From one to a million: Greta Thunberg

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Greta Thunberg, at the age of eight, learned about climate change and was shocked to know that adults did not consider this issue seriously; she realized that she needed to use her voice for more to come. Inspired by March of Our  Lives, 2018’s winner for the International Children’s Peace Prize, she sat down in front of Sweden’s Parliament with a sign painted in black letters: “School Strike for Climate.” 16 months since that day, she addressed the heads of state at the UN, met with the Pope, contested with the president of the US, and inspired four million students and adults to join the global climate strike on Sept. 20, 2019, which was the largest climate demonstration in human history. Margaret Atwood, a Canadian poet, novelist, and environmental activist, compared Thunberg to Joan of Arc. Recognizing millions of usage of Thunberg’s pioneering idea, climate strike, the Collins Dictionary named it the word of the year. 

Thunberg’s school strike spread to other Swedish cities,  European cities, and other continents. On Fridays for Future, over seven million young people embraced this idea in their own places all over the world, in which by December 2018, climate strikes were held in more than 270 cities. Not only did she inspire her fellow youth, but she also held no hesitations while speaking to the heads of state during the UN General Assembly: “We are at the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you,” she said. She did not just complain about the issues and problems, but presented solutions and she lives them. In August 2019 when she had to attend important climate conferences in the US, she embarked on her journey by sailing for 14 days, eating freeze-dried food, not showering, and going to the bathroom in a bucket instead of riding an airplane. Thunberg proved to the world that the youth are at the heart of fighting for a more sustainable future. 

Her remarkable inspiration to others has been recognized as the “Greta effect.” In response to her brave and outspoken stance on climate change, various politicians leaders around the world have also acknowledged the urgency of climate change. In August 2019, publications and sales of children’s books about climate change reportedly doubled from the previous year. Thunberg’s school strikes to let their voice be heard has been endorsed by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; even more, 224 academics have signed an open letter that stated to support Thunberg’s actions and climate change movement. In December 2010, the New Scientist wrote on the impact made by Thunberg: “The year the world woke up to climate change.” In 2019, TIME Magazine named her the Person of the Year as well as one of the world’s 100 most influential people

Just like how she has continuously voiced her concerns and traveled around the world to speak, Thunberg is looking ahead for the future of her career and what each individual can do for the world. In January, she traveled to Davos, Switzerland to speak at the World Economic Forum, and delivered two speeches, and participated in panel discussions hosted by the New York Times and the World Economic Forum. Out of many themes that she uses for her speech and awareness campaigns, she focused on “our house is still on fire.” Just like Thunberg said, “I’d like to tell my grandchildren that we did everything we could,” a climate change movement started by one teenager became a movement of millions, in hopes of living in a world with better environmental consciousness and more sustainable development.

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