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Greta Thunberg

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Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg at the Parliament (46705842745) (cropped).jpg
Greta Thunberg in April 2019
Born
Greta Ernman Thunberg

(2003-01-03) 3 January 2003 (age 16)
OccupationStudent and climate activist
MovementSchool strike for climate
Parent(s)Svante Thunberg
Malena Ernman
RelativesOlof Thunberg (grandfather)

Greta Thunberg[a] (born 3 January 2003) is a Swedish schoolgirl who, at age 15, began protesting about the need for immediate action to combat climate change outside the Swedish parliament and has since become an outspoken climate activist.[1][2][3][4]

She is known for having initiated the school strike for climate movement that formed in November 2018 and surged globally after the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in December the same year. Her personal activism began in August 2018, when her recurring and solitary Skolstrejk för klimatet ("School strike for the climate") protesting outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm began attracting media coverage,[5] even though Sweden has already enacted "the most ambitious climate law in the world" – to be carbon neutral by 2045.[6]

On 15 March 2019, an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries around the world joined her call in striking and protesting.[3] Another event is scheduled for 24 May 2019. [7]

Thunberg has received various prizes and awards for her activism. In March 2019, three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated Thunberg for the Nobel Peace Prize.[8] In May 2019, at the age of 16, she featured on the cover of Time magazine.[9]

Life[edit]

Greta Thunberg was born on 3 January 2003.[10] Her mother, Malena Ernman, is a Swedish opera singer and her father is actor Svante Thunberg.[11] Her grandfather is actor and director Olof Thunberg.[12]

At a TEDx talk in November 2018, Thunberg said she first heard about climate change at the age of eight, but could not understand why so little was being done about it.[13] At age 11, she became depressed and stopped talking. Later on she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. She added that selective mutism meant she was speaking only when she needed to and that "now is one of those moments"; and that being on the "spectrum" was an advantage "as almost everything is black or white".[13] Thunberg has said: "I feel like I am dying inside if I don't protest".[14] She hands out leaflets outside the Swedish parliament that state: "I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future."[14]

Her father doesn't like her cutting class but says: "[We] respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest, and be happy".[15] To lower her family's carbon footprint, she insisted they become vegan and give up flying.[16] She said she persuaded her parents to give up eating meat by making them feel guilty. "I kept telling them that they were stealing our future." [17] Her mother also gave up her international career as an opera singer.[15] Despite invitations to speak at international events, Greta also doesn't fly anywhere.[18]

Thunberg says her teachers are divided in their views about her missing class to make her point. She says: "As people they think what I am doing is good, but as teachers they say I should stop."[14] One teacher who supports her said: "Greta is a troublemaker, she is not listening to adults. But we are heading full speed for a catastrophe, and in this situation the only reasonable thing is to be unreasonable."[14]

School strike for climate[edit]

Greta Thunberg in front of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, August 2018
Greta Thunberg's bicycle in Stockholm on 11 September 2018: "The climate crisis must be treated as a crisis! The climate is the most important election issue!"
Sign in Berlin, 14 December 2018
Thunberg with German climate activist Luisa Neubauer [de] at a strike in Hamburg, 1 March 2019

On 20 August 2018, Thunberg, who had just started ninth grade, decided to not attend school until the 2018 Sweden general election on 9 September after heat waves and wildfires in Sweden.[15] Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and she protested by sitting outside the Riksdag every day during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate).[19] After the general elections, she continued to strike only on Fridays, gaining worldwide attention. She inspired school students across the globe to take part in student strikes.[20] As of December 2018, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in at least 270 cities.[20] The idea of having a school strike for climate just before the Swedish parliamentary election was presented by Bo Thorén during a series of meetings on how to mobilise youth on climate change. Thunberg attended a few of those meetings together with other youths and adults. Thorén was in turn inspired by Arne Duncan's idea of a school boycott for stricter gun laws.[21][22][23] The teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who organized the March For Our Lives, was also a source of inspiration for Thunberg to begin her school climate strike.[24][25]

In her personal manifesto, Thunberg says she is not a climate scientist herself: She is merely a messenger who is repeating what scientists have been communicating to the public for decades, so far without much success. She says students would no longer have to leave school to protest if the public only started listening to scientists, but that the current political situation does not work this way.[26]

From October 2018 onwards, Thunberg's activism evolved from solitary protesting to taking part in demonstrations throughout Europe; making several high profile public speeches; and mobilising her growing number of followers on social media platforms. However, by March 2019 she still stages her regular protests outside the Swedish parliament every Friday, where other students now occasionally join her. Her activism has not interfered with her schoolwork, but she has had less spare time.[2]

UN General Secretary António Guterres has endorsed the school strikes initiated by Thunberg, admitting that "My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry."[27]

Subsequent speeches[edit]

Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament in April 2019

Public demonstrations[edit]

Greta Thunberg participated in the Rise for Climate demonstration outside the European Parliament in Brussels. In London in October 2018, she addressed the 'Declaration of Rebellion' organized by Extinction Rebellion opposite the Houses of Parliament. She said: "We're facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children. We need to wake up and change everything".[28][29]

TEDxStockholm[edit]

On 24 November 2018, she spoke at TEDxStockholm.[30][31][13] She spoke about realising, when she was eight years old, that climate change existed and wondering why it was not headline news on every channel, as if there was a world war going on. She said she did not go to school to become a climate scientist, as some suggested, because the science was done and only denial, ignorance and inaction remained. Speculating that her children and grandchildren would ask her why they had not taken action in 2018 when there was still time, she concluded with "we can’t change the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed."[32]

COP24 summit[edit]

Thunberg addressed the COP24 United Nations climate change summit on 4 December 2018[20] and also spoke before the plenary assembly on 12 December 2018.[33][34] During the summit, she also participated in a panel talk together with representatives of the We Don't Have Time Foundation, in which she talked about how the school strike began.[35]

Davos[edit]

On 23 January 2019, Thunberg arrived in Davos after a 32-hour train journey,[36] in contrast to the many delegates who arrived by up to 1500 individual private jet flights,[37] to continue her climate campaign at the World Economic Forum.[38][39] She told a Davos panel "Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I think many of you here today belong to that group of people."[40]

Later in the week, she warned the global leaders that "I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire – because it is".[41] She wrote in an article for The Guardian in January 2019: "According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO
2
emissions by at least 50%". [42]

European Economic & Social Committee[edit]

On 21 February 2019, she spoke at a conference of the European Economic and Social Committee and to European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, where she said that to limit global warming to less than the two degrees C goal established at the Paris climate accord, the EU must reduce their CO
2
emissions by 80% by 2030, double the 40% goal set in Paris. "If we fail to do so" she said, "all that will remain of our political leaders' legacy will be the greatest failure of human history." Later, she joined 7,500 Belgian student in a climate protest in Brussels.[43][44]

Berlin[edit]

In the weekend 29–31 March, Thunberg visited Berlin. She spoke in front of some 25,000 people near the Brandenburg Gate on Friday, where she argued that "We live in a strange world where children must sacrifice their own education in order to protest against the destruction of their future. Where the people who have contributed the least to this crisis are the ones who are going to be affected the most."[45] After the speech, Thunberg and fellow climate activist Luisa Neubauer [de] visited the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and met with scientists there. On Saturday, Thunberg received the 'Golden Camera' Special Award on Germany's annual film and television award show. In her acceptance speech at the gala, Thunberg urged celebrities everywhere to use their influence and do their fair share of climate activism to help her.[46][4][47]

EU leaders[edit]

At an April 2019 meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg with MEP's and EU officials, she chided those present "for three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment". Climate change discussions have not been dominant at EU summits because other issues have taken precedence.[48] She continued: "The extinction rate is up to 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day". In addition, the "[e]rosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans ... are all disastrous trends." Thunberg was given a 30-second standing ovation at the end of her speech.[48]

Prizes and awards[edit]

Greta Thunberg was one of the winners of Svenska Dagbladet's debate article writing competition on the climate for young people in May 2018.[49] Thunberg was nominated for the electricity company Telge Energi's prize for children and young people who promote sustainable development, Children's Climate Prize, but declined because the finalists would have to fly to Stockholm.[50] In November 2018, she was awarded the Fryshuset scholarship of the Young Role Model of the Year.[51] In December 2018, Time magazine named Thunberg one of the world's 25 most influential teenagers of 2018.[52]

On the occasion of International Women's Day Thunberg was proclaimed the most important woman of the year in Sweden in 2019. The award was based on a survey by the institute Inizio on behalf of the newspaper Aftonbladet.[53] On 31 March 2019, she received the German Goldene Kamera Special Climate Protection award.[54][55] On 2 April 2019, the Prix Liberté from Normandie, France.[56] On 12 April 2019 she shared the Fritt Ords Prize from Norway with the Natur og Ungdom organization.[57] This prize is awarded for freedom of expression.

On 13 March 2019, three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated Thunberg as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nominating politicians explained their decision by arguing that global warming will be the cause of "wars, conflict and refugees" if nothing is done to halt it. Thunberg responded that she was "honoured and very grateful" for the nomination.[8] If Thunberg receives the Prize later this year, she will become the youngest person ever to receive it.[58]

In April 2019, Time magazine named Greta Thunberg as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019.[59] In the same month, the Chilean-based organization Fundación Milarepa para el Diálogo con Asia, headed by Mario Aguilar of the University of St Andrews, announced that Thunberg had been selected as the recipient of the organization's Laudato Si' Award.[60]

Backlash and controversy[edit]

Media criticism[edit]

After Thunberg's student climate strikes gained momentum, climate change deniers attempted to discredit her.[61] Writing in The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty notes that eco-denialists have begun resorting to "ugly personal attacks" on Thunberg.[62]

Writing for Quillette magazine, Swedish journalist Paulina Neuding [sv] questioned whether the fame and attention that Thunberg has received puts excessive pressure on her. Neuding wondered if this could be a problem considering her multiple mental diagnoses by claiming that "a school strike... constitutes a form of self-harm, undertaken to attract adult attention... Given what we know about Greta’s problems and challenges, is this (attention) an appropriate adult response to Greta’s school strike?"[63] Helen Dale, who also writes for Quillette, posted a tweet calling for Thunberg to be interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Neil, a climate denialist. Dale suggested "she may even have a meltdown on national telly” and said "we'll never hear from her again". After she was criticised for her tweet, Dale claimed the tweet "was, fairly obviously, a joke". Despite the extremely polarized reaction it received, she maintained her criticism of Thunberg as an advocate for climate-change awareness, arguing that children "cannot ‘lead’ us".[64] However, speaking at an event in New Zealand in May 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said his generation was "not winning the battle against climate change" and that it's up to youth to "rescue the planet".[65]

In the run up to European elections May 2019, rightwing populists in Germany increased their attacks on climate science, and began targeting Thunberg in their messaging. Germany’s AfD, which embraces climate change denial, also makes personal attacks on Thunberg ridiculing her as “mentally challenged” and a fraud. Jakob Guhl, a researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said climate change denial was part of the party’s political platform, and that "attacking Greta, at times in fairly vicious ways, including mocking her for her autism, became a way to portray the AfD’s political opponents as irrational.”[66]

Media support[edit]

Other media commentators have supported Thunberg. In the Guardian, Charlie Hancock wrote: "The attacks on (Thunberg) from neurotypical critics are glib and spiteful. But they are a tribute to the power of her arguments."[67] Writing for Vox, Steve Silberman praised Thunberg's advocacy, pointing out that being on the autism spectrum provides her with the ability to be obsessive and quite blunt in her views.[68] Chris Packham, the Springwatch presenter who also has Asperger's made a similar point about Thunberg's demeanor. He says "People like me with Asperger's syndrome are not affected by this sort of thing. It doesn't weaken our resolve. We've seen it this week with the trolling of Greta. It's a complete waste of time."[69] In an article headlined Why They're Really Scared Of Greta Thunberg, Huffington Post argues that Thunberg "frighten(s) the life out of a particular middle-aged and middle-class establishment type of person... and that the reaction to her is driven by the fear of knowing that losing their place to her and those like her (in political conversation) is inevitable."[70]

In May 2019, Thunberg featured on the cover of Time magazine where she was described as a role model[71] and one of the "next generation leaders".[72] In an interview with Suyin Haynes, she addressed the criticism she's received online saying: "It's quite hilarious when the only thing people can do is mock you, or talk about your appearance or personality, as it means they have no argument or nothing else to say."[73]

Misuse of her name[edit]

Some people have tried to benefit from Thunberg's high profile without her consent.[74] In late 2018, Ingmar Rentzhog, founder of the non-profit We Don't Have Time Foundation (WDHT), recruited Thunberg to become an unpaid youth advisor and used Thunberg's name and image without her knowledge or permission to raise millions for WDHT's for-profit subsidiary We Don't Have Time AB, of which Rentzhog is CEO. Thunberg received no money from the company.[75][76] She terminated her volunteer advisor role with WDHT, stating she "is not part of any organization… am absolutely independent… [and] do what I do completely for free."[77]

See also[edit]

  • Severn Cullis-Suzuki – as a minor was also a notable environmental activist.
  • Juliana v. United States of America is a lawsuit by 21 youths against the United States for significantly harming their right to life and liberty, and seeks to force the government to adopt methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Explanatory footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Interviews[edit]

Other material[edit]