HAS a teenager ever been as polarising as Greta Thunberg? The 16-year-old, now the global face of climate change activism, has been relentlessly attacked for having the audacity to point out that the world is burning and saying, hey, we really need to do something to stop that.

Of course, there is more to it. Because if Greta were to just stand there, clutching a climate change banner and smiling sweetly, I am sure the world would not mind one bit.

But she does not do that. Greta uses her platform to launch blistering attacks on broken political systems. Instead of meekly asking for change, she demands action. It is the kind of authority we yearn for from our own politicians but, coming from the mouth of a child, makes many deeply uncomfortable.

Her most recent speech, an emotionally-charged address at the United Nations 2019 climate action summit, saw her accuse politicians of “failing” her generation. “Young people are starting to understand your betrayal,” she warned as she took attendees to task over lagging Paris Agreement progress, something that scientists have warned could have catastrophic consequences. But, at least if reactions from French premier Emmanuel Macron and President Trump are anything to go by, it is obvious that world leaders do not enjoy being scolded by a young girl. (The fact those same leaders are middle-aged men is merely a coincidence, I am sure.)

Thankfully, the most important weapon in Greta’s arsenal is that she is not on a mission to be the lovable face of the climate change movement. She does not need to be liked, so long as she is heard. Greta is the antithesis of every societal pressure placed on young girls: be sweet and silent, and do not take up too much space in the world. Her candour and ability to deliver uncomfortable truths really makes her critics squirm, because it limits the ways in which they can undermine her.

Case in point: Trump, exhibiting his trademark petulance as he taunted the “happy young girl” over her tearful speech, came across like a sleaze on the street telling a woman to “cheer up, love”. Stay classy, Mr President.

But perhaps what is most uncomfortable about Greta is that she throws out everything we thought we knew about the dynamic between adults and children. Older does not always mean wiser. The idea that children should be seen and not heard is dead and buried now, though the notion that elders do not automatically command respect – that it must be earned and worked for – seems too bitter a pill for some to swallow.

As Greta said herself, change is coming, whether we like it or not. If that makes you uncomfortable, well, too bad.