Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old from Sweden who is raising her voice and inspiring millions of people around the world to take action against climate change—in spite of politicians and greedy corporations.
In August 2018, a small, quiet teenager was seen sitting outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm during school hours. She was holding nothing but a humble homemade sign that read Skolstrejk för klimatet ("School strike for climate"). Passersby were at first puzzled. Then, amused. It would take several months before her actions gained traction—after which the teenager, Greta Thunberg, would become an international figure and inspiration for millions of people. Here's the story of the teenage activist who's rallying the world against climate change.
Daughter of celebrated opera singer Malena Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg, Greta was born on January 3, 2003, in Sweden. She never was very comfortable in social situations and often found herself thinking differently than most. She first learned about climate change when she was eight and was quickly puzzled by the reality of the issue. "Something didn't add up," she expressed. "If there is such a crisis, why is no one acting like there is." No laws, no action. How come?
Greta fell into a depression shortly after. It made no sense to her, and the whole matter terrified her. Her parents tried to help as much as possible, and little by little, she made sense of things. Later on, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and selective mutism, which "basically means I only speak when I think it's necessary," she said. "Now is one of those moments."
Greta sees her very particular set of diagnosis as an advantage. People like her can in fact see things in black and white, focus, and avoid a sort of performative contradiction by acting against your own beliefs and self-interest. She is utterly puzzled by other people's ability to realize how bad things are and then, a moment later, keep on eating meat, dairy, jumping into airplanes, and ignore—or even perpetuate—noxious corporate and political practices all over the world. That makes no sense to her. In her mind, if carbon emissions are leading to our destruction, then we must stop carbon emissions. It's as simple as that.
Little by little, she began to realize what had to be done. In order to minimize her family's carbon footprint, she told her parents to become at least vegetarian (she's vegan herself), and to give up flying. Unlike most of us, Greta is truly congruent, as she unapologetically applies the values she promotes.
Then, in August 2018, Thunberg took to the streets to silently protest the lack of social and political action against climate change. She had just started the ninth grade, and Sweden's general elections were soon to take place about three weeks later. The country had just suffered devastating heatwaves and wildfires, so she vowed to go on a student strike, and to stand in front of parliament every day until the elections came. Having fulfilled her promise, she continued to stand on the street, with her sign, every single Friday since. And people listened.
Greed vs survival
In the name of money, profit, power, and convenience, greedy corporations and politicians have long gotten away with maintaining an unsustainable exploitation of our planet. They not only take no action against climate change, but are actually increasing carbon emissions throughout the world, which is making things way worse. It's like sitting in a car driven by pure greed, headed straight for a cliff—and instead of braking, the driver accelerates, calling the cliff "a hoax."
Unsurprisingly, people like Greta are not okay with this irresponsible attitude. And she doesn't stand alone. In November, a couple of months after she first started her lonely protests, the movement picked up. By December, over 20,000 students held strikes in more than 270 cities, and a solitary protest suddenly turned into a worldwide demonstration. Now, world leaders and corporate giants face her directly, as she travels the planet (on train, of course) to talk at massive environmental rallies, interviews, and TED Talks.
The extreme challenge of our current anthropogenic, or man-made, climate threat is real. Pretty much every single piece of data points to this fact. Climate change stands to be the worst catastrophe in thousands—if not millions—of years, accelerating natural cycles before most species on our planet have a chance to adapt, leading to their extinction—us included.
While many people alive might not be around when this happens, it's our children and grandchildren who'll face the consequences for the choices we make today. And we're making the wrong choices. Young people are starting to realize this. Greta Thunberg is one of them. And she, like many others like her, are fed up with the world's negligence.
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For the love of those who follow
Some told her she should keep studying to become a climate scientist to actually "save the world." But that won't do. Not for her. As Thunberg points out, the science is done, we know what's happening, and we know what to do. The problem is not lack of climate scientists. The problem, rather, is ignorance, denial, and inaction. Becoming a climate scientist will do nothing—what we need is a profound social change if we're to actually save the world.
"We can’t change the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed."
On March 13th, 2019, three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated Greta for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, a gesture for which she felt "honored and very grateful." Should she win the Nobel later this year, she'd become the youngest person ever to receive it.
In spite of her activism—which takes an incredible amount of her time—, Greta keeps up with her schoolwork. She receives no pay or money for fighting against anti-climate policies and for the future of the planet. And she's not afraid to do so. She's become renowned for her candor, her directness, and her unwillingness to take 'no' for an answer, often challenging and directly confronting the profound incongruencies of others. "You say you love your children above all else," she once said, "and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes."
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