For the Greta Good: the Schoolgirl Changing the World

By Alice Sleightholme, first year Geography student

From sitting alone, with a hand-painted banner, outside Swedish parliament in August last year, in protest of the confounding lack of climate action, to eight months later becoming the warrior face of the long-awaited climate crisis movement, Greta is perhaps the fiercest and most admirable 16-year-old. She is undoubtedly an embodiment of the determination, inspiration and, indeed, the activism we and our planet so desperately need. Strikingly, hounded by the far-right as a ‘loner’ thanks to her skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate) movement, she is arguably the ‘loner’ that is anything but alone.

By European Parliament from EU – Greta Thunberg at the Parliament, CC BY 2.0

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish national, is most known for having initiated the ‘school strike for climate’ movement that arose out of her single protest one Friday last year, which she has continued almost every Friday since. More than 71 countries, and more than 700 places and counting, are getting involved in protesting for institutional action against climate change, an issue that burdens her demographic more than any other.

While Greta claims that throughout the majority of her childhood she was “that girl in the back who doesn’t say anything. I thought I couldn’t make a difference because I was too small”, the timeline of her early life is what has made her the face of climate activism. After being diagnosed with depression at the age of 10, Greta was forced to miss school because of her illness; it was in her darkest, most solitary periods where she learnt about climate change. After having watched a climate change documentary, Greta claims “I just wondered if I am going to have a future… I told them [her parents] about my worries and concerns about the climate crisis and the environment… And, after a while, they started listening to what I actually said”. Here, where many have failed in the past, Greta did not; she says even though her parents did not listen at first, “I kept going, talking about this all the time and showing my parents pictures, graphs and films… That’s when I kind of realised I could make a difference”. Greta claims she realised at just 10 years old, after convincing her father to be vegetarian and her mother to give up flying for her career, that she had a voice that could be heard.

Greta has become the face of climate activism

From here on in, Greta has become the face of climate activism and the head of the ‘Friday’s For Future’ climate strikes, that sees children globally striking in protest of climate change inaction, fighting for the protection of their future.

After her single protest outside parliament, Greta kept her promise to strike every day until the Swedish national elections, and agreed to make a speech in front of thousands of people at a People’s Climate March rally. Despite her family’s concerns, she delivered the address in nearly flawless English, and invited the crowd to film her on their mobile phones and spread the message through social media. From this moment on, Greta has created a movement that is growing with every tweet, with every student out of class on a Friday, and with every bead of sweat a politician drops as she faces them, demanding action.

This is a fight they cannot and will not win

Sadly, in the face of her growing movement, she has faced ample lashings with politicians and some of the media ridiculing her, however in spite of this, she claims they are ‘desperately trying to change the subject whenever the school strikes come up’. She firmly believes this is a fight they cannot and will not win.

Thunberg’s rise coincides with growing scientific concern. Last year’s UN IPCC spelled out the dangers of surpassing 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, suggesting that to have any chance of avoiding that outcome, we will require far more pressure on politicians – and nobody has proved more effective at that, over the past eight months, than Thunberg.

Greta Thunberg has become the beacon of hope the world so desperately needed

From being endorsed by Angela Merkel, lauded at by the UN and to sharing a podium with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Greta Thunberg has become the beacon of hope the world so desperately needed. Now that she is the face of climate action, she is no longer lonely and no longer silent.

This Friday, when she takes her usual spot outside the Swedish parliament, she will be joined by classmates and students from around the world, and this will happen every Friday until real change is happening, and action is taken. Greta has not only rallied school children globally to stand up to those jeopardising our future, she has spoken at UN talks and directly addressed politicians, leading to the UK Parliament declaring a climate emergency on the 1st of May and mass protests in London headed by Extinction Rebellion.

There is still time to act

The Greta movement is only the start, we still have so much do in the fight towards tackling climate change. Although it is very easy to admit we are already doomed, or the future is a long way off, the reality is now. There is still time to act. If you want tips on how to take small steps in your life and in John’s, take a look at the wonderful article by Freya Butler on ‘Increasing Environmental Consciousness in John’s’ or see the links below to tips, TED talks and clips of Greta rallying change.

There is so much you can do. Don’t ever think you’re too small to make a difference – just look at what Greta has achieved and the change she is making. Remember, if many people in many different places do make little things, they can change the face of the Earth.

I’m Alice, and I’m a current first year geography undergrad student! Contrary to popular belief my degree isn’t just colouring in but I do spend a lot of time outdoors as one of my favourite activities is hiking! You’ll more often than not find me with a cup of tea in my hand laughing about stuff I really shouldn’t be! But when I mean business, as well as being part of a few college clubs like football and running, I’m also part of the Fairtrade working group which I love! Also I tutor a-level through the SCA so I’m always happy to help anyone with subject related issues or if they just want a chat about anything but I do love talking about feminism, climate change, football and tea!!

Further reading:

Catching up with Eco Soc: Increasing the Environmental Consciousness of John’s, by Freya Butler

The Disarming Case to Act Right Now on Climate Change: TEDXTALK Greta Thunberg

How You Can Get Involved and Help: WWF

10 Simple Ways to Act on Climate Change: BBC

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