Greta Thunberg: A Young Voice for Environmental Change


Greta Thunburg with her famous sign, which translates to “School Strike for the Climate” in Swedish

Kezia Joseph and Gabi Ellis

Her face is stretched tight with anger. Her voice trembles with emotion. Her eyes, normally stoic and serious, are glittering with purpose. 16 years old and addressing multiple world leaders about a global crisis— her name is Greta Thunberg.

On Monday, Sep. 23, the climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit. Her name has been plastered all over the news in recent months, both with anger and admiration. But who is she?

Born in Sweden, Thunberg is a schoolgirl with Asperger’s Syndrome who first learned about climate change at the age of 8, as many other students do. However, instead of learning about the problem and then allowing the higher ups to take care of it, she took action herself. Once Thunberg grasped the seriousness of the situation, she could not understand why those in charge did not seem to feel the same way.

Her worry over climate change eventually led to depression by the age of 11, but it did not slow her down. Instead, her worry about climate changerd during these years seemed only to fuel her desire to fight.

She decided that those in charge were not doing enough, and she chose to take initiative. She would fight for climate change herself.

Thunberg’s fame began in May 2018, when she won an essay contest about climate change in her homeland. She began to skip school every Friday to strike on her own in front of Swedish Parliament to demand a bigger and tougher response. Soon, she was not alone—more and more people would join her each week until her cause became too big to ignore.

“She is an effective speaker with as many perspectives as her peers and is able to convey it in a way that speaks to youth,” said Mr. Horchheimer, an Earth and Space science teacher at Neshaminy.

Thunberg has since then spearheaded numerous international school protests for climate change awareness, including a recent one on September 20, a strike that had participation from over 6 million people across the globe, according to The Guardian.

Her passion for fighting climate change quickly became channeled into personal appeals as she began to meet with global leaders to personally ask them to take initiative, raise awareness, and make change.

She has spoken with Pope Francis, who reportedly supports her cause. Thunberg has visited the French Parliament and has met with leaders in the UK. She has also met with former President Barack Obama. She has publicly called out politicians and companies for not doing enough to adapt policies to the climate change crisis and has spoken at numerous international conventions and forums about fighting for change.

Thunberg, in spite of her young age, has been the subject of rage, hate, and ridicule. Many of her opponents have attributed her actions to wanting popularity, and have degraded her efforts because she is young. Others wonder if her efforts are misplaced or uninformed, or that she is oversimplifying the problem. Among the critics are Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump, and various well-known journalists and experts.

“They (corporations and opposing world leaders) are in a position of power that benefits from denying,” said Horchheimer, “Their GNP is tied to producing CO2.”

Thunberg has proven time and time again that she truly believes in and will work for her cause. She frequently cites the work of scientists to back up her cause. She even travels with the environment in mind—she takes trains to travel while in Europe, refuses to travel on airplanes, and has even traveled on an emissions-free yacht across the Atlantic, a journey which took two weeks. Her efforts have turned her into a public figure and a constant presence on the global stage.

Thunberg’s campaign shows no signs of stopping, and awareness is only increasing worldwide. At the time of this writing, she has over 7.5 million Instagram followers, and she uses the platform to update the world about her work frequently. Her heartfelt appeal and warning to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people— the video has over 4 million views on YouTube and countless other shares on social media. In the future she is scheduled to appear at global discussion opportunities in New York and in Chile.

Ordinary people can also join this cause and slow the effects of climate change. “We can start with the common sense things…and what we do on a daily basis to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Horchheimer. Using less plastic, carpooling, eating less meat and animal products, converting to different energy sources, and changing our daily lifestyles will all help prevent global warming. However, most of the problem stems from giant corporations and their million tons of waste. Call local congressmen and legislation to make them aware about the issue and vote based on climate change are all steps towards big changes that ordinary people can make.