“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, and act as if the house was on fire”.
I’m sure, by now, almost everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg. If you haven’t, are you living under a rock?! This extraordinary young lady has inspired more people in three short years than many hope to achieve in decades. With all that is going on in this crazy world right now, we could all use a few wise words from Greta, who seems a very fitting subject of this issue’s EmpowHER column!
Who is Greta?
Greta Thunberg, fully named Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, was born on the 3rd of January 2003 and has recently turned 18. She was born in Stockholm, Sweden and is the daughter of opera singer Malena Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg. Greta is an environmental activist, campaigning for action against climate change, saying she first heard about climate change back in 2011, when she was only eight years old. She found it so hard to understand why so little was being done about it, subsequently making her depressed. At 11 years old, she stopped talking and eating, losing ten kilograms in two months and was conclusively diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. This was made public knowledge in Sweden by her mum in 2015, aiming to help families in a similar situation. She acknowledged her diagnosis as previously limiting her but has since instead called it her “superpower”. In one of her first speeches demanding climate action, Thunberg described her mutism as meaning she “only speaks when necessary.”
For around two years she challenged her parents to lower the family’s carbon footprint and environmental impact by becoming vegan, upcycling, and giving up flying; both livestock and airplanes emit a large amount of the gases that contribute to global warming, something which this world could certainly do with a little less of! Although, at first, her parents did not support her activism and couldn’t quite understand the severity of Greta’s protesting, they eventually became aware of the issues when she explained her future was being stolen. She now credits her parents’ eventual response and lifestyle changes with giving her hope and belief that she could make a difference, even just as one person.
How did she become well known?
Greta has stormed the news in recent years, a massive achievement for such a young woman! Seeking to make a greater change, Greta attempted to persuade lawmakers to directly address climate change. Prior to the Swedish election in September 2018, she would skip school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign stating “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (School Strike for Climate)”. She explains in interviews she first got the idea of a climate strike after school shootings in the United States in February 2018 led to several school children refusing to return. Although she was alone for the first day of the strike, she began to inspire others to join her day by day and her striking gained international attention! Post election, Greta returned to school but continued with her strikes on Fridays, also known as Fridays for Future. This began to inspire others around the world to follow in her footsteps with strikes held in other countries, such as Belgium, Canada, the UK, the US, Finland and France.
What does she stand for?
So we know that Greta is a huge advocate for climate change, but what changes does she actually stand for? When Greta began protesting for climate change in 2015, she vowed to continue protesting until the Swedish government met the carbon emissions target agreed by world leaders in Paris, in 2015. She explains governments and businesses worldwide are not doing enough, and fast enough, to cut carbon emissions and has attacked world leaders for failing her generation. Although her protests first focused on the Swedish government’s climate targets, she urged other students and young people across the globe to make similar stands in their own countries and demand change.
Greta’s fame has grown largely over the past few years, in which time she has called for governments around the world to do more to cut global emissions. At the UNs 2019 climate change gathering in New York and this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, she called for banks, firms and governments to stop investing and subsidising fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and gas. “Instead, they should invest their money in existing sustainable technologies, research and in restoring nature,” she said.
Greta Thunberg, as well as her school skipping and protests, has taken to social media for publicity and action, which has worked a treat! Ofcom has credited the “Greta effect” after recording an increase in the proportion of 12-15-year-olds taking part in online activism for environmental and political causes (The Guardian). Around 1 in 5 children in that age group gave support to causes or organisations by sharing and commenting on social media posts, up 8% in 2018, a correlation with the fact Greta Thunberg began her school climate strikes in August 2018. She posted a photo of her first strike day on Twitter and Instagram with other social media accounts sharing and backing up her cause. A representative of a Finnish bank quoted one of Thunberg’s tweets to more than 200,000 followers and her social media profiles attracted many a local reporter whose stories earned international coverage in less than a week.
Well, where do we begin? This young lady has conquered so much in such a short space of time, proving to the rest of us that our age and size should never mean we can’t speak up for what we believe in. Below are just some of the things Greta has achieved since her 2015 protests;
- In May 2019, she published a compilation of her climate action speeches titled ‘No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference’. The earnings of her sales will proceed to charity. The book has climbed many bestseller charts and continues to inspire thousands.
- Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
- One of few awards to her name, Greta was named as the ‘next generation leader’ by Time Magazine.
- She was the subject of the documentary ‘Make the World Greta Again’ and made the headlines after embarking on a carbon neutral transatlantic voyage from Plymouth to New York.
- She was nominated for the Children’s Climate Prize in November 2018. Greta refused to accept this on the basis that she would have had to fly to Stockholm to attend the ceremony. This went against her values of leaving a low carbon footprint.
- She continued making speeches at global platforms such as the European Parliament, TEDxSTockholm, COP24 Summit, Davos, European Economic and Social Committee, Brandenburg Gate, and at the Austrian World Summit R20.
- She was named among the 100 Most Influential People of 2019 by Time Magazine. Later, she was also awarded an honorary degree by the University of Mons.
- In early 2019, on International Women’s Day, she was announced as the most important woman of the year in Sweden. Later in the month, she won the German Goldene Kamera Special Climate Protection award.
- She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 at only 16.
What’s next for Greta?
The million dollar question! Potentially the question is more, what isn’t next for Greta? She has been keeping busy and catching up with school during lockdown and using her social media platforms to continuously encourage others to fight climate change. She has also been following the Black Lives Matter movement, telling the BBC “It is always the fight for justice, and it feels like we have passed some kind of social tipping point where people are starting to realise we cannot keep looking away from these things and sweeping these injustices under the carpet.” I expect this is merely the beginning for Greta and her inspirational and contagious energy towards fighting climate change has, and will continue to, make history. We hope to see her continuing her public appearances and powerful speeches post-lockdown. In a future world that we hope can recover from this constant climate battle, we expect to see Greta at the forefront. She has only recently turned 18 and by the sounds of things, has no intention taking a back seat. I’m sure I can also speak for many others when I say I am truly so excited to see this amazing and loveable young lady flourish and lead our world to a brighter future. I have every faith that her face will continue to grace our news and our screens.