Why is Greta So Effective?

On Wednesday, Greta Thunberg testified before congress on the effects of climate change and her generation. Instead of reading a prepared opening , she handed in the landmark 2018 UN climate change report and told them to read it. “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists...and then I want you to take action." This powerful move is characteristic of Greta’s unique brand of climate activism, and part of the reason she has been able to be such a strong voice for the planet. But what makes her so effective at communicating her message and the message of youth climate activists everywhere? How did a little girl with a hand painted Skolstrejk för klimatet (schoolstrike for climate) sign sitting on the steps of the Swedish Parliament manage to capture the world's attention, and how has she managed to keep the world’s attention all these months later?

A large part of the reason Greta Thunberg’s simple but stark climate message has resonated so strongly is because of how focused her message is on the direness of the situation and on the urgency of the action needed. This direct approach has enabled Greta to cut through one of the environmentalist movements biggest enemies; placating language. It might be more correct to say that Greta is a product of that placating tactic, and her approach is giving voice to something much of the younger generation has been seeing. Throughout the past few decades we have all heard about the coming dire effects of global warming, but while we’ve heard various politicians in the United States and Europe declare that they are on the side of the environment and are working against climate change, we’ve also seen the crisis intensify. Greta has been able to reach so many people in large part because she is consistently able to voice the growing frustration that people have with climate inaction, including from the people who talk about how concerned they are and then never put forward any major changes or initiatives to combat climate change. In that sense, Greta is the voice of enough is enough.

Another major reason is that Greta has been able to be such an effective climate change leader is because she lives what she believes. This includes in her habits, including such a strong refusal to fly that she took a boat across the atlantic to get to the US, but her embodiment of activism goes beyond that too. At a young age she started reading more and more about climate change, with a focus that she credits to being on the autism spectrum. At first, learning about the massive disconnect between how dire the climate scientists predictions were and how little action was being taken, she became greatly discouraged. She was diagnosed with severe depression and selective mutism (which is an anxiety disorder), unable to function in a world that was blind marching toward catastrophe. But eventually she learned to channel those emotions into her activism, using her one paralyzing fears into the fuel that keeps her activism going. When many people hear about how bad the climate situation is, they shut down or tune it out, and so hearing about how Greta experienced such an intense version of that shutting down and was able to bounce back from it has made people from her generation and beyond overcome their own fears and doubts.

The other thing that Greta Thunberg is very good at is sticking to the message of listen to the science. All of her messaging has been about amplifying the voices of the scientists working on this rather than about amplifying her own voice. This by the numbers approach clearly illustrates that the issue of climate change is not a scientific issue anymore but a political issue, forcing industry leaders, politicians, and other big changemakers around the world to contend with the fact that their own inability to accept the realities of climate change is what is causing the problem. This approach also forces her detractors to have to sidestep the issue of climate altogether, because they know they don’t have an actual argument against acting on climate change. Former UK Prime minister Theresa May tried to derail the whole conversation into an argument that kids shouldn’t skip school. Australian NewsCorp owned newspaper Herald Sun resorted to terrible ableist stereotypes and language rather than actually report on the factual information she is saying. And right wing internet personalities in the U.S. are spreading the conspiracy that she was groomed for the role by her parents or the media, even though it took weeks for the media to catch on to her initial climate protests, and she is the one who convinced her parents of the direness of the situation. Greta has weathered all these attacks with dignity, and consistently uses the virtrol of her opponents to show that none of these deniers are actually willing to deal with the scientific reality of her message.

Youth climate activism is not going anywhere. We at Rust & Fray are in constant contact with young people who want to do something good about the climate. We believe in the cause and have actively designed a business model around it. Just as we are working towards building this momentum of change, we see other movements working towards the same goals. The Sunrise Movement is a youth-led climate movement that has confronted US politicians on their inaction, and was instrumental in pushing the Green New Deal into the forefront of the US political conversation. Turning Green is a student led movement co-founded by millennial activist citizen Erin Schrode that is working to educate students on climate change and galvanize national action. And just this week Earth Guardian’s 19 year old youth director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez launched the NOW app to mobilize reforesting efforts worldwide. But even among all these amazing activists, Greta Thunberg’s unique mix of direct, no-nonsense speaking with chilling scientific predictions and information stands out as particularly powerful, continuing to galvanize millions around the world.

Thank you for reading! Why do you think Greta is so effective? Let us know in the comments! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to follow us on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more content. As a special thanks to our readers, use the code Reader15 at check when you shop with us for all products. 

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