One day, schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, 15, decided to skip school.
With her handmade Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate) banner in tow, she stood alone in front of the Swedish Parliament building.
She cut a solitary figure, planting herself on the cobblestone as the world passed her by. Yet, unrelentingly, she fought her battle for months.
And slowly, the world took notice.
Now, she is the intimidating leader of a growing global movement.
She’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, has spoken in front of the United Nations and World Economic Forum, and just landed her very own book deal.
Greta Thunberg is taking the world by storm. Here are 6 things you need to know (but probably don’t) about this fearless climate change warrior.
1) School Strike for Climate
The day was August 20, 2018. The Swedish general election was less than a month away.
This is when ninth-grader Greta Thunberg decided to start her mission.
Every day for three weeks, she protested by sitting outside the Riskdag, skipping school, with her banner simply stating, “Skolstrejk för klimatet”.
Bravely, she demanded that the Swedish government reduce the country’s carbon emissions according to the Paris Agreement.
As to her motivation, Greta says:
“I felt everything was meaningless and there was no point going to school if there was no future. I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference.”
Her parents tried to dissuade her. Her teachers called her a troublemaker. And her classmates refused to join her.
No one probably expected her to get worldwide attention.
And yet, seemingly overnight, she went viral.
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Her climate strike has inspired more than a million youths around the world to carry similar protests.
On March 15 this year, she lead a global climate strike right from where it all began. Approximately 1.6 million youths in 120 countries participated.
It was one of the world’s biggest environmental protests.
2) She was diagnosed with autism
On paper, Greta was probably least likely to become an activist.
She was painfully introverted.
“Nothing really was happening in my life. I have always been that girl in the back who doesn’t say anything. I thought I couldn’t make a difference because I was too small.”
No wonder, because it turns out Greta was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD.
However, she argues that she became an activist, not in spite of her autism, but because of it.
“I see the world a bit different, from another perspective. It’s very common that people on the autism spectrum have a special interest. … I can do the same thing for hours.”
Greta argues that it’s her autism that makes her relentless:
“I overthink. Some people can just let things go, but I can’t, especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad. I remember when I was younger, and in school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on.
“I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head.”
3) According to her teacher, she’s a “troublemaker”
But that’s actually not a bad thing.
At first, Greta’s parents tried to dissuade her for protesting.
Her father says:
“She is supposed to be in school, we cannot support her action. But we respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest and be happy.”
Her teachers, on the other hand, have mixed views. On the one hand, they thought that skipping classes isn’t good for her. On the other, they couldn’t argue that what she was doing was wrong.
“My teachers are divided. As people they think what I am doing is good, but as teachers they say I should stop.”
But one teacher wholeheartedly supported her. Benjamin Wagner, 26, encouraged Greta to continue protesting. He even joined her, losing 3 weeks’ worth of salary in the process.
“Our inability to stop climate change is like the efforts to stop world war one – we knew for years it was coming, they arranged all sorts of conferences, but still they didn’t prevent it.
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.”
Despite this, Greta refuses to back down, saying:
“The best thing about my protest has been to see how more and more people have been coming and getting involved.
I don’t care if I get into trouble at school. I believe that one person can make a difference.”
4) She gave up meat and flying
Greta has become such an influential leader and public speaker for climate change, that she receives countless invitations to speak in conferences and gatherings.
However, she takes her advocacy seriously. She refuses to attend events that require her to fly. Instead, she takes trains across Europe.
“I’ve decided to stop flying because I want to practice as I preach, to create opinion and to lower my own emissions. One person who stops flying will not make a difference. But if a large number of people do then it will. It sends a message that we are in a crisis and have to change our behaviour.”
She even influenced her family to do the same, saying, “I made them feel guilty”.
For her mother, it’s a huge sacrifice. Malena Ernman is one of Sweden’s most celebrated opera singers and is now opting to travel by train for work.
Greta and her family are also now vegan.
5) She is a fearless public speaker
Don’t be fooled by Greta’s size and shyness. When given the chance, she can put even the most powerful men and women to shame.
Her public speeches have garnered millions of views worldwide. From the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference, TED talks, to the EU Parliament, Greta fearlessly and eloquently speaks for her cause.
At the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference, in front of the world’s most powerful representatives, she boldly challenges:
“You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.
You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.
Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.”
Very few people can put such powerful and eloquent words together. But this 16-year old is not intimidated when it comes to fighting for what she thinks is right.
6) She inspires her fellow youth
Greta’s main motivation is to save the earth for young people like her.
And so far, she’s succeeding.
On May 15 this year, she became the inspiration behind global youth climate protests happening simultaneously in more than 100 countries.
According to Greta, she’s only just starting:
“This is not a one-time thing. We are not just protesting to let them see that we care, we are protesting until they do something. We are going to put pressure on them and just keep on going.”
But she does not want to just inspire the young generation. She wants to create a global change, and that includes everyone — not just young people.
Now, Greta is rallying for adults to join an even bigger worldwide protest.
She is asking everyone to walk out of work and join her in protest before the UN summit on September 20.
The protest is expected in 1,594 cities across 118 countries.
“We’re asking adults to step up alongside us … today, so many of our parents are busy discussing whether our grades are good, or a new diet or the Game of Thrones finale – whilst the planet burns.
But to change everything, we need everyone. It is time for all of us to unleash mass resistance … if we [demand change] in numbers we have a chance.”
A cry for radical change
Greta Thunberg may be young, but behind her stands millions of children who feel the same: that we should create a massive radical change to reverse the effects of climate change.
Or we will be left with devastating circumstances.
The world’s scientists believe that humans need to cut carbon footprint by 50% before 2030.
Failure to do so would result in catastrophic floods, droughts, and heatwaves. All of this will leave millions of people in poverty. And humans won’t be the only ones suffering.
In fact, wildlife has been suffering for decades. Since 1970, the wildlife population has dropped to a staggering 60%.
Many species are already extinct, if not nearly so.
If we don’t act fast, the effects will be irreversible. And who knows what the world would look like 10 years from now.