“If there is one day you should join, this is the day.” This is a statement Thunberg made regarding the changing climate. Only a teenager, this young girl from Sweden fought persistently to get those around her to pay attention and wake up to the dire climate situation in the world around them, and has become one of the most recognizable public figures of her time. She is unarguably the most popular climate activist who has traveled the world to make people realize the importance of climate change and the importance it has on our lives. She has spoken on international platforms in front of world leaders and has a huge fan following of her own. Let’s learn more about this voice of a generation.
An Introduction to the Star
Greta Thunberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 2003 to Svante Thunberg, an actor, and Malena Ernman, an opera singer. She grew up around recognized faces, as her grandfather is director and actor Olof Thunberg. Most people expected her to join the entertainment industry like most people close to her.
However, she showed her inclination towards climate change from very early on. Some people argue that she’s still a star despite not being a part of the entertainment industry and is recognized by a number of people around the world, including some very influential individuals.
The Climate Connection
Greta’s dad is related to Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius, who is known for calculating the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide. Greta never got to meet the man, since he made the discovery in 1896, but we cannot deny that she has an ancestral connection to science.
She lives with her parents and sister in her hometown, but has traveled around the world. Her parents fully support her cause, but it took them a while to understand what she meant when she asked them to get serious regarding the climate.
The Beginning of a New Era
Greta was only 8 years old when she first heard of global warming and climate change. She was studying in the third standard around the time and got really affected by what she came to know about the changing scenario.
Since she was very young, she couldn’t understand the concept, but she got very curious and started to learn more about it. She couldn’t understand why not enough people talked about climate change. The more she learned about global warming the more impact it had on her.
Too Much Too Soon
Greta couldn’t understand why so little was being done about climate change, and the subject became pervasive. According to her school teacher, she was always talking about “how we should turn off lights, save water, and not throw out good food”.
Greta emphasized the importance of climate change and questioned why not enough people were talking about the situation. She said: “I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But, this hasn’t been happening.”
Not Able to Cope
Greta kept on thinking about the impact of climate change. This left her depressed and had a very bad impact on her health. She went into a shell for a long time and stopped talking to others. This caused her to lose about 20 pounds of weight as her health began to deteriorate.
She stopped eating for a long period of time and became lethargic, unable to perform normal duties such as go to her school. This change in her health left her parents worried and they decided to take her to a doctor.
A Name For the Condition
Greta was diagnosed with selective mutism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Asperger syndrome at a young age. However, she didn’t let her conditions affect her. Instead, she called them her superpower. She spoke about the situation at an event, remarking: “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”
Learning to take the hand she’s been dealt and to use it for good, Greta also credits her illnesses for her motivation and energy. She said: “My diagnosis has definitely helped me keep this focus. It makes me work a bit different. I think differently.”
Taking Control of the Situation
Greta decided to take the matter into her own hands and change the situation around her. Her first step was to change her lifestyle and convince people around her to make a move. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
After all, very few people understood the importance of climate change and even fewer were willing to listen to her. However, not one to give up, she first decided to convince her family to reduce their carbon footprint. This wasn’t an easy step, but she was eventually successful in doing so.
Convincing Her Family
Greta came up with concrete ways for her family to reduce their carbon print and change their lifestyle so that they can have a positive impact on the environment. Her suggestions for them included upcycling, giving up flying, and turning vegan.
These were major changes and she had to work very hard to convince her family to give up their habits and accept her suggestions. In order to win this battle, she created graphs and researched the scenario to come up with facts that added weight to her argument. Given her dedication, her family decided to join her in the cause.
Understanding and Respecting Others
She had crossed the first major hurdle by gathering those closest to her to her cause. Now, as she prepared to move forward and educate others, Greta knew it wasn’t going to be easy to give up flying or other such activities.
She explained: “For me, none of this is a sacrifice. I don’t need these things. But, I understand that some people see it as a sacrifice. People don’t want to stop flying but it’s just something we have to do. There’s no other option.” The fact that she was willing to understand the situation of others helped her build a following and attract attention towards the cause.
The Impact on Her Family
The life of her family changed drastically due to her suggestions. Her mother had to quit her international singing career due to the climate effects of flying that her daughter made her aware of. Her father summed it up succinctly.
“Greta forced us to change our lives. I didn’t have a clue about the climate. We started looking into it, reading all the books – she has read them too.” It wasn’t easy for her family to accept these changes at first, but today they’re glad that they took these steps and are now fully behind the cause.
One Step At a Time
One of the first few things Greta did was start her own garden where she still grows vegetables. The garden is located right outside the city and provides fresh produce for the family. The food is organic and offers great health benefits. We know that organic fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients and fewer chemicals, hence they reduce the risk of illnesses and provide more nutrition.
In addition to this, they also help the family save money as they do not have to go out to buy what they need. They can grow their own food and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables that also taste better than the options available on the market.
Boycotting the School
In order to bring attention to the cause, Greta decided to take a bold step that no one else had tried before. She said she was prepared to outright boycott her school. She posted a lengthy message on her social media about her decision.
In her letter, Greta explained that she believed the previous generation had failed her and her generation, and vowed that she would skip school every week on Friday in order to sit outside of the Swedish parliament building until they committed to the environmental reforms of the Paris Agreement. And she encouraged youngsters everywhere to join in.
And The World Heard
Greta began the strikes in late 2018. She would stand outside the building with placards that talked about climate change and the need to take action. Her move soon gathered attention and she got featured in a number of publications.
The strike was paying off but not everyone was happy about it. Her father was against her decision to boycott school but supported her nonetheless. He said: “[We] respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest, and be happy.”
Seeking Inspiration from Others
Greta said that the idea of ‘boycotting’ school came to her when she read about students boycotting schools in the US after mass shooting incidents in 2018. She studied the impact the move had and thought it wise to follow suit.
She wasn’t sure of the impact of her decision but she knew that it would generate curiosity and press, which is what she needed as she wanted more people to take notice of climate change. A number of publications featured her, with some praising her bold move and some criticizing her decision to go on a strike.
Asking Others to Join
By 2019, Greta was a recognized name and was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. She talked about the impact of her move to boycott school and what her teachers thought of her decision. She said: “As people, they think what I am doing is good, but as teachers, they say I should stop.”
Realizing that her voice wouldn’t be enough, she urged people to join the cause and show their support. She gave many speeches to motivate students worldwide to boycott schools and go out on the road to create noise about climate change.
Taking it To The Parliament
Greta knew who she was fighting and she didn’t hide her true feelings. She moved to sit outside the Swedish parliament, called Riksdag, during school hours and distributed leaflets explaining in a coarse and direct tone why she was doing that.
Greta’s aim was to get the government involved and create a revolution, but it obviously wasn’t going to be an easy battle. She was the only one standing outside the building for the first few weeks but she didn’t give up. Later, more students joined her and the strike turned into a major phenomenon.
The Role of Her Mother
Greta was pretty much alone at the beginning with little to no support, but it changed when her mother, who had a bit of a following on social media due to her profession, shared Greta’s story on her handle. People were interested in knowing why a teen was taking such a drastic step.
Media personalities started to get in touch with Greta to know more about her stand. But, at the same time, there were people who wanted her to give up and go back to school. This is also when she decided to move from striking every day to striking every Friday.
Challenging For the Family As Well
Greta wasn’t the only one who had to face difficulties, her family was also going through a difficult time due to her decisions. Her 13-year-old sister had to face bullying and hatred at school and on the streets. Greta talked about her sister and asked her supporters to follow her sibling.
“The one who suffers is my sister. She is 13 years old and has to endure systematic bullying, hatred, and harassment. The people who write threats and hate to me do it to the whole family, even to her. The difference between me and the people who are left at home is that I am always traveling, inaccessible.”
It didn’t take Greta to finally break the boundaries and reach out to an international audience until she spoke at an international event in October 2018. The event, organized by Extinction Rebellion, was held opposite the House of Parliament in London.
Greta decided to drive to the venue in an electric car to address the gathering. The event received major press and Greta soon became an international name. However, the opinion on her was still largely divided as many people could not understand her reasoning or motive and many even criticized her voice.
Not Against Success
Greta explained that her motive is to help the world, which will help everyone including future generations. She made people understand that her fight wasn’t against technology or success but against the habits that are destroying the world. She shared her opinions through various mediums including banners, her social media profile, and interviews in the press.
As more people came to realize what she was after, support for her cause started to pour in. Many international magazines and channels have interviewed her over the years and she regularly receives invites to speak in front of an audience.
Reaching the United Nations
Greta broke records when she spoke at a United Nations event in 2018 at the age of 15. She addressed the COP24 United Nations climate change summit and gave a presentation that received a thunderous response from the attendees. The speech was a life-changing moment for her as it brought much-needed attention to the topic of climate change and presented Greta as a climate change activist who was clear about what she wanted.
The speech was harsh but heartfelt. She started by introducing herself: “My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden. I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now. Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference…”
Showing By Example
The UN event was only the beginning. Greta has been a part of many similar events, but the most important of them all has been the World Economic Forum gathering that consisted of over 1,500 influential individuals. Held in January 2019, the event was attended by a number of political leaders. Many flew to the destination in Davos via plane, including private jets; whereas, Greta chose to travel by train.
The journey took her 32 hours, but it showed the world how serious she is about what she wants to achieve. She repeated a similar feat when she sailed from Plymouth, England, to New York, United States, on a yacht, called the Malizia II with underwater turbines and solar panels. It took her 15 days to complete the journey.
She Gets Inspired Too
Today, Greta is a hero for many, but she also seeks inspiration from activists around the world. One of her heroes is Jane Goodall, the well-known primatologist, who Greta got to meet in 2019. Goodall is the founder of many popular programs and institutions like Roots & Shoots and the Jane Goodall Institute.
She works extensively on animal welfare issues and conservation and has been a part of a number of well-known, international organizations like the World Future Council and UN. One of her most popular quotes is: “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
Loving Animals All the Way
Greta loves animals. She is keenly aware that climate change affects all living beings. We can already see how the population of some animals is constantly decreasing due to the change in weather. Climate change. is causing the ice to shrink, which leaves animals like penguins and polar bears with less space to survive.
Plus, a reduction in greenery is also making it difficult for wild animals and birds to find a home, which is why many are moving to the cities. Greta often talks about animals and has two pet dogs who live with her in Sweden.
Inspiring a Generation
Greta has inspired youngsters to take a stand and come together to prevent the world from falling apart. At the same time, she has become an inspiration to renowned artist, Jody Thomas, who painted her on a 15-meter high building in Bristol, England.
Thomas is a well-recognized name in the world of art and this is his way of thanking Greta for her contribution. Many people around the world have paid tribute to Greta for her work and sacrifices. She made it to the cover of Time Magazine in May 2019 and is now a global icon.
Working on Side Gigs
Greta took on a side gig and worked with The 1975, a popular band in the UK. She gave a voice-over for their new track in July 2019. She agreed to be a part of the song since it is close to her cause.
Speaking about the collaboration, she said: “I’m grateful to get the opportunity to get my message out to a broad new audience in a new way. I think it’s great that the 1975 is so strongly engaged in the climate crisis. We quickly need to get people in all branches of society to get involved. And this collaboration I think is something new.”
Not Without Controversy
Unfortunately, though understandably, there are a lot of people who appear to be against Greta and her cause. The Secretary-General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Mohammed Barkindo, called Greta the ‘greatest threat’ to the growing fossil fuel industry.
He claimed that Greta and her friends were presenting false information to the public. Greta took the comment very sportingly and posted a response on social media: “Thank you! Our biggest compliment yet!” This proves that no amount of criticism can stop this young woman from achieving what she wants.
The Big Wigs
Greta Thunberg has become one of the most vocal demonstrators against climate change in the world, and perhaps one of the most well-known environmentalists of all time, and all before finishing high school. Her relationship with world leadership is at times tenuous.
Depending on who’s in charge, world leaders’ reactions to Greta range from embracing her and even inviting her for a chat, to snubbing her and mocking her on social media. But Greta proves time and time again that she’s not afraid to be critiqued.
Greta Thunberg’s determination has paid off in part, as she’s been able to mobilize and inspire an entire generation. Beyond gathering support and awareness of the climate change crisis, she’s been able to see already direct results of her advocacy.
Green political parties in Europe have made unprecedented gains in recent years, spurred by new activists awakened by Greta. What’s more, the EU has updated their budget to financially reflect the need to fight climate change. But these steps may be too little, too late.
The Battle Continues
Greta spoke at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit and questioned world leaders pointedly with a harsh question in the wake of so much inaction: “For more than 30 years, science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away?”
Today, she is among the most popular climate activists and her work is known as the ‘“Greta Thunberg Effect.” However, Greta knows that she is far from achieving the perfect world that she has dreamt of. She needs the support of people to ensure we can save this planet from falling apart.