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Who is Greta Thunberg?
Blog...Who is Greta Thunberg?

Who is Greta Thunberg?

Ecology News
climate protesters holding a climate justice sign
In this article we’ll discover who Greta Thunberg is, what inspired her to take up the climate cause, and what she has managed to achieve in the fight to curb global warming.
Ecology News
climate protesters holding a climate justice sign

Nobel Peace Prize nominee, TIME magazine’s 2019 ‘Person of the Year’, Vogue Scandinavia cover star, global climate activist, and leader of an international youth movement - these are just some of the accolades that can be attributed to the 20 year old Swedish woman, Greta Thunberg. 

Greta made international headlines when she was just 15 years old. She’s since gone on to become the most well known climate activist in the world, and is considered by many to be the face of the fight against climate change. 

👉 In this article we’ll discover who Greta Thunberg is, what inspired her to take up the climate cause, and what she has managed to achieve in the fight to curb global warming.

Greta Thunberg’s early life and activism

Upbringing and early interest in climate activism

Greta Thunberg, full name Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, was born on the 3rd of January 2003, in Stockholm Sweden. The daughter of Swedish actor Svante Thunberg, and opera singer Malena Ernman, Greta spent her formative years living in the Swedish capital city. 

According to Greta, she was around 8 years old when she first learnt about climate change. Greta has talked about how she struggled to understand why nothing was being done to fix the situation.

In 2018 Greta Thunberg gave a TEDx Talk where she talks about her feelings on the subject, stating that climate change “is the most important issue of all, and yet they just carry on as before. I don’t understand that, because if the emissions have to stop, then we must stop the emissions. To me that is black or white. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilisation or we don’t. We have to change.”
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Early interest in climate activism

Greta was so moved by the issue of climate change that several years later, at the age of 11, she began to feel depressed from the weight of the problem. So much so that she stopped talking and eating - resulting in the loss of 10 kilograms of weight in only two months, something that almost resulted in her hospitalization. 

This eventually led to the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. Something that Greta Thunberg has been very open about, even referring to it as her ‘superpower’. 

👉 Those diagnosed with Asperger syndrome often focus deeply on one idea or a certain interest. For Greta Thunberg, this was climate change. Since learning about the cause at the age of 8, Great has made changes to her own life to reduce her carbon footprint, and has gone on to become one of the most prominent figures in the fight against global warming. 

Greta first started by making changes to her own life. She became a vegan after learning about the high carbon impact of the meat and dairy industry, and refused to travel by air. She also started to influence her family to follow suit. 

👉 Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, worked overseas a lot, which meant that she had to give up her career as an international opera singer in order to give up flying. This change meant a lot to Greta, who realized that she could influence others to care about their impact on the environment. 

But for Greta, it wasn’t enough just to influence her family and friends. She realized that if she truly wanted to effect meaningful change that she was going to have to step up her activism and inspire others to take a stand too.

large climate protest with lots of signs

Fridays for Future movement

In 2018, when Greta Thunberg was only in the 9th grade, she decided to begin a school strike in support of the climate. That August, just after school reconvened, and in the three weeks leading up to the Swedish Parliamentary elections, Greta would sit outside the Riksdag (the Swedish legislature and supreme decision making body) during school hours, urging politicians to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Greta Thunberg has described how she was influenced by the Parkland students in the US, who organized a school walk out in protest against school shootings in the United States (March for Our Lives). The idea occurred to Greta, that the same sort of action by school students could advance the fight against climate change.

Greta tried to influence others to join her outside the Swedish Parliament, but on the first day she found herself alone while all her classmates stayed in school. However, after posting a photo of her activism on Twitter and Instagram she gained attention and support from other high-profile activists. By the second day people started to join her outside the Swedish Parliament. 

Before long Greta was attracting the attention of local reporters and even the international media. And by September 7th, Greta Thunberg made the announcement that she would continue her strikes every Friday until the Swedish Government aligned with the Paris Agreement climate targets. This is how the name ‘Fridays for Future’ was born. 

Fridays for Future quickly gained worldwide attention, and other students across the globe were inspired by Greta to take their own action.

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Greta Thunberg’s rise to global prominence

International media attention

Student strikes popped up around the world and in the run up to the 2018 UN Climate Conference (COP24), strikes took place in over 270 different cities across the globe. Greta Thunberg would at times join to take part in these demonstrations and to give speeches. Her international profile as a climate activist grew to new heights. 

In March 2019 she was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her climate activism (though she lost out to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed). And in December 2019, Greta was named Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’. The youngest person to have received this accolade, Greta joined the ranks of influential figures such as Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr and Volodymyr Zelensky.  

Key speeches

Greta Thunberg’s passion and commitment to the environment, as well as her impact on the climate movement resulted in an invite to give a speech at the plenary session of the 2018 UN Climate Change conference, otherwise known as COP24.

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Her speech went viral and Greta was subsequently invited to speak at different parliaments and conferences including the World Economic Forum, the EU parliament, the British Parliament, and the French Parliament. Greta was even invited to meet with Pope Francis - who thanked her for her activism and encouraged her to keep going.

Greta’s sabbatical year

In 2019 Greta Thunberg announced that she was going to take a ‘sabbatical year’ from school and that she intended to sail to America, where she would meet with other climate activists and attend UN climate summits in New York and Chile.  

Greta’s sabbatical started rather unusually with a 4,800 mile trip across the Atlantic ocean. The journey began in Plymouth UK, and ended in New York, lasting around 14 days. Greta had vowed not to travel by plane and so the journey by boat was the only other alternative.

Greta kicked off her time in New York with a speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, telling delegates that “she should be back in school on the other side of the ocean,” and that they had stolen her dreams and childhood with empty words. Greta is famed for using this kind of emotive language in her speeches. And while some people have criticized this, there can be no denying that Greta’s words have resonated with other young people across the world.
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It’s this ability to motivate others to take action that saw Greta invited to Montreal in Canada, where she led a 315,000 strong rally as part of the Global Climate Strike movement.

👉 The Global Climate Strike was a series of international strikes and protests that demanded climate change action. The strikes took place between September 20th and 27th in 2019 and over 4 million people are thought to have taken part across the world. Greta Thunberg is credited with inspiring the movement through her ‘Fridays for Future’ strikes. 

Greta was then due to speak at the next UN Climate Change Conference scheduled to take place in Chile, but the event was moved to Spain on account of civil unrest in the country. Greta had to quickly make her way back across the Atlantic to Europe by boat. 

Following her return to Europe, Greta spent the remainder of her sabbatical year on the continent, guest editing the BBC’s flagship radio current affairs show ‘The Today Programme’ and featuring as a guest speaker at important events such as the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Activism during the Covid pandemic

Worldwide lockdowns severely impacted the ability to protest and mobilize climate action. However, Greta adopted the mindset that in a crisis it’s necessary to adapt, and so the school strike for climate movement was moved online. 

Alongside virtual school strikes, Greta increasingly used her platform on Twitter to draw attention to climate change issues and to criticize governments around the world for their inaction, or dubious climate policies. 

Greta Thunberg also took the opportunity to draw attention to the parallels between climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that it is our destruction of natural habitats that have created the perfect condition for new diseases to spread.

Greta Thunberg’s impact on the climate change discourse

Influencing a global movement

Although no changes to policy can be directly attributed to Greta Thunberg’s activism, many believe that her work has been essential in advancing the climate movement. 

In 2019, New Scientist magazine said that thanks to Greta, 2019 was the year that the general public “finally woke up to climate change”.

Greta Thunberg’s influence is sometimes referred to as the “Greta effect’. Her activism has been hugely influential over younger generations - in March 2019 as many as 1.6 million students, across 125 different countries followed in Greta’s footsteps and walked out of their school classrooms to demand climate action. 

The younger generations are the ones who will face the worst effects of climate change, and without any power to influence policies through voting, they feel that they’ve been left with no choice but to take a political stand through strikes and climate protests. 

Sadly however, it’s often been all too easy for politicians to discount the younger generation of climate activists. After thousands of students in Australia took part in the Fridays for Future strikes, then Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticized the students, calling for “more learning in schools and less activism.” 

Yet, this hasn’t dampened efforts. There are lots of examples, all over the world, where young people, inspired by Great Thunberg, have been moved to take action, educate their local communities, start initiatives, and make a positive change.

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Greta’s key messages

Greta Thunberg doesn’t claim to have all the answers to climate change, stating: “People keep asking me ‘What is the solution to the climate crisis?’ They expect me to know the answer. That is beyond absurd, as there are no solutions within our current systems. We need a whole new way of thinking.”

So what exactly are her key messages and beliefs? 

Greta believes that humankind is facing an existential crisis, and that climate change is pushing us closer to irreversible environmental tipping points from which there will be no recovery. She lays the blame at the feet of older generations - a message that features in nearly all of her speeches.

Greta blames politicians for not only getting us into this mess, but also for their inaction when it comes to getting us out.

Our civilisation is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

This has also been one of Greta’s recurring themes - ie. that climate change is having a disproportionate effect on the world's most vulnerable, as well as impacting the future of younger generations. She’s often accused politicians of stealing her generation's future in the name of profit, and famously told world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference in New York that they were failing her generation.  

Greta Thunberg has also never been scared of calling out hypocrisy or confronting senior politicians and figures. Nor is she afraid of calling it as she sees it. Greta believes that lowering emissions levels simply doesn't go far enough: “The fact that we are speaking of lowering instead of stopping emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind continuing business as usual.” 

More specifically, Greta has talked about how the commitments outlined by the Paris Agreement aren’t sufficient. Greta often refers to the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ℃ which outlines the need for steep emissions reductions. Greta has called on the EU to double its targets and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030.

Leaders are happy to set targets for decades ahead, but flinch when immediate action is needed.” - Greta Thunberg.
forest fire that has destroyed land

Criticism of Greta Thunberg

As you can imagine, given Greta’ propensity to call out injustice where she sees it, and to challenge people in positions of power, it’s hardly surprising that she’s picked up a few critics along the way. 

Among the main themes of criticism leveled at Greta Thunberg is the idea that she oversimplifies complex issues. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said of Greta: “No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden.”  

And Putin is not alone in holding this sentiment. Many of her critics are quick to point out the hypocrisy of a privileged young woman from Sweden accusing politicians of ruining her future, when there are many suffering around the world, and many who can only dream of the opportunities and privileges to which Greta has become accustomed. 

Admittedly, there is some truth to this argument. It’s incredibly easy for those of us living in developed countries to demand that politicians in developing countries put environmental considerations ahead of economic development. In fact it highlights some of the injustice that lies at the very heart of climate change. 

Developed countries such as those in Europe, the US, and the UK, have already been able to advance through industrialisation. We are responsible for far more than our fair share of emissions, however, it was these emissions that propelled our economic growth and allowed our standards of living to rise. We are now asking developing countries - whose inhabitants quite simply want the same opportunities as we have - to forgo rapid economic development for the sake of climate change. 

And yet it's truly a catch 22 for these developing countries, because the countries and communities who will suffer most from the growing impacts of climate change are poorer communities, living in developing countries.

poor community on the edge of a large city

Where is Greta Thunberg now?

On June 9th 2023, Greta Thunberg took part in her final school strike, stating:

Today, I graduate from school, which means I’ll no longer be able to school strike for the climate… We who speak up have a duty to do so. In order to change everything, we need everyone. I’ll continue to protest on Fridays, even though it’s not technically ‘school striking’. We simply have no other option than to do everything we possibly can… The fight has only just begun.

Greta has vowed not to give up the fight, and wants to focus her efforts on championing the voices of indigenous communities, who are often the most impacted by climate change and the destruction of the environment. 

The world and her legions of supporters across the globe now wait eagerly to see what her next move is.

youtube screenshot

Greta has vowed not to give up the fight, and wants to focus her efforts on championing the voices of indigenous communities, who are often the most impacted by climate change and the destruction of the environment. 

The world and her legions of supporters across the globe now wait eagerly to see what her next move is.

The Greta effect

The impact that Greta Thunberg has had on the global consciousness when it comes to climate change cannot be understated. Not only has she mobilized a whole new generation of climate activists, she’s also become a staple name in households across the world. And while not everyone may agree with her form of activism, it’s undeniable that she’s helping to push the climate movement forward.

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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