Who is Greta Thunberg and how she is transcending the globe
Though her long brown braid might allude to the daintiness of a certain Disney princess who needs to be saved from an ivory tower, Greta Thunberg is anything but helpless. Greta is a 16 year old girl from Stockholm, Sweden and the global face for climate change activism. Her movement called Fridays for Future began in August 2018 and has now acquired over 100,000 followers worldwide. Fridays for Future falls under the umbrella of the Sunrise Movement, a collection of young people from all around the world organizing to “make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people.”
Greta never thought her small quiet demonstrations in front of the Swedish parliament building would propel her to a global spotlight. The World Climate Strikes that took place this September were fueled by Thunberg’s moving words and inspired the international walks for action to be taken against climate change.
The now global phenomenon began modest and in silence. Inspired by the walkouts demanding gun control following the Parkland school shootings in Florida, Thunberg decided to begin skipping lecture on Fridays and sit outside the Swedish parliament holding a hand-painted sign reading “skolstrejk för klimatet,” translated as “school strike for the climate.” Eventually, this silent yet blaring image attracted the attention of Greta’s peers and local media outlets. Her lonesome demonstration rapidly transformed into weekly classroom walkouts so massive that substantial traffic ensued in large metropolitan cities like Melbourne and London.
Besides leading these considerable protests to call world leaders to action, Greta has also utilized multiple platforms to spread her message. She has spoken at multiple climate rallies and conferences such as the United Nations COP24 in Katowice, Poland, the Austrian World Summit R20, and the 2019 Montreal Global Climate Strike.
The rhetoric Thunberg uses in her speeches has lasting impressions on those witnessing it. Her direct and unabashed message calling out the lack of responsibility being taken by world leaders on the pertinent issue of climate change is almost paradoxical coming from what appears to be a timid face. The generational guilt she employs in her speeches serves to emphasize the importance of taking action now on this issue instead of waiting for a future that may never come to solve it. Indeed, at the United Nations she told world representatives , “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.”
Despite her enormous following and approval, her apparent youth and unrelenting voice has made her a target of superficial criticism. Thunberg and her movement have been continuously diminished by opposing groups and even called dangerous by the Swiss People’s Party. President Donald Trump has also sarcastically commented on her impassioned speeches of anger by tweeting, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”
This unanticipated push onto the world stage has inevitably taken a toll on 16 year old Greta, as she has faced personal criticism from opponents attempting to distract from the intended message of her cause. She told NBC News that she “sees these types of attacks, which range from death threats to criticism of her and the strikers’ appearance, abilities, and families, as a sign that the other side has run out of facts to contradict the reality of the climate crisis.” Thunberg has opened up about her diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome and thanks her condition for being her “superpower,” which allows her to be unequivocally explicit when she speaks on climate change.
Instead of dwelling on the crude remarks of her character, Greta remains focused on her purpose. Right now she is sailing around the world, in order to avoid flying and contributing to her carbon footprint, to speak in various conferences like the U.N. Summit on Climate Change in New York on September 23 and the COP25 conference in Chile in December. Her tenacity and passion for a cleaner tomorrow drives her to endure the harsh spotlight and ruthless comments.
Thunberg’s message is clear: humanity is facing an existential crisis caused by global warming, the current generation of adults is responsible for this crisis, the effects of this crisis will indubitably felt by the younger generations, and thus something must be done now. The clarity and urgent tone of this message has inspired both young and old. “The Greta Effect” refers to the response of Greta’s audience, from school children organizing their own climate strikes to the number of children’s books on climate change published being doubled.
The world seems to be finally waking up from its slumber of ignorance. There appears to be hope for a future where our planet does not face catastrophic disaster. It all began with her, but it ends with us as citizens of our only home. True change will only ensue if we all take her advice and take action against climate change not only by demanding policy change, but doing our part as conscientious individuals.
Illustration: Alyssa Sliwa