If you haven’t seen Greta Thunberg on the news recently, have you been living under a rock? The 16-year-old climate activist has rapidly sent ripples across the world, and after her impassioned speech at the UN last week she quickly became the subject of internet memes and adoring articles – as well as ad-hominem attacks from adults who should probably know better.
So how has she made such an impact, so quickly? And what can we learn from her as we look down the barrel of a mass-extinction event.
We’re facing an unprecedented existential crisis
Despite attempts in some corners of the media to label Greta as hysterical, her message is rational and always backed up with figures. “We just want people to listen to the science,” is the gist of it. There’s plenty of cold, hard facts behind her passionate oratory, and they are difficult to ignore. Facts like, oh I don’t know: the five warmest years on record have taken place since 2010; or, the rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade. The data is irrefutable, and it’s chilling stuff.
No one is too small to make a difference
How did this seemingly unassuming teenager from Stockholm – diagnosed with Aspergers, OCD and selective mutism at a young age – become the leading voice on the climate crisis? Well, she cares – a lot.
Greta first learned about the data at the age of 8, and it soon spun her into a depression – she couldn’t believe how little was being done. Greta became vegan, gave up flying and encouraged those around her to do the same. It was only when she saw her parents respond positively to her message and make changes in their own lives that she realised that despite her age she could have a big impact.
She held her first ‘climate strike’, on her own, at the age of 15. Now she hosts global events attended by hundreds of thousands.
I know you were sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament a year ago but you are not alone anymore Greta.
Eff what the haters have to say because like you said change is coming whether they like it or not.
I am with you & Millions of others are too. We got you. pic.twitter.com/CY58nryzGH
— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) 25 September 2019
But doing something big helps
She may have started small, but Greta soon learned the importance of making a big statement. We’ve been sleepwalking towards a crisis, so it sometimes takes something monumental to wake us up.
Something like her epic, entirely carbon-neutral voyage across the Atlantic on a racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines. Then there was the small matter of speaking to world leaders at the UN conference at the end of it.
Sometimes a person’s impact can be shown by the enemies they make
Considering she is a 16-year-old who just wants to save the planet, it’s pretty sickening to see some of the attacks that have flown Greta’s way. Conservative commentators on Fox News have questioned her mental health and patronised her in order to blunt her message.
One anchor compared her to Stephen King’s ‘Children of the Corn.’ Except, well, she’s trying to save us, not murder us. It soon becomes apparent that these attacks originate from people with vested interests in oil, corruption and keeping the destructive status quo. If they’re afraid enough of a teenager to attack her personally, she must be doing something right.
And how they respond to them
In the wake of being called a “mentally ill Swedish child” on national news, did Greta balk? In the wake of the President of the United States sarcastically stating that, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future,” did she grow self-conscious? Did she get angry?
Well, of course not. She responded in the rational, slightly wry way she always does, tweeting: “I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science, when they could do something good instead. I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us.”
Her new twitter bio? A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.