(Updated November 8, 2019) A year ago, the name Greta Thunberg was unknown. The words “climate change,” however, were pretty familiar. They would conjure up images of icebergs, skinny polar bears, and Al Gore. They may have made you feel uncomfortable. They may have made you want to push them deep down into the depths of the plastic-filled oceans because ignorance is bliss, right? Thunberg says wrong.
Now when you think of climate change — or the climate crisis, as it is now commonly referred to — it’s likely you think of Thunberg, her unwavering commitment to saving the planet, and her sheer determination to wake up the rest of the world to help her. She may be in her teens, but the young woman from Sweden has made a monumental impact across Europe, and indeed, the rest of the world.
Who Is Greta Thunberg?
Thunberg is a 16-year-old from Sweden. Last summer, she began demonstrating outside the Swedish Parliament; she was demanding more action on the issue of climate change. In the weeks leading up to the country’s general election, Thunberg sat on the steps outside of the parliament building in Stockholm. She held up a (now iconic) sign that read “Skolstrejk För Klimatet” — it translates to “school strike for climate.”
She said at the time, “I am doing this because nobody else is doing anything. It is my moral responsibility to do what I can. I want the politicians to prioritize the climate question, focus on the climate and treat it like a crisis.”
Many told Thunberg she should be at school. She responded, “I have my books here. But also I am thinking: what am I missing? What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter anymore. Politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”
Fast forward to now, and the teen still isn’t giving school much thought. She’s now famous around the world for raising awareness about the climate crisis. In the past year, Thunberg has held governments accountable with her damning speeches. She recorded a spoken-word record with British band The 1975, spoke at the United Nations climate talks, and has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Together with two other MPs, Norweigan Socialist MP Freddy Andre Ovstegard nominated Thunberg. He said, “we have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees.” He added, “[Thunberg] has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”
The teen has even had a tiny beetle named after her. Scientists at the Natural History Museum named the insect species — discovered 50 years ago — Greta Thunberg to honor her “outstanding contribution” to the fight against the climate crisis.
She’s now on sabbatical in America — after sailing the Atlantic in an eco-friendly superyacht — attempting to spread her message across the U.S.
She declined to speak with President Donald Trump during her trip, simply stating that it would be a waste of time. She has, however, spoken with former President Barack Obama.
After his meeting with the Swedish teen, Obama Tweeted, “just 16, [Greta Thunberg] is already one of our planet’s greatest advocates. Recognizing that her generation will bear the brunt of climate change, she’s unafraid to push for real action.”
During the meeting, Thunberg and Obama fist-bumped and he told her, “you and me, we’re a team.” He also asked about the climate strikes in New York and Washington. She responded, “everyone is so nice and all of these young people seem so eager, very enthusiastic which is a very good thing.”
Thunberg recently teamed up with British writer, activist, and fellow vegan George Monbiot to create a short film about the climate crisis. “This is not a drill,” the 16-year-old opens the film by saying. “My name is Greta Thunberg. We are living in the beginning of a mass extinction.”
In the video, Thunberg speaks about the importance of halting the burning of fossil fuels. “But this alone will not be enough,” she says. Monbiot explains the significance of trees, or “magic machines” as he calls them. This “natural climate solution” sucks carbon out of the air, is relatively cheap, and builds itself. “Nature is a tool we can use to repair our broken climate,” he says.
The duo highlight that we spend 1,000 times more on global fossil fuel subsidies than on natural-based solutions. Natural climate solutions get just 2 percent of all the money used to address the climate crisis. “This is your money. It is your taxes and your savings,” the Swedish activist states.
Humankind is destroying these natural climate solutions faster than ever. Up to 200 species go extinct every day. “Much of the arctic ice is gone, most of our wild animals have gone, much of our soil has gone,” Monbiot says.
They add that we must protect nature, restore damaged ecosystems, stop funding things that destroy nature and start funding things that assist it.
Thunberg’s mass movement involves millions of school children. The School Strike for Climate — or Fridays for Future — has seen students from all over the world ditch the classroom for meaningful peaceful protest.
Thunberg started her strike in August. In September, she started attracting media attention, and in November 2018, 17,000 students in 24 different countries took part in school strikes on Fridays. It was shortly after this that Thunberg began making high profile speeches.
By March 2019, nearly two million students in 135 countries protested against climate change. In August, the number of people striking for the planet hit 3.6 million.
Students across New York City were granted absence from school to take part in the Global Climate Strike. From September 20 to 27, millions of people around the world joined students to protest for more action on the climate crisis.
In the UK, student strikers were backed by the Trades Union Congress and Amnesty International. The latter called for headteachers around the world to also back the protests.
Secretary-general of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo wrote to nearly 25,000 schools in the UK, as well as 2,000 in New Zealand, Canada, Hungary, and Spain. He asked headteachers to allow their students to take part in the strikes without punishment.
“I believe that the cause for which these children are fighting is of such historic significance that I am writing to you today with a request to neither prevent nor punish your pupils from taking part,” he wrote.
Young activists have also captured the attention of U.S. Congress. Thunberg and several teen activists from the U.S. and South America recently attended the Senate climate crisis talks. During the talks, Congress praised their commitment to the cause and asked for advice on how to proceed in terms of tackling the climate crisis.
Thunberg responded, “please save your praise. We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.”
She added, “if you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard. I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”
The Climate Change Crisis
According to the United Nations, humanity has under 12 years to prevent a climate change crisis. A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the end of 2018 called for immediate “unprecedented changes” to all aspects of society.
If we do not act, rising global temperatures pose a high risk of social and environmental disasters, including floods, drought, wildfires, and food shortages for millions of people.
“Our house is on fire,” Thunberg said at The World Economic Forum in Davos. She continued, “on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness.”
She later added, “you say nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t.”
Thunberg is hardball in her message. But it’s working. Earlier this year, Mohammed Barkindo — the secretary-general of OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) — acknowledged public opinion surrounding the climate crisis as a threat to the oil industry.
He said that climate activism was “beginning to … dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry.” He added that officials were starting to feel pressure from their own families. “[Their children] are asking us about their future,” he said. “They see their peers on the streets campaigning against this industry.”
Oil is just one industry contributing to the climate crisis. Another is animal agriculture. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, tackling meat consumption is the world’s most “urgent problem.”
It said in a statement last year, “our use of animals as a food production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe.” It added that “the greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined. There is no pathway to achieve the Paris climate objectives without a massive decrease in the scale of animal agriculture.”
Last year, the biggest-ever food production analysis revealed that the best way for any consumer to reduce their impact on the planet is to go vegan. Lead researcher Joseph Poore said at the time, “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.”
“It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he added. “Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this.”
Is Greta Thunberg Vegan?
Due to the industry’s monumental impact on the planet, Thunberg doesn’t eat meat. She follows a vegan diet. She has said in the past that she believes animal agriculture is stealing her future.
In an interview earlier this year, she recalled what it was like speaking to her parents about the climate crisis and convincing them not to eat meat. “In the beginning, they were like everyone else,” she said. “They were like ‘don’t worry, someone will invent something in the future. People have this under control.'”
“But the more I read about it the more I understood that we don’t have this under control. And so then I started to become worried,” she added. She learned about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet and tried to convince her parents to change their diets.
“I just kept telling them that they were stealing our future,” she said. “[I told them] that you cannot stand up for human rights while you are living that lifestyle. And then they decided to do those changes.”