A small girl sits pensively against a wall. She has long plaits, a round, pale face, and she’s wearing a matching electric blue jacket and trainers. Her pale pink socks rise high on her shins, disappearing into an intense leopard print pair of trousers. On her left is a bright pink rucksack and a reusable water bottle. On her right is a sign that’s nearly as big as she is. The bold black lettering reads ‘Skolstrejk för Klimatet’.
The girl of course is Greta Thunberg, possibly the most talked about child of the last year. She has been in the public for almost a year, and perhaps it is her urgent message which has catapulted her to a public platform before she has even finished school.
Greta Thunberg is a climate activist and student, aged only 16. In her short time on the world stage, she has spoken at TEDxStockholm; the COP24 United Nations summit; the World Economic Forum and even at European Parliament. She was voted the most important woman of the year in Sweden (2019), and her impact has even gotten her featured on British Vogue and Time magazine.
So how did one young girl suddenly garner such renown?
Greta Thunberg was born in 2003 in Sweden. Aged 8 years old, she first encountered the news about climate change; by 11, she was so depressed by the fact nothing was being done to address it that she stopped eating. She was diagnosed with OCD, Asperger’s and Selective Mutism. For several years, she tried to persuade her family to convert to veganism and to give up flying; a change that ultimately meant her mother had to sacrifice her international career as an opera singer.
From 20th August 2018, she spent every day striking outside the Riksdag instead of attending school until the Swedish General Election on September 9th. After the election, she continued to strike every Friday.
This led to the birth of Fridays for Future, a movement that sees students (and adults) alike striking on Fridays for climate change. The movement snowballed and people joined the movement across the world.
Since her beginnings, Greta has spoken at many political conferences and given several talks. Her bluntness and rebuke of world leaders have put her on the map as a force to be reckoned with; and her leadership has inspired hope for many – children and adults alike. Furthermore, she is seen as a leader who doesn’t just talk, but she walks – from changing her family’s lifestyle to arriving at the UN World Summit in a zero-emissions yacht, she has certainly acted in accordance with her message.
Perhaps now it’s time to look at some of the reasons why Greta Thunberg has risen to such popularity, and why she is so necessary for the youth of today.
Childhood is not a rosy time for many children, but there is something incredibly troubling in children today. Access to news and widespread social media means that things are not hidden from youngsters. Many children in the west have grown up under the shadow of capitalism, and many have been raised for gladiator-style battle in the arena of the future workplace. We learn from history books that hardly reflect the world we are currently living in, and we have been fattened on our parent's insistence that we go to university and our teachers filling out our CV. In addition to social, political and economic pressures at every turn, we have grown up watching the steady increase of climate-related disasters, we have watched the seasons change, we have seen the plastic on our beaches. Our society has gone a step too far, and all we can do is look longingly at photographs of our grandparents swimming in a clear sea 50 years ago.
It would be silly to say that the 70% increase of mental health in children over the last 25 years is solely down to the climate crisis. There are many factors to consider; such as the diminishing stigma against mental health and general awareness about it, as well as the general pressures of the society we live in. But, equally, it would be foolish to claim that climate change is completely unrelated to rising levels of poor mental health. Depression and anxiety are, after all, quite normal and justified reactions to a generation are heading for an unknown future where our planet and our very existence are severely under threat.
The future we were prepared for is not the one we are getting; this is Greta Thunberg’s message. As it stands, we will be paying for the mistakes of our elders as we age in a world that will become inhospitable for us. The world doesn’t need us; we need it. Greta’s attitude towards climate change reflects the pessimism of many youngsters today. With self-destruction on the horizon, it is no wonder that children see no point in attending school – after all, ‘why study for a future which may not be there?’ It is not only the future we feel pessimistic about; it is the value of the education we are receiving. When fridaysforfuture.com asks ‘why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?’, it is difficult not to see a degree as a piece of paper.
Moreover, people everywhere are enraged at the dismal future of their planet. Exposure about the truth of recycling is only recently coming to light, and whilst the general public are doing their utmost to reduce plastic waste and be more sustainable in their own lives, our society acts as a barrier to these efforts and often makes them seem futile. If a supermarket provides items in plastic packaging, we must accept them; as most people don’t have the disposable income or are too time-poor to source sustainably packaged items. With capitalism’s system of high production comes high waste; whilst the profit margin is often more important than quality or sustainability.
Greta Thunberg is an inspirational and necessary young woman, as she stirs up shame in those who should have known better. Behind the iconic activist is a girl who felt that she needed to sacrifice her education in order to make a difference, rather than becoming educated to make a difference. And whilst we cannot all travel in a carbon-neutral yacht, and whilst striking, veganism and other movements may seem extreme, extremity is the heart of activism. Speaking about her Selective Mutism, she said that the current climate situation demands her speech, as ‘now is one of these moments’ where speech becomes necessary.
Hopefully our future will be made up of Greta Thunbergs, and if not, we must actively try to prevent those in power from ‘s***ing on our future’.