Eco Leader in Focus: Greta Thunberg

“I was diagnosed with Aspergers, OCD, and Selective Mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

Starting in August 2018, then fifteen year old Greta Thunberg starting skipping school to sit on the steps of the Swedish Parliament in protest of inaction on climate change. By March 15th, 2019, the world followed her lead, holding the biggest day of coordinated climate change protest ever. How did this all happen? To continue Rust & Fray's celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re going to take a closer look at a young woman proving that no one is too small to make a difference.

Greta Thunberg was around eight when she first heard about the man-made global climate crisis, and remembers being confused about why anyone would be talking about anything else when the whole world was in danger from manmade actions. As she got older she read up more and more about climate change to try and find out what was going on, and that eventually led to a personal point of no return. She made personal changes such as going on a meatless diet and refusing to use airplanes, but she felt that alone wasn’t enough. After hearing about how some American students were holding school strikes in response to the Parkland shooting, she became inspired and took to the idea of students doing striking for the climate. Initially she could not convince any of her classmates to join her, but that didn’t deter her. The Swedish election was being held soon, and so every day for the three week leadup to the election she sat on the steps of the parliament building protesting inaction on climate change.

Greta believes that being on the Autism spectrum had something to do with her activism. She describes her brain as working a bit differently that other people, thinking more in “black and white” terms, and that she doesn’t participate in the “social games” that most people play. She couldn’t understand how politicians, the media, corporations, and seemingly everyone could talk about being so concerned about climate change while not actually doing much at all to stop it while we still can. She fell into a depression at one point, refusing to eat and to speak because she couldn’t comprehend how little action was being done while the science she was reading was pointing to catastrophe. Eventually though, with her parents support, she was able to crawl out of that depression, in part because she realized that she could do so much with her life and help change the fate of the world.

Needless to say, her solo vigil caught on. After the election she has switched to protesting every Friday, and on March 15th, that led to an estimated 1.4 million students in over 123 countries world -wide skipped school to demand that their future, and the planet’s future not be squandered by inaction. She has spoken to the UN, she has spoken for Climate Justice Now, has gotten the support of thousands of tens of thousands of climate scientists, and she has even been nominated for the Nobel Prize, which if she wins it would make her the youngest winner ever. But these protests aren’t about recognition, they’re about pressure, and these protests aren’t over. The next global call is scheduled for April 15th, and she hopes to see an even bigger turnout.

When told by adults that she should be studying in school to learn about climate change and find solutions, she reminds them that we have all the solutions already and no one is listening to the science. When told by adults, even powerful politicians like British Prime Minister Theresa May, that student strikers are wasting valuable school time, Greta reminds them that they’ve wasted thirty years of valuable time ignoring climate change. She also has repeatedly called out how the protests have been covered in the media, focusing more on the question of skipping school then on the issue of than on the issues. Issues such as:

  • We are currently experiencing the anthropogenic extinction, one of six mass extinction events in world history, literally rivaling the extinction of the dinosaurs, and this is all caused by humanity.
  • Richer countries like Sweden may have a reputation for being green countries, but their society is built off of the factories and labor of poorer countries that do the pollution for them. Exporting emissions is not solving it.
  • Climate justice is integral to fighting climate change. Reducing CO2 emissions cannot ignore the mass imbalances between developed nations and developing nations, and so nations that already have highly the infrastructure need to be cutting CO2 emissions the most drastically so that other countries have the chance for a better life.
  • We are about 12 years away from averting catastrophic climate change, a point where we hit a chain reaction of climate change effects that cannot be reversed.
  • 10% of the global population are responsible for 50% of the global emissions and 20% of the global population are responsible for 70% of all global emissions, highlighting a need to see beyond countries and look at wealth disparity and lifestyles.


But in the face of these damning numbers, don’t think that Greta has no hope for the future or wants others to think that too. Rather she is making hope for the world. In her own words “Instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then hope will come.

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