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Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg, photographed on 16th April 2019Greta Thunberg, photographed on 16th April 2019Greta Thunberg (born 2003) is a Swedish student and climate activist. Aged 15, she began the School Strike for Climate movement in August 2018 with her solo Skolstrejk för klimatet ("School strike for the climate") protest outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Her fame spread quickly following her appearance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP24) in December 2018. In a very short time, Greta has become a role model and inspiration behind the climate movement worldwide. In March 2019, three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Greta outside the Swedish parliamentGreta outside the Swedish parliament

Childhood and family

Greta Ernman Thunberg was born on 3rd January 2003 in Sweden. Her mother is opera singer Malena Ernman and her father is actor Svante Thunberg (named after Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel prize-winning scientist who, in 1896, first calculated how carbon dioxide emissions could lead to the greenhouse effect). Greta first learned about climate change at the age of eight, but was shocked when she discovered that adults were doing so little about it. At one stage she became depressed and stopped going to school.

To lower her family's carbon footprint (total emissions caused by an individual), Greta persuaded her mother to give up flying and her father to become a vegetarian. She herself is a vegan and travels long-distance only by train. The family use their electric car only when necessary.

Starving polar bear, a victim of climate changeStarving polar bear, a victim of climate change

Asperger syndrome

In 2015, Greta was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and selective mutism (meaning that she is unable to speak in certain social situations). She says of her condition: "Being different is a gift. It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies ... Some people can just let things go, but I can’t, especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad."

School strike for the climate

Greta Thunberg's bicycle in Stockholm, September 2018Greta Thunberg's bicycle in Stockholm, September 2018School strike for the climate placard, August 2018School strike for the climate placard, August 2018The summer of 2018 saw a series of heatwaves and wildfires in Sweden. This evidence of global warming happening here and now caused Greta to ask herself was the point of pupils like her learning anything if politicians ignored the science of climate change? So on 20th August 2018, she decided to not attend school until the Swedish general election on 9th September. Instead, she protested by sitting outside the Riksdag (Swedish parliament building) every day during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for the climate). She demanded that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions as laid down in the Paris Agreement.

After the general election, Greta announced that she would continue to strike every Friday until Sweden conformed with the Paris Agreement. Her Friday strikes quickly gained worldwide attention. Other people soon started to join her.

Student strikes

Fridays For Future march, Hamburg, March 2019Fridays For Future march, Hamburg, March 2019In November 2018, thousands of school students in Australia followed Greta's example, ignoring Prime Minister Scott Morrison's call for "more learning in schools and less activism". In December, student strikes took place in at least in 270 cities across the world. On 17th and 18th January 2019, at least 45,000 students came out to protest in Switzerland and Germany alone. In Brussels, students carried banners with slogans such as "Dinosaurs thought they had time too", "Be part of the solution, not the pollution" and "There's no planet B". The School Strike for Climate movement, also known in different countries as Fridays for Future, Youth for Climate or Youth Strike 4 Climate, was gathering pace.

Fridays for Future marchers, Global Day of ActionFridays for Future marchers, Global Day of Action

Global day of Action

The largest and most widespread strikes so far took place on Friday 15th March 2019, dubbed the Global Day of Action. On this day, an estimated 1.4 million students in 128 countries around the world walked out of school. Their action was supported by some of the world's most influential environmental groups. Greta said afterwards: “We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference.”

Greta Thunberg speaks at the European ParliamentGreta Thunberg speaks at the European Parliament

Public speeches

As well as joining demonstrations elsewhere in Europe, Greta started to receive invitations to make public speeches across Europe, including the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the World Economic Forum at Davos, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the UK parliament in London. (Quotations from some of her speeches are given at the bottom of this article.) 

Trip to America

On 14th August 2019, Greta set sail across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, England, to New York in a 18-metre (60-foot) racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines. It was a carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing, in keeping with Greta's belief in the importance of reducing emissions. While in the US, Greta appeared before the US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and, on 20th September, spoke to Global Climate Strike demonstrators in New York. A few days later, she addressed world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. Her speech (see below) was widely reported in the media.


Greta outside the Swedish parliament, August 2018Greta outside the Swedish parliament, August 2018
Greta being interviewed, April 2019Greta being interviewed, April 2019Campaigners and scientists have described Greta Thunberg as the best news for the climate movement in decades. She has been praised at the UN and given a 30-second standing ovation at the European Parliament. Greta has met several European leaders and her message has been endorsed by, among others, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel and UN General Secretary António Guterres. Guterres admits that "my generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry."

Greta said there was still just about time to stop climate change: “I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long.”

Greta still stages her regular protests outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. She says her activism has not interfered with her schoolwork, although she says she has less spare time.

Greta Thunberg in her own words

  • To the "Declaration of Rebellion", organized by Extinction Rebellion, opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, October 2018
    "We're facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children. We need to wake up and change everything".
  • To TEDxStockholm, Sweden, November 2018
    "No one is acting as if we were in a crisis. Even most climate scientists or green politicians keep on flying around the world, eating meat and dairy. … Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can't save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change. And it has to start today."
  • To the UN Climate Change Conference, Katowice, Poland, December 2018
    "For 25 years, countless of people have stood in front of the [this] conference asking our nations’ leaders to stop the emissions. But clearly this has not worked, since the emissions just continue to rise. So I will not ask them anything. Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realise that our political leaders have failed us, because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness."
  • To the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, January 2019
    "I think it is insane that people are gathered here to talk about the climate and they arrive here in private jets."

  • "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. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire—because it is.”
  • To the Guardian newspaper, March 2019
    “I am not more hopeful than when I started. The emissions are increasing and that is the only thing that matters. I think that needs to be our focus. We cannot talk about anything else.”
  • To the UK Parliament, April 2019
    "You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us."

  • “The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels, like for example the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports, as well as the planning permission for a brand new coalmine, is beyond absurd. This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind."

  • “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

  • "Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling."

  • "We children are not sacrificing our education and our childhood for you to tell us what you consider is politically possible in the society that you have created ... We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back."
  • To the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, New York, September 2019
    "This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

See also in Earth

See also in History

Greta Thunberg credits the teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as the inspiration behind her school climate strike. The students walked out of classes in protest against the US gun laws that enabled the massacre on their campus in February 2018.

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