If you’ve been even remotely active on social media over the past week, you would have seen that there has been a subtle increase in the posts on your feed regarding climate change. Short films, factoids, speeches, pictures, all spreading awareness and rallying support to save the planet have been widespread online. This is because the UN Climate Action Summit was held in the United States from 21st-23rd Sep 2019.
Even if you have been casually swiping through those, you would surely have seen videos or pictures of a young girl, speaking ferociously on climate change and how it is imperative that we pay heed to it. Her recent speech at the United Nations where she fiercely called out the world leaders for their inadequacy has gone viral on social media. That girl is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. The young Swede has rightly so become the face of the fight against climate change.
It all started in August 2018, when the Thunberg skipped school and sat in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, Sweden. The reason behind her action? She wanted the authorities to follow the Paris Agreement and declare an International Environmental Emergency. While initially, she sat outside the parliament continuously for 3 weeks straight, in September Thunberg decided to continue striking every Friday until the Swedish Authorities charted out plans to tackle climate change effectively. While she started the movement alone, with just a placard calling for stronger climate action, it didn’t take long for the initiative to gather steam.
The hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #ClimateStrike spread and many students across the world began to protest outside their parliaments and local city halls. By November 2018 More than 17,000 students in 24 countries had started taking part in Friday school strikes. With this, Thunberg shot to global recognition, with the young girl, who identifies herself as a climate activist also going on to speak at the United Nations climate talks in Poland, among other places in Europe.
Who is Greta Thunberg?
Greta Thunberg was born on 3rd January 2003 in Sweden to actor Svante Thunberg and famous opera singer Malenda Ernman. While her parents don’t have a background in environmentalism, she is coincidentally related to one of the pioneers of the climate change movement.
Greta’s father is a distant relative of scientist Svante Arrhenius, who essentially discovered global warming. Interestingly, he was the first person to investigate the effect that carbon dioxide has on the earth’s temperature and find out that it causes warming. This finding formed the basis of the first model of the greenhouse effect. The same model was used in the 1960s by scientist David Keeling to demonstrate to prove that carbon emissions from human activity were enough to cause global warming.
However, Greta wasn’t always sensitized towards the issue. She first learnt about global warming when she was 8 when she viewed a documentary on the effects of climate change in school. Always being a quiet introverted child, she recalls getting highly affected regarding the state of our planet. “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” she said.
She puts this fixation down to her being diagnosed with Aspergers and selective mutism, as both illnesses have been known to cause anxiety and overthinking. While kids her age were able to compartmentalize information and selectively choose to remember what they believed in, Greta at that age could not.
After learning about global warming, she simply couldn’t go back to being normal. The effect on her was so great, that she even went through depression at the age of 11. While she says climate change wasn’t the sole reason, it certainly played a part in affected her mental health.
For a long time, she suffered from the illness, struggling to speak out and even not being able to attend school. Finally, she decided to open up to her parents about it. Her parents, although not activists, supported her views admirably. Her mother’s career as an opera singer meant flying regularly across the world, but she stopped flying and chose instead to perform only in Stockholm.The release and satisfaction she underwent after coming out were what prompted her to realise that her words could influence others positively.
What is The Fridays For Future Movement?
Thunberg's newfound confidence is what led to the birth of the Fridays For Future Movement. The movement revolves around thousands of adults and children thronging to the streets to demand that the government in their country takes immediate action to reverse the impacts of climate change.
Not more than a year old, the movement began after Greta decided to go public with her fight against climate change. Aged 15, she entered a climate writing competition held by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. She managed to win the competition with her essay titled ‘We know — and we can do something now’.
The coverage of her win brought her publicity, with the article even being published in Swedish newspapers. As a result, she went on to being approached by Bo Thorén, an activist who was focused on what young people could do about the climate crisis. One of his ideas involved around school students protesting at schools, which ultimately resonated with Greta the most.
20th August 2018 marked the first day of the movement, with Greta protesting alone. A year on, to say the movement has gone global would be an understatement.The number of students taking part in school strikes has been clocked at more than 2 million people across 135 countries. On Friday 15 March 2019 a global school strike was called. 1.6 million people took part in the strike globally, from 2,233 cities in 128 countries. It was the biggest single day of climate action that has been seen in history.
What started as a small movement has now become the biggest climate change initiative the world has ever seen and 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is at the centre of it. The young activist recently delivered an inspiring speech at the UN Climate Action Summit. What was interesting was that she set sail to reach the United States from Britain for the same. Using a zero-carbon yacht to ensure zero carbon emissions, the young Swede sailed across the Atlantic for 2 weeks to reach her destination. By doing so, she saved the atmosphere from about 1000 kgs of carbon emissions which would have been generated if she had travelled by flight.
Greta Thunberg’s Speech At the UN
Delivering on her promise, Thunberg’s speech last week at the Climate Action Summit made noise for all the right reasons. Fiery, Inspiring and direct, Thunberg called out all world leaders on their inaction in the fight against climate change. In a stinging statement that has now gone viral, she said “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal … We will not let you get away with this … The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Charged with understandable passion and a visibly emotional demeanour, Greta continued to single out the past generations for their negligence towards the climate. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said.
Thunberg ironically predicted that the summit is just a yearly PR exercise and would not result in any tangible changes that can help in the fight against climate change. Sadly, with many world leaders refusing to take a hard stand against climate change, her words rang hauntingly true when the summit culminated.
However, Greta’s passion and the fire in her voice served as a reminder of what true leadership, courage and sacrifice looks like. The fact that a 16-year-old managed to hold her own and even overpower several world leaders way elder to her is a victory in itself. The fact that her voice was heard is an achievement to be celebrated and revered, even if the fight against climate change has a long way to go.