I feel bad for Greta Thunberg.

Don't get me wrong. She has had opportunities few people in the world ever will have. She sailed across an ocean. She spoke to the United Nations. She even got to come to Rapid City and lead a rally and march to City Hall.

Apparently, there is nothing as offensive as someone who believes something you don't.

I've never seen a group of adults more afraid of a teenager than they are of a diminutive 16-year-old Swedish girl who wants to help save the planet.

Greta Thunberg has beliefs. She has seen the science behind man-made climate change and she believes that science shows a dire future for the planet. She also believes there is time to correct our course in order to improve our outlook.

Reading the hundreds of comments on any post on social media about Thunberg would make you believe she was a menace. She is brainwashed. She is a puppet. She is a political prop. One pundit recently mocked her for having Asperger's syndrome on FOX News — for which he was rightfully banned from the channel. Dinesh D'Souza — a convicted felon whose views are often abhorrent and welcomed on far-right platforms — likened her message to Nazi propaganda.

Others say she is only 16, so they won't let her tell them what to do.

Right wing pundits have proven themselves unable to debate the facts with this Swedish teen. Instead, they try to discredit and demonize her.

It is amazing.

She has no advanced education in science. She never claimed to have one. She simply cares about the planet.

Did her parents influence her beliefs? I don't know. Did your parents influence yours?

Is she a puppet? She doesn't appear to be. In person, she seems to be a reluctant hero. I don't think she ever imagined the impact she would have when she first started sailing across the ocean in a zero emissions yacht to deliver a message to the world.

She almost certainly never imagined that she would be invited to speak at the United Nations or bring a message about the environment to hundreds of people in Rapid City.

Thunberg's biggest crime is that she has been given an out-sized voice in the climate change debate. She gains attention with sincerity. Right or wrong, she is real.

I'm not advocating for all world governments to seek legislative advice at the Oracle of Greta. I will listen when she speaks, because unlike 99 percent of those who brazenly criticize her, she has done the homework and knows what she believes and why she believes it. As for her being a puppet, check out how many commenters parrot what they heard on their favorite media outlets. Jim Henson didn't even have that many puppets.

I coach a co-ed youth soccer team for young teens — just a year or two shy of Thunberg. When I pulled one young woman out of the game, she said something under her breath. I asked her what she had said.

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"Nothing. I'm sorry," she answered.

That's when I called her over and asked her to tell me what she said. Her opinion is valid. She told me why she thought I made a mistake in game management. I was able to explain why I made the moves I did, and she understood.

I told her never to apologize for having an opinion, but to be careful that she expresses her opinion respectfully and always be willing to listen as well as speak.

There are two lessons here. First, young women often have good ideas. Second, if you know what you are talking about, you are less threatened when someone challenges your position. Anger is often born in the frustration of not having a valid argument. That's when debate ends and fights begin.

Many people would do well to read more and comment less.

Don't be scared of teens who want to save the world. Take issue with the message. That's your right. But don't try to stifle intelligent and engaged young people.

Maybe they will save the world. Maybe they will save us from this generation of cynical and dishonest leaders. Somehow, I think the latter would be much more difficult than the former.

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Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal.

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