On 20 August 2018, a 15-year-old girl walked out of school on strike, sitting down outside the Swedish parliament with a hand-painted banner to raise awareness of global warming. She continued to sit there every school day for three weeks.
Greta Thunberg had been sparked into this lone positive action by two things: a record heatwave in northern Europe causing forest fires to ravage Swedish land up to the Arctic Circle, and the Parkland, Florida, students who walked out of class to protest gun violence – launching a mass movement from a mass shooting tragedy.
Greta posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral. On 8 September, she decided to continue striking every Friday, until the Swedish policies provided a safe pathway to well under 2-degree Celsius target set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Even though she was not encouraged by her parents (at first), other students started to support Greta, who was handing out fliers with “You grown-ups don’t give a shit about my future”. The world’s attention was grabbed, kicking off the vast and growing global movement Fridays for Future, as well as the biggest environmental protest the world has ever seen – the Global Climate Strike For Future on 15 March 2019.
The grown ups were being told. And history was being made.
Today Greta’s parents have given up flying, her father has become vegetarian… and nearly 100 countries have signed up to #FridaysforFuture. Her original wooden ‘skolstrejk för klimatet’ (school strike for climate) banner has been translated into dozens of languages as students from Japan to Uganda continue to walk out of classes, demonstrating for action to reduce emissions, demanding 100% clean energy by 2030.
“I have always been that girl in the back who doesn’t say anything. I thought I couldn’t make a difference because I was too small.”
Know that you are never too small to make a difference. Now that this determined and unexpected founder of an international youth movement has become an inspirational climate leader, our media and timelines are full of awesome quotes and hope. Greta is ‘weaponising’ her Asperger syndrome and selective mutism in meetings with political leaders, corporate executives and presidents, telling billionaire entrepreneurs in Davos what’s what: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” Blunt, brutal and well said.
At the U.N. climate talks in Poland in December 2018, an impassioned Greta called out a room of statesmen and dignitaries: “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.”
“I see the world kind of black-and-white,” she told Rolling Stone, as the media clamber for interviews. “Everyone says that there is no black-and-white issue, but I think this is. Either we go on as a civilisation or we don’t.”
The Fridays for Future movement comes amid the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reporting that global temperatures could rise by 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels in just 12 years, and scientists announcing that the world’s oceans are warming 40 percent faster than was previously thought.
Now 16, Greta intends to strike outside parliament every Friday until the Swedish government’s policies are in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. She encouraged the world to come together in unison on 15 March – with 1,325 cities and towns in 98 countries and hundreds of thousands of children striking from school. You are probably less than two degrees away from a schoolkid who is part of the movement.
“We are living in a very interesting time, where something is going to happen,” the FutureHero explains. “Change is on the horizon, but to see that change we also have to change ourselves. We are only seeing the beginning. The people will stand up for their future.”
AtlasAction ► Young people are striking, but everyone can take part. Find your closest strike or register your own on the event list. Greta requests that people strike in front of their closest town hall every Friday with a sign, take a picture and post it with the hashtags #Fridaysforfuture #Climatestrike
Greta Thunberg, Climate change activist and schoolkid