Thunberg in April 2019
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg
3 January 2003
|Occupation||Student, environmental activist|
|Movement||School strike for climate|
|Relatives||Olof Thunberg (grandfather)|
|Awards||Goldene Kamera (2019)|
Fritt Ord Award (2019)
Rachel Carson Prize (2019)
Ambassador of Conscience Award (2019)
Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (including Geddes Environment Medal) (2019)
Right Livelihood Award (2019)
International Children's Peace Prize (2019)
Thunberg first became known for her activism in August 2018 when, at age 15, she began spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on global warming by holding up a sign saying (in Swedish) "School strike for climate". Soon, other students engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Together, they organised a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays for Future. After Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each.
Thunberg is known for her blunt, straightforward speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she urges immediate action to address what she describes as the climate crisis. At home, Thunberg convinced her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint, including giving up air travel and not eating meat.
Her sudden rise to world fame has made her a leader and a target. In May 2019, Thunberg was featured on the cover of Time magazine, which named her a "next generation leader" and noted that many see her as a role model. Thunberg and the school strike movement were also featured in a 30-minute Vice documentary titled Make the World Greta Again. Some media have described her impact on the world stage as the "Greta Thunberg effect". Thunberg has been the recipient of numerous honours and awards, including fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, has been named as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In September 2019, she addressed the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.
- 1 Life
- 2 2018–2019 activism
- 3 Thunberg's message
- 4 Impact
- 5 Speeches
- 6 Honours and awards
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Greta Thunberg was born on 3 January 2003 in Stockholm, the daughter of opera singer Malena Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg. Her paternal grandfather is actor and director Olof Thunberg.
Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was 8 years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. Three years later she became depressed, lethargic, and stopped talking as well as eating, and eventually was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. While acknowledging that her diagnosis "has limited me before", she does not view her Asperger's as an illness and has instead called it her "superpower".
For about two years, Thunberg challenged her parents to lower the family's carbon footprint by becoming vegan and giving up flying, which in part meant her mother had to give up her international career as an opera singer. Thunberg credits her parents' eventual response and lifestyle changes with giving her hope and belief that she could make a difference. The family story is recounted in the 2018 book Scenes from the Heart.
School strike for the climate
In late 2018, Thunberg began the school climate strikes and public speeches for which she has become an internationally recognised climate activist. Her father does not like her missing school, but 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". 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." In July 2019, Time magazine reported "Thunberg is now taking a sabbatical year from school, and is hoping to meet with people on the front line of the climate change movement during her trip to North America, which will include visits to Canada, Mexico and Chile."
In one of her first speeches demanding climate action, Thunberg described the selective mutism aspect of her condition as meaning she "only speaks when necessary". In 2019, Thunberg also contributed a voiceover for a release of "The 1975", the theme song of an English band by the same name. Thunberg finishes by urging: "So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel." Proceeds will go to Extinction Rebellion at Thunberg's request.
In an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, Thunberg said she first got the idea of a climate strike after school shootings in the United States in February 2018 led to several youths refusing to go back to school. These teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, went on to organise the March for Our Lives in support of greater gun control.
In May 2018, Thunberg won a climate change essay competition held by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. In part, she wrote that "I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history?” 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, Thorén also suggested that school children could strike for climate change. 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.
On 20 August 2018, Thunberg, who had just started ninth grade, decided not to attend school until the 2018 Swedish general election on 9 September; her protest began after the heat waves and wildfires during Sweden's hottest summer in at least 262 years. 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). She also handed out leaflets that stated: "I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future."
Thunberg posted her original strike photo on Instagram and Twitter, and other social media accounts quickly took up her cause. 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 photograph on his Facebook page and Instagram account. He also made a video in English that he posted on the company's YouTube channel that had almost 88,000 views. A representative of the Finnish bank, Nordea, quoted one of Thunberg's tweets to more than 200,000 followers. Thunberg's social media profile attracted local reporters whose stories earned international coverage in little more than a week.
After the general elections, Thunberg continued to strike only on Fridays. She inspired school students across the globe to take part in student strikes. As of December 2018, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in at least 270 cities. The school strikes for climate on September 20 and 27, 2019 were attended by over 4 million people, according to one of the co-organizers.
After October 2018, 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. 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.
2019 visit to the Americas
In August 2019, Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, UK, to New York, US, in a 60 ft racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines. The trip was announced as a carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing serving as a demonstration of Thunberg's declared beliefs of the importance of reducing emissions. France 24 reported that several crew would fly to New York to take the yacht back to Europe.
The voyage lasted 15 days, from 14 to 28 August 2019. While in the Americas, Thunberg attended the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City, and will attend the COP 25 Climate Change Conference in Santiago, Chile, in December.
On 23 September 2019 in New York, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) hosted a press conference where Thunberg joined 15 other children (Ayakha Melithafa, Alexandria Villaseñor, Catarina Lorenzo, Carl Smith, et al.) and together the group announced they had made an official complaint against five nations that are not on track to meet the emission reduction targets they committed to in their Paris Agreement pledges: Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey.
The complaint challenges these five countries under the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Protocol is a quasi-judicial mechanism which allows children or their representatives, who believe their rights have been violated to bring a complaint before the relevant ‘treaty body’, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee). If the complaint is successful, the countries will be asked to respond, but any suggestions are not legally binding.
In September Thunberg led a climate rally in Montreal, Canada. Hundreds of thousands took part in the protest which was described as the largest in the city's history. Justin Trudeau was in attendance and Thunberg briefly spoke with him.
When Thunberg began her protest outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018 at age 15, she sat next to a wooden sign that was painted white with "Skolstrejk för Klimatet" written in black lettering. She also had leaflets available for people who passed by explaining why she was protesting: "I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future." As her protest gained momentum, she was invited to give speeches at a variety of forums which enabled her to expand on her concerns. So far, she has stated four interwoven themes: that humanity is facing an existential crisis due to climate change, that the current generation of adults is responsible for climate change, that climate change will have a disproportionate effect on young people, and that too little is being done about the situation. She has also stated that politicians and decision-makers need to listen to the scientists.
Also part of her messaging is that the 1.5 °C commitment as part of the Paris Agreement is insufficient and that the greenhouse gas emissions curve needs to start declining steeply no later than 2020. In February 2019, at a conference of the European Economic and Social Committee, she said that the EU must reduce their CO
2 emissions by 80% by 2030, double the 40% goal set in Paris.
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.
United Nations Secretary-General 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." Speaking at an event in New Zealand in May 2019, Guterres said his generation was "not winning the battle against climate change" and that it's up to youth to "rescue the planet".
In June 2019, Thunberg spoke by video link with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who had submitted the Green New Deal to the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2019, which calls 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.
"The Greta effect"
Thunberg has inspired a number of her school-aged peers in what has been described as "The Greta effect". 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 Climate Change Act 2008, 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." 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".
In August 2019, a doubling in the number of children's books being published which address the climate crisis was reported, with a similar increase in the sales of such books—all aimed at empowering young people to save the planet. Publishers attribute this to the "Greta effect".
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. 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.
In February 2019, Thunberg shared a stage with the then President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, where he outlined "In the next financial period from 2021 to 2027, every fourth euro spent within the EU budget will go towards action to mitigate climate change". Climate issues also played a significant role in European Parliament election in May 2019 as Green parties recorded their highest ever score, boosting their MEP numbers from 52 to 72. Many of the gains came from northern European countries where young people have taken to the streets inspired by Thunberg.
In June 2019, Swedish Railways (SJ) reported that the number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys had risen by 8% from the previous year, reflecting growing public concern about the impact of flying on CO
2 emissions that is 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.
Criticism and response
Criticism of Thunberg and her campaign
Thunberg and her campaign has had negative reactions from some politicians – notably the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump, French president Emmanuel Macron, OPEC, and some media commentators. The criticism ranges from claiming she oversimplifies the complex issues involved to climate change denial.
In July 2019, Agence France-Presse reported that OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) secretary-general Mohammed Barkindo "complained of what he called 'unscientific' attacks on the oil industry by climate change campaigners, calling them 'perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward'", and said he was apparently referring "to the recent wave of school strikes inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg's 'Fridays for Future' movement". Thunberg and other climate activists responded by calling his remarks a badge of honour.
Following Thunberg's filing of a lawsuit against France, Germany and other countries for not being on track to meet the emission reduction targets they committed to in their Paris Agreement pledges, Emmanuel Macron criticised her, saying that "such radical positions (as held by Thunberg) antagonise our societies". He added that "she should focus on those that are blocking, those that are the furthest", and that "he doesn't feel like either the French or the German governments are trying to block". French secretary of state for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition Brune Poirson also criticised her, saying that "she doesn't know what solutions she is putting forward", adding that "you can't mobilise with despair, even hate". In an opinion column, Christopher Caldwell claimed that Thunberg's straightforward approach to climate change will bring climate protesters into conflict with the complexities of decision-making in Western democracies. The French philosopher Raphaël Enthoven claims that many people "buy virtue" with their support for Thunberg but do not actually do anything to help.
In September 2019, Donald Trump shared a video of Thunberg angrily addressing world leaders, along with a quote of hers that "people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction". Trump mocked Thunberg, writing: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Thunberg reacted by changing her Twitter bio to match his description, and stating she could not "understand why grown-ups would choose to mock children and teenagers for just communicating and acting on the science when they could do something good instead." In October 2019, Trump shared a Twitter post which mocked Thunberg as an "actress", while praising the person who wrote that post.
In October 2019, Vladimir Putin described Thunberg as a "kind girl and very sincere", while suggesting she was being manipulated to serve others' interests. Putin criticized her as "poorly informed": "No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden." Similar to her reaction to Trump, Thunberg updated her Twitter bio to reflect Putin's description of her.
Thunberg has also been criticised by the Australian commentator and climate change denier Andrew Bolt after Thunberg announced she would travel to the United States in a carbon-zero yacht. Bolt said she had a cult following, calling her "freakishly influential" for a "girl so young and with so many mental disorders".
Criticism of attacks on Thunberg
In August 2019, Scott Walsman wrote in Scientific American that Thunberg's detractors have "launched personal attacks", "bash (her) autism", and "increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence."
Writing in The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty said that columnists including Brendan O'Neill, Toby Young, the blog Guido Fawkes, as well as Helen Dale and Rod Liddle at The Spectator and The Sunday Times had been making "ugly personal attacks" on Thunberg. As part of its climate change denial, Germany's right wing Alternative for Germany party has attacked Thunberg "in fairly vicious ways", according to Jakob Guhl, a researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
Arron Banks' Twitter post pointing out that "freak yachting accidents do happen in August..." outraged a number of MPs (Member of Parliament), celebrities and academics. Tanja Bueltmann, founder of EU Citizens' Champion, said Banks had "invoked the drowning of a child" for his own amusement, and noted that most of those attacking Thunberg "are white middle-aged men from the right of the political spectrum". Writing in The Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff, said Thunberg has become "the new front in the Brexit culture war" arguing that the outrage generated by personal attacks on Thunberg by Brexiteers "gives them the welcome oxygen of publicity".
Essayist Steve Silberman, writing in Vox, points out that being on the autism spectrum enables Thunberg to be fearless in her rhetoric. In an interview with Suyin Haynes in Time magazine, she addressed the criticism she has 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."
Misuse of her name
In late 2018, Ingmar Rentzhog, who claims to be one of the first to publicise 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 a WDHT for-profit subsidiary, We Don't Have Time AB, of which Rentzhog is the chief executive officer. Thunberg received no money from the company. She terminated her volunteer advisor role with WDHT once she realised they were making money from her name, stating "[I am] not part of any organisation… am absolutely independent… [and] do what I do completely for free."
Thunberg has given many speeches during climate strikes, at NGO events such as a TEDx conference, and before gatherings of national and world leaders. In one recent speech, at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, 2019, Thunberg said to world leaders:
"This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"
"You are failing us." Thunberg said toward the end of her speech. "But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."
Honours and awards
In November 2018, about three months into her school climate strike, Thunberg was nominated for the Children's Climate Prize, which is awarded by the Swedish electricity company Telge Energi. However, Thunberg declined to accept the award because many of the finalists would have to fly to Stockholm for the ceremony and a required meeting with one another.
On 10 December 2018, Time magazine named Thunberg one of the world's 25 most influential teenagers of 2018. In 2018, Thunberg was awarded the Fryshuset scholarship of the Young Role Model of the Year.
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. If Thunberg had received the Prize she would have become the youngest person ever to receive it.
On 31 March 2019, Thunberg received the German Goldene Kamera Special Climate Protection award. On 1 April 2019, the Prix Liberté from France's region Normandy was awarded to Thunberg, which she received in Caen on 21 July that year. Thunberg is the first recipient of this new award, which was designed to honour a young person engaged in a fight for peace and freedom. Thunberg said she would donate the €25,000 prize money to four organisations working for climate justice and helping areas already affected by climate change.
On 12 April 2019, Thunberg shared the Norwegian Fritt Ords Prize, which celebrates freedom of speech, with the Nature and Youth organisation. The conferring organisation, Fritt Ord noted their determined committed activism even in the face of pervasive online and media harassment. Thunberg donated her share of the prize money to a lawsuit which seeks to halt Norwegian oil exploration in the Arctic.
In April 2019, Time magazine named Thunberg as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019. In the same month, the Chilean-based organisation, 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' Prize. Webby Awards named Thunberg for Webby Social Movement of the Year of 2019. 
In May 2019, the University of Mons announced it had awarded a doctor honoris causa (honorary degree) to Thunberg. The doctoral diploma and insignia was bestowed at the official opening of the university's 2019–2020 academic year on 10 October 2019.Thunberg was unable to be present for the ceremony, but thanked the university in a video.
In May 2019, artist Jody Thomas painted a 50-foot-high (15 m) mural of Thunberg on a wall in Bristol. It portrays the bottom half of her face as if under rising sea water. In May 2019, Thunberg was featured on the cover of Time magazine where she was described as a role model, and one of the "next generation leaders".
On 7 June 2019, Amnesty International announced that it will give Thunberg their most prestigious award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, for her leadership in the climate movement. Thunberg then said the prize equally belongs to everyone who has taken part in the Fridays for Future Movement in school strike for climate. The activist said the award is "for all those millions of people, young people, around the world who together make up the movement called Friday's for Future."
On 25 September 2019, Thunberg was named as one of four winners of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, known as Sweden's alternative Nobel Prize. Thunberg won the award "for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts", the Right Livelihood Foundation said in a statement.
On 27 September 2019, Thunberg was awarded Keys to the City of Montréal, Canada, by Mayor Valérie Plante. Upon receiving Keys to the City, Thunberg said "I am incredibly honoured." She was in Montréal for the Global Climate Strike where over 500,000 people marched calling on political leaders to take action against climate change and met with Mayor Plante after delivering a speech to the massed protesters.
On 4 October 2019, on behalf of the KidsRights Foundation, Desmond Tutu announced that Thumberg, along with Divina Maloum (14) from Cameroon, was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize of 2019. "I am in awe of you," Tutu said. "Your powerful message is amplified by your youthful energy and unshakable belief that children can, no must, improve their own futures. You are true change-makers who have demonstrated most powerfully that children can move the world." The prize will be awarded on 20 November 2019 at a ceremony in The Hague.
On 8 October 2019, Thunberg, along with Native American teenage climate activist Tokata Iron Eyes, took part in a climate panel on the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. At the end of the panel discussion, Thunberg was honored with a Lakota name—Mahpiya Etahan hi wi—by former Standing Rock Chairman Jay Taken Alive with Standing Rock Sioux Chief Arvol Looking Horse in attendance. Thunberg's Lakota name translated into English means: "Woman Who Came From the Heavens." Tribal members say she is awakening the world and they stand by her mission.
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