This Swedish 16-year-old is Behind the Global Climate Protest

Greta Thunberg was born in 2003. By the time she was nine she was troubled by climate change, not knowing why people were not doing anything about it. In protest, at the age of 11 she stopped speaking, today she sees that ‘selective mutism’ as the first step to understanding the power and necessity of speaking at all. This determined 16-year-old is a vegan and has given up flying. Persuaded by her arguments that contain indisputable facts and figures, her mother has also given up flying and her father has turned into a vegetarian. Her family has also started growing their own vegetables and have installed solar batteries. Finding her ability to persuade, as she did with her parents, Greta decided to broaden her audience to bring awareness and do something about the climate change.

On August 20, 2018, she decided to go in front of the Swedish parliament and protest instead of going to school. Alone she stood in front of the parliament with her homemade sign that said “Skolstrejk for Klimatet (School Strike for Climate)”. She continuously did this for three weeks, but today she goes on protest every Friday while going to school four days a week. She was inspired to do the protest after seeing American high-school students walking out of their classes to protest against the US gun laws following the Parkland school shooting that left 17 people dead. Greta is not alone in this climate protest anymore. Many have joined, it has become a global movement. Following Greta’s footsteps, on March 15, 2019, an estimated 1.6 million students in over 120 countries left school in protest of adult inaction on climate change. School walkouts, mostly on Fridays, continue to grow and the hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #YouthStrike4Climate have been associated with it. In addition to her protest, Greta has spoken at climate rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki, Brussels and London (she travels by train).

In December 2018, she attended United Nation COP24 in Katowice, Poland and addressed the Secretary-General with her moving speech about climate justice. Fearlessly and calmly she said to her audience, “Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money… You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes”. She ended her speech by letting the world leaders know that she was not there to beg them to care. She simply wanted to let them know that whether they like it or not change is coming and, “The real power belongs to the people.”

She also spoke at the World Economic Forum in January 2019 in front of the global leaders from the financial, political and media sectors. She pointed out the fact that understanding and doing something about climate crisis is not in the grey area. “Either we prevent temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees (Celsius), or we don’t. Either we avoid chain reaction of unravelling ecosystems, or we don’t. That’s as black or white as it gets. Now we all have a choice: we can either create transformational action or continue with business as usual and fail.” She also warned the leaders that we are running out of time. Like many of us she has been told that the next generation needs hope but Greta made it clear it to the leaders that, “… I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Greta being a climate activist and demanding immediate changes from the world leaders has not been easy for her and her family. She has faced criticisms. Some say she should be in school instead of protesting while fossil fuel lobbyists, politicians and journalists have argued that, “… she was propelled into prominence by environmental groups and sustainable business interests.” Her reputation and appearance has also been attacked on social media, to which she says, “It’s a positive sign. I think that must be because they see us as a threat. That means that something has changed in the debate, and we are making a difference.”

Time magazine has named Greta as one of the world’s most influential teens and she has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, she has been invited to the United Nation’s climate summit in NY and COP25. Greta has decided to attend both events and will be taking a sabbatical year from school. It will be difficult for her to attend the events as doesn’t fly (because of the large amount of carbon emissions it will create), nonetheless, she says, “… I will get there somehow. We will all have to do the impossible”.  

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