Vegan climate change activist Greta Thunberg was named TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year.
“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she told TIME. “That is all we are saying.”
On Wednesday, the same day she was named TIME’s Person of the Year, Thunberg spoke before the 25th United Nations climate conference, COP25, damning countries for “negotiating loopholes” instead of meeting the goals to limit carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement.
“We are desperate for any sign of hope,” Thunberg said. “I’ve given many speeches and learned that when you talk in public you should start with something personal or emotional to get everyone’s attention, say things like ‘our house is on fire,’ ‘I want you to panic,’ and ‘how dare you.’ But today I will not do that, because then those phrases are all that people focus on. They don’t remember the facts, the very reason why I say those things in the first place.”
School Strike For Climate
The 16-year-old’s journey to becoming one of the more prolific voices for climate change began with skipping school in August 2018. Instead of attending class, Thunberg sat outside the Swedish Parliament holding a white sign with painted black letters that read: “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” — school strike for climate.
Her actions sparked Fridays for Futures, a global youth-led environmental movement. Last September, the world’s largest environmental strike took place on a Friday. In New York City and other metropolitan areas across the globe, the streets were lined with young people skipping school to send a message. Thunberg’s first book, “No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference,” published earlier this year.
The science behind the climate crisis motivates her. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for “unprecedented changes“ to all aspects of society to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celcius. Her understanding of the evidence connecting animal agriculture to the climate crisis is why Thunberg follows a vegan diet.
‘This Is All Wrong’
Thunberg captured the world’s attention. The young activist has met with world leaders including former president Barack Obama, Pope Frances, and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has been the subject of art installations and delivered a powerful speech at the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit in New York City last September.
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean,” Thunberg said at the summit. Over the summer, she traveled across the Atlantic via a zero-emissions yacht for a series of speaking events.
“You all come to us young people for hope,” she continued. “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”
Thunberg’s work has elevated the work of fellow youth activists, including 16-year-old co-executive director of the U.S. Climate Strike and daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Isra Hirsi and co-founder of the This Is Zero Hour Movement, Nadia Nazar.
Thunberg has never minced words, nor has she shown signs of being intimidated by world leaders and celebrities alike. She concluded her speech at the Climate Summit: “You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”