show their displeasure by not doing business there. As you will see in this Bismarck Tribune article, that’s exactly what was threatened.
I want to be clear that I think owners of private property should get to put murals on their walls. I also think they should be able to do it without threats of vandalism— the kind of threats that were apparently made by some people if the mural became a reality.
Furthermore, I have no problem with those who disagree with — and even boycott — businesses who don’t hold the same values or political ideas as they do. But damaging other people’s property only makes you an idiot.
Having said all this, I’ll admit this proposal gave me pause. And not because Greta Thunberg is a tool of the climate change crowd.
Remember, the location of where this mural would have gone is the Renaissance Zone— that bastion of special favors that leaves those who pay taxes picking up the tab for those businesses who don’t. And it’s all done in the name of “revitalizing” downtown.
It’s bad enough that others pick up the tab for businesses taking advantage of the breaks provided by the Renaissance Zone. But to expect many of them to embrace the mural of a political activist who they vehemently disagree with? Well, that’s pretty ridiculous. But then again, so are Renaissance Zones.
Note: If you’re interested in viewing Greta Thunberg’s short address to the U.N. Climate Action Summit, you can see it below.
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