Greta Thunberg (2003-), Swedish teenager who inspired massive global climate protests.
Summary of Event
On September 23, 2019, the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg gave an emotional speech at the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit at the UN headquarters in New York City, berating world leaders and diplomats for their inaction on the issue of climate change despite thirty years of scientific evidence of global warming. "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," Thunberg said, as she stressed the urgency of the situation and appealed for immediate steps to curb the increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
"How dare you!" she repeatedly told her audience of world leaders, adding that they are failing the young people, who are "starting to understand their betrayal." She further said: "The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you." She ended her speech with words of warning: "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."
The summit gathered representatives of participating nations for the purpose of developing concrete and realistic strategies to mitigate climate change. In particular, the participants were asked to fulfill their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions toward achieving zero emissions by the year 2050.
Ahead of the UN gathering, global climate strikes were carried out on September 20, with millions of young people in more than a hundred countries in Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas walking out of their school or work to call for greater efforts in tackling climate change. The protests culminated in a massive demonstration in New York City, at which Thunberg lamented the same empty promises, lies, and inaction of world leaders. Speaking before a crowd of hundreds of thousands, she declared: "This is an emergency. Our house is on fire." Addressing the students, she asked: "Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us?" The "eyes of the world" would be on the world leaders at the climate summit, she added, who have "a chance to take leadership" and "to prove they actually hear us."
Following her speech at the international summit, another wave of strikes took place on September 27, participated in by millions of people across many countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Climate strikes were also carried out around the world on November 29, a day before the shopping holiday known as Black Friday in numerous countries, most especially the United States. The protesters took what is regarded as the beginning of the holiday shopping season as an opportunity to urge people to reconsider the environmental effects of overproduction and widespread consumption as well as to increase awareness of the disastrous impacts of climate change. The strikes were also timed to put pressure on world leaders who were scheduled to meet in Madrid, Spain, from December 2nd to the 13th for the annual UN Climate Change Conference known as COP25.
On December 6, protesters took to the streets again for another round of climate strikes in various cities around the world. Speaking at a press conference in Madrid that day, Thunberg declared that although public awareness on the issue of climate change has increased, the worldwide school strikes regarding climate change over the past year has not achieved anything because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. She expressed hope in the ongoing climate talks at the UN conference, again stressing the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis and warning that the world could not afford continued inaction from its leaders. An estimated half a million people joined the strike in Madrid.
Born in Stockholm in 2003 to actor Svante Thunberg and opera singer Malena Ernman, Thunberg has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder marked by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication and by repetitive patterns of behavior and restricted interests. She regards her condition not as a disability but as a "superpower" that has increased her awareness of and focus on the climate crisis.
Thunberg was eight years old when she first learned about climate change. At twelve, she gave up meat and air travel to reduce her carbon footprint and eventually convinced her parents to do the same. She started skipping school and staging a solo protest against inaction on climate change in August of 2018, standing outside the Swedish parliament building for three weeks with a sign that read: skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate). The following month, she began a regular strike from classes every Friday, known as "Fridays for Future," and invited fellow students to walk out of their classes and join the weekly strikes. Students, teachers, and parents soon began to take part in the campaign.
As Thunberg's efforts attracted media attention, similar climate strikes started to be carried out by youths and adults in several cities around the world. Three months after her solo protest began, thousands of students in more than 20 countries were taking part in the Friday school strikes. The participating nations grew to more than 30 countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas by February. By March of 2019, millions of students were participating in global strikes in more than a hundred countries.
Thunberg has been invited to speak at important events across Europe, including the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, in December of 2018 and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January of 2019. Ahead of her September 23 speech at the UN summit in New York, she addressed legislators at a U.S. congressional hearing, where instead of giving prepared remarks, she submitted a report of the International Panel on Climate Change warning of the disastrous effects of global warming.
She had traveled from Britain to the United States in August. Refusing to ride on a plane or a cruise ship because of emissions they generated, she chose instead to sail across the Atlantic Ocean for two weeks in a racing yacht fitted with solar panels and wind turbines to ensure zero-emissions operation.
Impact of Event
Thunberg's small solo protest—now a massive global movement—has had an amazing impact on climate change activism, with the teenage activist earning a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and being named person of the year for 2019 by Time magazine. Her popularity and outspokenness, however, have also attracted criticism. Some have described her as deeply disturbed or too young to know what she is talking about. Others claim she is being manipulated by her parents or by certain groups.
Regardless of these criticisms, Thunberg has clearly emerged as a new face and voice of climate change action. Her efforts at increasing awareness of the severity of global warming and climate change have had a tremendous impact on both young people and adults across the continents, as evidenced by the massive support at the protests carried out over the past year.
The global climate strikes indicate a growing sense of urgency to demand action on climate change, even it means leaving school and work to put pressure on world leaders to take concrete and immediate measures to address the crisis. It remains to be seen, however, how the heads of different nations, the owners of businesses, and the leadership of international organizations will respond to the demand for climate change action, which the proponents of the climate strikes pledge to sustain throughout 2020 and beyond.