Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has been the subject of a number of baseless rumors ever since the then-15-year-old stepped into the spotlight in 2018. We've previously examined false accusations that Thunberg was the "highest paid activist," that she was actually an actress, and that she was once filmed firing a machine gun.
In May 2020, after Thunberg was invited to participate in a CNN Town Hall, an old rumor concerning a quote ostensibly uttered by the activist about how China should stop using chopsticks was recirculated on social media:
Thunberg did not ask China to "give up" chopsticks.
This rumor has been circulating since at least January 2020. Although it has taken several forms, we've yet to encounter any social media posts pointing to when or where Thunberg allegedly made this request.
One of the earliest postings of this rumor, which was shared by the unverified Twitter account @Geoloong on Jan. 14, included a GIF of Thunberg speaking at the Climate Action Summit in 2019, but Thunberg made no mention of "chopsticks" during this speech. We searched other articles, interviews, and speeches delivered by Thunberg around this time and found no record of her asking China to ban chopsticks.
Other red flags in this post indicate the rumor is little more than an invented anecdote to mock the teenager. For starters, we found that this story was being shared almost exclusively by people expressing a negative view of Thunberg. If this was a genuine quote, you'd expect this story would have been shared (at least initially) by Thunberg's supporters.
Furthermore, the anecdote described in this post is simply ludicrous. Although it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Thunberg, a teenager who became Time magazine's youngest Person of the Year for her work addressing climate change, to note the adverse environmental impact of disposable chopsticks, it would be quite extraordinary for the government of the most populous country in the world to issue a juvenile response telling someone not to "wipe their butt" because toilet paper is made from trees.
If China did issue such a statement, it would have surely been international news. Yet, just as we were unable to find a source for Thunberg's alleged comment, we were unable to find a credible source for China's alleged insult. In fact, the text on the above-displayed meme is a near-verbatim copy of the text published to the humor website Joe.ks.com.
Although Thunberg did not urge China to ban the use of chopsticks, China truly uses millions of trees every year to produce billions of pairs of disposable chopsticks. When concerns about the adverse impact disposable chopsticks had on the environment were raised in 2006, the Chinese government implemented a 5% tax on the utensil in an attempt to slow deforestation.
BBC News reported:
The Chinese government is introducing a 5% tax on disposable wooden chopsticks in a bid to preserve its forests.
It produces about 45 billion pairs of chopsticks a year, consuming millions of trees and bamboo plants.
The move came as China said it would raise some consumption taxes next month in a bid to help the environment and narrow the gap between rich and poor.
Although this tax may have slowed deforestation, it certainly hasn't stopped it. In 2013, Bo Guangxin, the head of the China Jilin Forest Industry Group, estimated that China was using 20 million trees a year to produce nearly 80 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks.