If you’re looking for a major dose of inspiration, look no further than Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old from Sweden is tackling climate change head-on. She’s passionate, courageous, insightful, and, despite receiving criticism, she doesn’t allow anything to hold her back from activism. Her mission is to spread awareness about the urgency of climate change and advocate for meaningful solutions. She’s proof that age doesn’t matter when you’re determined to change the world.
From Concerned Student to Determined Activist
In a recent interview with NPR, Greta described how she first learned about climate change at 8 years old when her class was shown a documentary on the topic in school. She recalls being more greatly impacted by it than the other students:
“We saw these horrifying pictures of plastic in the oceans and floodings and so on, and everyone was very moved by that. But then it just seemed like everyone went back to normal. And I couldn’t go back to normal because those pictures were stuck in my head. And I couldn’t just go on knowing that this was happening around the world.”
Over the next few years, she began researching the issue of climate change, attending marches, and speaking with those inside the environmental movement. At the time, she was dealing with depression – but instead of allowing it to consume her, she overcame it by choosing to dedicate herself to activism. In addition to her depression, Greta has spoken openly about her diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. She believes that it has helped – not hindered – her ability to fight for change. She says it helps her see things more clearly, and instead of compromising on her values, she decides to go all in.
In May 2018, at the age of 15, Greta entered a climate writing competition held by a Swedish newspaper. She was announced as one of the winners of the competition for her essay, which was published in the newspaper.
She began to gain publicity, and since then, has been taking action worldwide.
Gaining Worldwide Influence
In September of 2018, Greta began a regular ‘strike’ from classes every Friday to protest climate issues. She invited other students to join her weekly “Fridays for Future” campaign by staging walkouts at their own schools. By November 2018, more than 17,000 students in 24 countries were taking part in the Friday school strikes, and by March 2019, the number of students taking part hit more than 2 million people across 135 countries. Greta was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and was named one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine.
“Now I am speaking to the whole world,” she wrote on Twitter. But, with greater influence and a larger platform comes scrutiny, and Greta, unfortunately, was not spared of it. Conservative and far-right lawmakers in French parliament urged a boycott of Thunberg’s appearance, mocking her as a “guru of the apocalypse” and a “Nobel prize of fear”. She was described as a “deeply disturbed messiah” leading a “cult” in an opinion column by a conservative Australian commentator.
But Greta didn’t let it intimidate her. In August, she set sail from Britain to the United States (to avoid the carbon emissions caused by airplanes) to take part in a United Nations climate summit. Meanwhile, the total number of climate strikers reached 3.6 million people across 169 countries.
Greta’s speech at the UN climate summit went viral, and there is no question why. The 16-year-old spoke powerfully, eloquently, and emotionally about her fears and frustrations:
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. 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. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Greta has an exceptional way of getting her message across, and her speech at the UN is not the only time she’s done it. She also spoke before lawmakers in Congress, telling them they’re not trying hard enough to fight climate change:
“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.”
Greta isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, and she won’t stop until progress is made.
Channel your Inner Greta
Children and young adults often fall into the trap of believing that they have no place speaking out against our leaders, who are thought of as wiser and more experienced. They believe that they cannot make a difference, convinced that nobody will acknowledge, much less respect, their voice. Greta Thunberg proves all of this to be false.
Whatever issue you are passionate about – whether that’s climate change, or violence against women, or civil rights – dare to make a difference. And however you choose to fight for your cause, do it courageously. Greta wasn’t born a superhero – she’s no more capable than you or I. She simply wakes up each day and decides to follow her calling. And that’s precisely what we all can do too.
Grace Malloy is a 28-year-old living in the Greater Boston area, with interests in writing, public service, and women’s rights. While working as a software support specialist, she received her Masters Degree in Public Administration – a challenging yet fulfilling experience. She aspires to use her strengths and passions to make a positive impact on her community.