Days after a mural of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared in Edmonton, Canada, it was defaced with a message: “Stop the Lies. This is Oil Country!!!”
The vandalism was reported by a CBC journalist who caught the culprit, identified as James Bagnell, in the act, snapping a photo of him wearing a black hoodie and scrawling the letters across the painting of Thunberg’s face.
“My father has worked in the oil industry,” Bagnell said. “We don’t need foreigners coming in and telling us how to run our business, support our families, put food on our tables.”
When CBC returned to the mural at a later point to get a second look, additional offensive statements were sprayed on the artwork, though they were partially blurred out of the outlet’s photo.
The mural, which was created by local artist AJA Louden, was completed on Friday during a climate strike in the city, which Thunberg attended.
On Monday, Louden told HuffPost in an email that he’s “not upset at all.”
“I think what was written over the portrait and how it was written tell their own story — our local economy is dependant (sic) on the energy industry and there’s some anger and fear as people come to terms with the changes we need to make,” he wrote. “I think focusing that anger and fear into making large scale change so we can succeed in the future as a province and a planet, as opposed to attacking a young woman trying to speak up for her generation, will be key for us.”
Louden said he painted the mural on a free wall where anyone may contribute their artwork, and that it took about two and a half hours to complete.
“It’s great to have a space like this, it provides a place for the city to talk to itself,” he said. “My goal was to keep the conversation going after the rally — the problem is still here, and sometimes all that productive energy seems to go away when the rallies end.”
Thunberg gained international attention during her September speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York where she slammed world leaders for insufficient inaction on climate change, accusing them of ignoring the health of the planet in favor of economic growth.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” the 16-year-old said. “And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.”
Thunberg has emerged in recent months as a worldwide symbol of environmental activism, also being honored with a mural in Bristol, England, last spring.