In September 2018, a 15-year old schoolgirl missed her school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign that read “School Strike for Climate”. Although she was alone initially, she was joined each day by more and more people. Her cause soon caught international attention. She was soon known around the globe as a young activist for climate change – she was Greta Thunberg. Her small campaign had a ripple effect across the globe, with thousands of young people organising their own strikes.
Background – Born in January 2003, in Stockholm,Sweden; Greta’s mother was an opera singer while her father was an actor. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is characterised by social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. However, she doesn’t view it as a problem. In her own words, she sees it rather as a ‘gift’ that can help her see things outside the box; in ‘black and white’.
Social Impacts – Greta who has been seen as the voice of her generation against climate change, has many a time challenged world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation. Her straight-forward, blunt manner of speaking to the public and political leaders has gained attention. Her activism started with her persuading her own parents to adopt different lifestyle choices to reduce the carbon footprint.
Her strike outside the Swedish Parliament was followed by the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement. This movement is an international one where school students skip Friday classes to participate in demonstrations to demand actions from political leaders to prevent climate change and the fossil fuel industry to transition to renewable energy. A global strike on 15 March 2019 saw more than 1 million strikers in 2,200 strikes in 125 countries. On 24 May 2019, in the second global strike, 1600 events across 150 counties drew hundreds of thousands of protesters. On 24 September 2021, strikes were scheduled in more than 1400 locations across the globe. Strikes were held in more than 90 countries with big events in Europe, America, and Africa. Some of the largest demonstrations were held in Germany. Greta addressed more than 1,00,000 people in Berlin and declared that ‘No political party is doing enough.’
Thunberg has given speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as well as in the European Parliament, as well as the Legislatures of Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In September 2019, her appearance at the UN climate event in New York City- which she travelled to on an emissions-free yacht, also garnered attention with her famous quote, ‘you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words’. However, some of the world leaders did not take kindly to her; Trump is reported to have spent 15 minutes at the summit and completely ignored Thunberg. Putin had criticised her speech, saying nobody had explained to Greta that the ‘modern world is complicated and complex’.
Accolades – The young girl, however, seems resolute in her stance. She has received many honours and awards and has also had many species named in her honour in the course of her activism. The latest awards include the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity,2020. Human Act Award 2020. She was also a contender for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Her book ”No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference” was published first in 2019.
- Sinsy Mathew