Thunberg's Thunder

Greta Thunberg: a name that you are almost certain to have come across in the media, whether attending a ‘Fridays for Future’ rally, tuning in to Good Morning Britain or scrolling through twitter to see yet another middle-aged man question Greta’s right to preach her agenda, when he has it on good authority that her breathingproduces CO2… But how did this 16-year-old girl from Sweden expand her platform to become the face of one of the largest rebellion movements of recent decades? 

In August 2018, Greta Thunberg skipped school to protest outside the Swedish parliament, posting a photo to her twitter account with a ‘School Strike for Climate’ placard. Greta wished to voice the anxiety and anger of the young generation whose future will be detrimentally affected if world leaders and corporations continue to ignore the looming climate crisis and issue weak, ineffective policy. She argues that skipping school is insignificant when students are forced to study for a future that they may not have, and learn science that politicians are blatantly ignoring in their policy-making. 

This small act of peaceful protest by one young girl, has rapidly expanded into the hugely influential ‘Fridays for Future’ movement, with regular protests for climate justice taking place all over the globe. Last month, 128 strikes took place in the UK alone and Organisers estimated that around 100,000 people attended the rally in central London.

Yet Greta’s influence has extended far beyond the climate justice rallies. In September 2019, she was invited to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Before even arriving at the event, Greta attracted huge media attention in opting for a 15-day boat journey across the Atlantic, as a carbon-neutral alternative to flying. Her address to the World Leaders and policy makers further established her as a force to be reckoned with, as she refused to sugar-coat the climate situation. With powerful emotion and a chilling, restrained rage in her voice, she claimed,

“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 fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

The speech affirmed that Greta will not be appeased with token gestures, nor turned into a poster girl of the UN’s insufficient environmental action plan as it stands. This is not the time for small measures. Radical action is required to reverse global warming and tackle climate injustice, and Greta will not be satisfied with anything less.  

Anyone taking such a passionate public stance and calling people to accountability on a soci0-environmental issue, is likely to receive an onslaught of criticism and online trolling, and when the activist is a teenage girl, media attention can turn particularly ugly. Despite the myriad of praise that Greta has received for her activism, even receiving a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, she has also been the subject of much controversy. Amidst these internet trolls, Donald Trump issued a scathing tweet following Greta’s UN speech, sarcastically referring to her as “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” Greta’s response to the President’s ‘dig’ was fantastic, as she boldly set his epithet as her twitter bio. Recently, Piers Morgan has come under criticism for a derogatory impersonation of Greta on Good Morning Britain. His behaviour was marked as being particularly distasteful in its ableism, as he mocked Greta’s delayed speech and communication, a symptom of her Asperger’s syndrome.

Thankfully however, Greta Thunberg shows few signs of allowing hate to halt her activism, as she continues to strive forward in her revolutionary cause. She has inspired millions of people worldwide, from toddlers holding home-made placards at rallies, to elderly environmentalists, hoping to leave behind a better world for the younger generations to inherit. When one girl has played so vital a role in progressing the climate justice movement, it offers us a sense of renewed hope in the power of individual activism. While the capitalist giants and World Leaders may often seem to be insurmountable opponents, Greta reminds us that we all have a voice to use and a vote to cast, and must show both our local, and global Governments that we are holding them accountable for their environmental policy. In the words of Greta herself, “For way too long the politicians and people in power have got away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and ecological crisis. But we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer. We will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet, for ourselves, our futures and for the futures of our children and grandchildren.”

The next ‘Fridays For Future’ global rally will take place on November 29th. Placards at the ready, Bristol!


This article is part of HC Bristol's Sustainability themed week.