Greta Thunberg heats up climate change conversation

Cohen Perry, Staff Editor

 From protesting outside parliament to becoming one of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominees, Greta Thunberg has reignited the fierce debate on climate change.

On August 20, 2018, the then 15-year-old Thunberg skipped school to protest outside the Swedish parliament building for more action against climate change. This school strike soon became a weekly occurrence as other students and teachers joined her in the “Fridays for Future” campaign. The campaign eventually inspired a school strike with more than 1 million participants from around the world and thus Greta Thunberg became one of the most recognized leaders of a youth climate change movement. 

While Thunberg did not begin protesting actively until August of last year, she had been interested in climate change and saving the planet since the age of nine.  

During an interview with The New Yorker, Thunberg explained that in school, students were taught they should turn off a water faucet or light switch as soon as possible. When she dared to ask “why,” teachers explained these practices would alleviate the effects of climate change. From that point on Thunberg became increasingly provoked by a realization that humans impacted the planet in enormous, detrimental ways, yet did nothing significant to change it.

Thunberg spent the next six years educating herself about the cause and effect of climate change. She found that even though Sweden prides itself on being a country with unusually progressive climate laws, they were still doing more to harm than help. This is what brought Thunberg to the parliament building that first day and prompted her ongoing efforts to redirect the climate change conversation.   

After the initial success of her school strikes, she began traveling around the world to deliver speeches in a variety of international forums. By the end of April 2019, she had already spoken at the WEF conference, United Nations’ COP24 climate talks, and for the British Parliament. 

As her popularity grew, so did the right-wing conservative movement’s desire to make her a target. Many of the critiques stemmed from the Asperger’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis Thunberg had received prior to her decision to become an environmental activist, as well as her admission that she suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression. 

Thunberg was described as a “mentally ill’ product of her parents’ left-wing political views by Michael Knowles on Fox News, though Fox apologized on behalf of Knowles later.

Laura Ingraham, another Fox News host, took the criticism further by intimating that Thunberg was creepy and malevolent. Ingraham compared Thunberg to the demonically possessed children in Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” who robotically murder adults in their town. Ingraham responded to a speech Thunberg made to the United Nations by saying that she couldn’t wait for the sequel, “Children of the Climate.” 

Even world leaders have contributed to the ad hominem attacks regarding Thunberg’s emotional stability as when President Donald Trump sarcastically tweeted “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”

Yet, Thunberg has shrugged the personal affronts delivered on TV networks and social media, saying that she refuses to hide her condition and that “given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.” She has also refused to slow down. She continues to unabashedly call out lawmakers and entreat the world to “listen to the scientists.”

In March of 2019, the teen activist was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by  Norwegian lawmakers, becoming one of the youngest nominees of all time. 

Thunberg ultimately lost the award to Abiy Ahmed Ali, the Ethiopian Prime Minister. She is now more likely to receive accolades than criticism. In 2018, she was deemed one of Time’s 25 most influential teens and Swedish Woman of the Year by the Swedish Women’s Educational Association.  

Despite the continuing controversy surrounding her blunt, uncompromising message, few deny that she has become an influential, though unlikely impetus in politics. 

In late September, Thunberg spoke at the UN Climate Summit and her chilling words quickly went viral. She expressed her anger towards political and business leaders alike saying, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” 

Shortly after the speech, Thunberg and 15 other young activists filed a lawsuit against the five biggest carbon polluters in the world—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey, for violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child agreement, which states the right to survival must be afforded to children internationally. 

Trivial as it may seem, another testament to Thunberg’s increasingly iconic status is her ability to retain the tempestuous attention of pop culture and stay attuned to its influence. In July of this year, Thunberg released a track with the popular alternative band The 1975. During the bands eponymous song, Thunberg delivers a nearly 5-minute climate-crisis monologue calling out the poor stewardship of the “older generation” and calling for a new grassroots rebellion from the next. 

While there may not be a single explanation for Greta Thunberg’s emergence as one of the most prominent environmental activists of our time, her rise indicates that this young girl’s clear, unadulterated indictment of our society’s environmental crimes is exactly what a new generation wanted and needed. 

At a time when many young people question their climate-change fears against vast, global status-quo responses, Thunberg is a validating alarmist. When she says, “I want you to act as if the house is on fire because it is,” she echoes the underlying anxiety of anyone who suspects they have left their beloved home in the care of profiteering pyromaniacs.