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Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg, photographed on 16th April 2019Greta Thunberg (born 2003) is a Swedish student and climate activist. Aged 15, she began the School Strike for Climate movement in August 2018 with her solo Skolstrejk för klimatet ("School strike for the climate") protest outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Her fame spread quickly following her appearance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP24) in December 2018. In a very short time, Greta has become a role model and inspiration behind the climate movement worldwide. In March 2019, three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize.



Greta outside the Swedish parliament building

Childhood and family

Greta Ernman Thunberg was born on 3rd January 2003 in Sweden. Her mother is opera singer Malena Ernman and her father is actor Svante Thunberg (named after Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel prize-winning scientist who, in 1896, first calculated how carbon dioxide emissions could lead to the greenhouse effect). Greta first learned about climate change at the age of eight, but was shocked when she discovered that adults were doing so little about it. At one stage she became depressed and stopped going to school.

To lower her family's carbon footprint (total emissions caused by an individual), Greta persuaded her mother to give up flying and her father to become a vegetarian. She herself is a vegan and travels long-distance only by train. The family use their electric car only when necessary.
Greta has spoken about how having Asperger syndrome has affected her. "Some people can just let things go, but I can’t,...Read More >>Greta has spoken about how having Asperger syndrome has affected her. "Some people can just let things go, but I can’t, especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad. I remember when I was younger, and in school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that."

Asperger syndrome

In 2015, Greta was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and selective mutism (meaning that she is unable to speak in certain social situations). She says of her condition: "Being different is a gift. It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies ... Some people can just let things go, but I can’t, especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad."

School strike for the climate

Greta Thunberg's bicycle in Stockholm on 11th September 2018. The handwritten message reads: "The climate crisis must be treated...Read More >>Greta Thunberg's bicycle in Stockholm on 11th September 2018. The handwritten message reads: "The climate crisis must be treated as a crisis! The climate is the most important election issue!" Greta displays her placard, Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate) outside the Swedish parliament building,...Read More >>Greta displays her placard, Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate) outside the Swedish parliament building, August 2018.The summer of 2018 saw a series of heatwaves and wildfires in Sweden. This evidence of global warming happening here and now caused Greta to ask herself was the point of pupils like her learning anything if politicians ignored the science of climate change? So on 20th August 2018, she decided to not attend school until the Swedish general election on 9th September. Instead, she protested by sitting outside the Riksdag (Swedish parliament building) every day during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate). She demanded that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions as laid down in the Paris Agreement.

After the general election, Greta announced that she would continue to strike every Friday until Sweden conformed with the Paris Agreement. Her Friday strikes quickly gained worldwide attention. Other people soon started to join her.

Student strikes

Greta on the Fridays For Future march in Hamburg, 1st March 2019. To Greta's left is the German climate activist Luisa Neubauer.In November 2018, thousands of school students in Australia followed Greta's example, ignoring Prime Minister Scott Morrison's call for "more learning in schools and less activism". In December, student strikes took place in at least in 270 cities across the world. On 17th and 18th January 2019, at least 45,000 students came out to protest in Switzerland and Germany alone. In Brussels, students carried banners with slogans such as "Dinosaurs thought they had time too", "Be part of the solution, not the pollution" and "There's no planet B". The School Strike for Climate movement, also known in different countries as Fridays for Future, Youth for Climate or Youth Strike 4 Climate, was gathering pace.
Fridays for Future marchers in Sanremo, Liguria, Italy, on the Global Day of Action, 15th March 2019. Some are carrying placards...Read More >>Fridays for Future marchers in Sanremo, Liguria, Italy, on the Global Day of Action, 15th March 2019. Some are carrying placards with a picture of Greta Thunberg on them.

Global day of Action

The largest and most widespread strikes so far took place on Friday 15th March 2019, dubbed the Global Day of Action. On this day, an estimated 1.4 million students in 128 countries around the world walked out of school. Their action was supported by some of the world's most influential environmental groups. Greta said afterwards: “We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference.”

Greta Thunberg speaks at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, 16th April 2019.

Public speeches

As well as joining demonstrations elsewhere in Europe, Greta started to receive invitations to make public speeches across Europe, including the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the World Economic Forum at Davos, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the UK parliament in London. (Quotations from some of her speeches are given at the bottom of this article.) 

Trip to America

On 14th August 2019, Greta set sail across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, England, to New York in a 18-metre (60-foot) racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines. It was a carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing, in keeping with Greta's belief in the importance of reducing emissions. While in the US, Greta appeared before the US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and, on 20th September, spoke to Global Climate Strike demonstrators in New York. A few days later, she addressed world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. Her speech (see below) was widely reported in the media.

Impact

Outside the Swedish parliament building, Greta Thunberg carries out a school strike for the climate, 31st August 2018.
Greta being interviewed at the European Parliament, 16th April 2019Campaigners and scientists have described Greta Thunberg as the best news for the climate movement in decades. She has been praised at the UN and given a 30-second standing ovation at the European Parliament. Greta has met several European leaders and her message has been endorsed by, among others, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel and UN General Secretary António Guterres. Guterres admits that "my generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry."

Greta said there was still just about time to stop climate change: “I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long.”

Greta still stages her regular protests outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. She says her activism has not interfered with her schoolwork, although she says she has less spare time.

Greta Thunberg credits the teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as the inspiration behind her school climate strike. The students walked out of classes in protest against the US gun laws that enabled the massacre on their campus in February 2018.

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