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Greta Thunberg

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Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg at the Parliament (46705842745) (cropped).jpg
Thunberg while speaking to the EU Parliament, Strasbourg, April 2019
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg

(2003-01-03) 3 January 2003 (age 16)
Stockholm, Sweden
OccupationStudent and climate activist
Years active2018–present
MovementSchool strike for climate
Parent(s)Svante Thunberg
Malena Ernman
RelativesOlof Thunberg (grandfather)

Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg[1][2][a] (born 3 January 2003) is a Swedish activist who, at age 15, began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018 about the need for immediate action to combat climate change. Her "school strike for the climate" began attracting media attention and she has since become an outspoken climate activist.[3][4][5][6] In response to the publicity, the school strike for climate movement began in November 2018 and spread globally after the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in December the same year.

On 15 March 2019,[7] an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries around the world joined her call in striking and protesting.[5] A similar event involving students from 125 countries took place on 24 May 2019.[8]

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.[9] In May 2019, at the age of 16, she featured on the cover of Time magazine.[10] Some media have described her impact on the world stage as the "Greta Thunberg effect."[11][12][13] In July 2019, on behalf of Opec, secretary-general Mohammed Barkindo declared Thunberg, and other young climate activists as the “greatest threat” to the fossil fuel industry.[14]


Greta Thunberg was born on 3 January 2003.[15] Her mother, Malena Ernman, is a Swedish opera singer and her father is actor Svante Thunberg.[16] Her grandfather is actor and director Olof Thunberg.[17]

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.[18] At age 11, she became depressed and stopped talking. Later on she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism.[19] 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".[18] Thunberg has said: "I feel like I am dying inside if I don't protest".[20] She hands out leaflets outside the Swedish parliament that state: "I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future."[20]

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".[21] To lower her family's carbon footprint, she insisted they become vegan and give up flying.[22] 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."[23] Her mother also gave up her international career as an opera singer.[21] Despite invitations to speak at international events, Greta also doesn't fly anywhere.[24]

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."[20] 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."[20]

In May 2019, Penguin published No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, which is a collection of her speeches.[25] Penguin also intends to publish Scenes from the Heart, the Thunberg family's story. Earnings from these projects will be donated to charity.[26] Also in May 2019, artist Jody Thomas painted a 50 foot high mural of Thunberg on a wall in Bristol. It portrays the bottom half of her face as if under rising sea water.[27]

School strike for climate[edit]

Thunberg in front of the Swedish parliament, holding a "Skolstrejk för klimatet" (English: School strike for the climate) sign, Stockholm, August 2018
Bicycle in Stockholm with references to Thunberg: "The climate crisis must be treated as a crisis! The climate is the most important election issue!" (11 September 2018)
Sign in Berlin, 14 December 2018


In an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, Thunberg said she first got the idea of a climate strike following school shootings in the United States in February 2018 as a result of which a couple of youths refused to go back to school.[28] These teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida went on to organize the March For Our Lives in support of greater gun control.[29][30]

Then in May 2018, Thunberg won a writing competition about the environment held by Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper. The paper published her article after which she was contacted by Bo Thorén from Fossil Free Dalsland, a group interested in doing something about climate change. Thunberg attended a few of their meetings, and at one of them, Thoren also suggested that school children could strike for climate change.[31] Thunberg tried to persuade other young people to get involved but "no one was really interested" so eventually she decided to go ahead with the strike by herself.[28]

In a statement she originally posted on her Facebook page, Thunberg acknowledges that she is not a climate scientist: 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 if everyone listened to the scientists and acknowledged the facts, "then we could all go back to school".[32]

The beginning[edit]

On 20 August 2018, Thunberg, who had just started ninth grade, decided to not attend school until the 2018 Swedish general election on 9 September after the heat waves and wildfires during Sweden's hottest summer in 262 years.[21] 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 for three weeks during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate).[33] According to Ingmar Rentzhog, founder of a Swedish climate-focused social media company, We Don’t Have Time (WDHT), her strike began attracting public attention after he turned up with a freelance photographer and then posted Thunberg's photo on his Facebook page and Instagram account. He also made a video in English that he posted on the company’s YouTube channel which had almost 88,000 views.[34]

After the general elections, Thunberg continued to strike only on Fridays, quickly gaining worldwide attention. She inspired school students across the globe to take part in student strikes.[35] As of December 2018, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in at least 270 cities.[35]

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 was still staging 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.[4]


In February 2019, 224 academics signed an open letter of support stating they were inspired by the actions of Thunberg and the striking school children in making their voices heard.[36] UN General Secretary António Guterres also 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."[37]

In June 2019, Thunberg spoke by video link with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who submitted the Green New Deal to the US House of Representatives in February 2019 calling for the United States to achieve “net-zero” greenhouse gases within a decade. They discussed how it feels when their views are not taken seriously because they are young, and what tactics really work.[38]

Subsequent speeches[edit]

Thunberg at the European Parliament in April 2019

Public demonstrations[edit]

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".[39][40]


On 24 November 2018, she spoke at TEDxStockholm.[18][41][42] 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."[43]

COP24 summit[edit]

Thunberg addressed the COP24 United Nations climate change summit on 4 December 2018[35] and also spoke before the plenary assembly on 12 December 2018.[44][45] 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.[46]


On 23 January 2019, Thunberg arrived in Davos after a 32-hour train journey,[47] in contrast to the many delegates who arrived by up to 1500 individual private jet flights,[48] to continue her climate campaign at the World Economic Forum.[49][50] 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."[51]

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".[52] 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
emissions by at least 50%".[53]

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
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 students in a climate protest in Brussels.[54][55]


In the weekend 29–31 March 2019, 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."[56] After the speech, Thunberg and fellow climate activist Luisa Neubauer 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.[6][57][58]

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.[59] 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.[59]

Austrian World Summit R20[edit]

In May 2019, Thunberg met with Arnold Schwarzenegger, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen at the launch of a conference organised by Schwarzenegger to speed up progress towards the Paris Agreement.[60] Quoting the most recent IPCC report she said: “If we haven't made the changes required by approximately the year 2030, we will probably set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control. Then we will pass a point of no return which will be catastrophic." 17,000 people attended the event from 30 different countries.[61]

Prizes and awards[edit]

Thunberg was one of the winners of Svenska Dagbladet's debate article writing competition on the climate for young people in May 2018.[62] 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.[63] In November 2018, she was awarded the Fryshuset scholarship of the Young Role Model of the Year.[64] In December 2018, Time magazine named Thunberg one of the world's 25 most influential teenagers of 2018.[65]

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.[66] On 31 March 2019, she received the German Goldene Kamera Special Climate Protection award.[67][68] On 2 April 2019, the Prix Liberté from Normandie, France.[69] On 12 April 2019 she shared the Fritt Ords Prize from Norway with the Natur og Ungdom organization.[70] This prize is awarded for freedom of expression.

On 13 March 2019, two deputies of the Swedish parliament and three deputies 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.[9] If Thunberg receives the Prize later this year, she will become the youngest person ever to receive it.[71]

In April 2019, Time magazine named Thunberg as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019.[72] 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.[73]

On 7 June 2019, Amnesty International gave her their most prestigious award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, for her leadership in the climate movement. Thunberg said the prize equally belongs to everyone who has taken part in the Fridays for Future Movement in School strike for climate.[74]

Thunberg is doctor honoris causa (honorary degree) by University of Mons.[75][76]

On 12 July 2019, Thunburg was awarded the Geddes Environment Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.[77] She was also made an Honorary Fellow of the Society.


The "Greta Thunberg effect"[edit]

Thunberg has inspired a number of other schoolgirl climate warriors in what has been described as the "Greta Thunberg effect".[78] In response to her outspoken stance, various politicians have also acknowledged the need to focus on climate change. Britain's secretary for the environment, Michael Gove, said: “When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt. I am of your parents’ generation, and I recognise that we haven’t done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create.” Labour politician, Ed Miliband, who was responsible for introducing the UK Climate Act, said: “You have woken us up. We thank you. All the young people who have gone on strike have held up a mirror to our society … you have taught us all a really important lesson. You have stood out from the crowd.”[79] In June 2019, a YouGov poll in Britain found that public concern about the environment had soared to record levels in the UK since Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion had 'pierced the bubble of denial'.[80]

Inspired by Thunberg, wealthy philanthropists and investors from the United States have donated almost half a million pounds to support Extinction Rebellion and school strike groups to establish the Climate Emergency Fund.[81] Trevor Neilson, one of the philanthropists, said the three founders would be contacting friends among the global mega-rich to donate "a hundred times" more in the weeks and months ahead.[82]

In February 2019, in response to Thunberg's efforts, EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled a proposal to spend hundreds of billions of euros on mitigating climate change beginning in 2021.[83] Climate issues also played a significant role in European elections in May 2019[84] as Green parties nearly doubled their vote to finish second on 21%[85] boosting their MEP numbers to a projected 71.[86] Many of the gains came from northern European countries where young people have taken to the streets inspired by Thunberg.[85] The result gives the Greens a chance of becoming 'kingmakers' in the new European parliament.[86]

In June 2019, Swedish Railways reported that the number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys had risen by 8% over the previous year reflecting growing public concern about the impact of flying on CO2 emissions highlighted by Thunberg's refusal to fly to international conferences. Being embarrassed or ashamed to take a plane because of its environmental impact has been described on social media as 'Flygskam' or "Shame of flying", along with the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #istayontheground.[87][88]

Response from OPEC[edit]

In July 2019, OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) secretary-general Mohammed Barkindo, complained that as extreme weather events linked to the climate crisis become more common, "there is a growing mass mobilisation of world opinion ... against oil" which is "beginning to ... dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry."[89] Referring to the school strikes inspired by Thunberg's "Fridays for Future" movement, Barkindo called them "perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward."[90] Thunberg and other climate activists responded by calling it a badge of honour that OPEC believes their campaign may be the "greatest threat" to the fossil fuel industry.[89]

Media coverage and political impact[edit]

After Thunberg's student climate strikes gained momentum, climate change deniers attempted to discredit her.[91] Writing in The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty notes that eco-denialists have also begun resorting to "ugly personal attacks" on Thunberg.[92] Writing for Quillette magazine, Swedish journalist Paulina Neuding [sv] questioned whether the fame and attention that Thunberg has received puts excessive pressure on her given her mental health issues.[93] Helen Dale, who also writes for Quillette, argued that children "cannot ‘lead’ us".[94] 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".[95]

In the run up to 2019 European Parliament election, right-wing 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 and tried to ridicule her. 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.”[96]

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."[97] 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.[98] 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."[99] 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."[100]

In May 2019, VICE released a 30-minute documentary, Make The World Greta Again. It features interviews with a number of youth protest leaders in Europe.[101][102] Also in May 2019, Thunberg featured on the cover of Time magazine where she was described as a role model[103] and one of the "next generation leaders".[10] 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."[103]

Misuse of her name[edit]

In late 2018, Ingmar Rentzhog, who claims to be one of the first to publicize Thunberg's climate strike, asked her to become an unpaid youth advisor to his climate startup company. He then used her 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.[104] Thunberg received no money from the company.[105][106] She terminated her volunteer advisor role with WDHT once she realised they were making money off her name, stating she "is not part of any organization… am absolutely independent… [and] do what I do completely for free."[107]

See also[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]