The new face of climate activism may be young, but she is determined, and her direct approach is bringing attention to the urgency of global climate change. Greta Thurnberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, does not mince her words when she speaks about the action needed to address climate change. She does not shy away from boldly addressing business leaders, or government representatives, or crowds in the tens of thousands—armed with facts and the stark reality of what she, and everyone on planet Earth, will face if immediate action is not taken to drastically reduce carbon emmissions.
Last year, at only 15, she began leading weekly climate strikes on the steps of Swedish Parliament, missing school on Fridays (with the approval of her parents) to make a statement. The vigils are ongoing and have spread across Europe, using the social media hashtag #FridaysForFuture.
Greta had fallen into depression as she watched world leaders, even those who asserted that human-caused climate change was an “existential crisis,” continue to behave as if there were no emergency. So she turned her anguish into action. “We young people don’t have the vote, but school is obligatory,” she said in August 2018. “So this a way to get our voices heard.”
In December, she gave an impassioned speech at COP24 (24th Conference of Parties), the annual international United Nations climate conference. In front of representatives from governments around the world, she declared, “We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”
Greta asked the people of the world to rise to the challenge and “realize that our political leaders have failed us.” She continued, “Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”
Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. To act as you would in a crisis. To act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” – Greta Thunberg, at WEF
In January, she spoke on a panel at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, alongside such heavy-hitters as Bono (frontman of U2), reknowned conservationist Jane Goodall, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, and panel host and billionaire Marc Benioff. She directly addressed the elite attendees, seated just feet in front of her, telling them that they were among those directly responsible for the climate crisis.
Author and climate activist Naomi Klein applauded her bravery, writing on Twitter: “It takes deep courage to go to Davos and tell the masters-of-the-universe *to their faces* that they knowingly torched the planet in order [to] get filthy rich.”
“On climate change,” Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, said in response to her COP24 speech that the teenager demonstrated “more clarity and leadership in one speech than a quarter of a century of the combined contributions of so-called world leaders. Wilful ignorance and lies have overseen a 65 percent rise in CO2 since 1990. Time to hand over the baton.”
As scientists now say we only have about 12 years left to drastically reduce carbon emissions and prevent catastrophic climate consequences, it’s time indeed.