On Wednesday, December 11th, Greta Thunberg was announced to be TIME magazine’s “2019 Person of the Year.” Since the announcement, the 16-year-old climate activist has received a mixture of support and criticism. Most notably, President Trump told her that she needed to “chill” and “work on her Anger Management problem,” to which Michelle Obama responded, “don’t let anyone dim your light.” Thunberg changed her own Twitter bio to: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.” She clearly does not let criticism stop her.
So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill! https://t.co/M8ZtS8okzE
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2019
.@GretaThunberg, don’t let anyone dim your light. Like the girls I’ve met in Vietnam and all over the world, you have so much to offer us all. Ignore the doubters and know that millions of people are cheering you on.
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) December 13, 2019
Despite what many may say, Thunberg is very deserving of this honor. She works for a change in climate policy based on what she knows to be wrong. As TIME wrote, “Thunberg is not a leader of any political party or advocacy group. She is neither the first to sound the alarm about the climate crisis nor the most qualified to fix it. She is not a scientist or a politician … She is an ordinary teenage girl who, in summoning the courage to speak truth to power, became the icon of a generation.”
— TIME (@TIME) December 11, 2019
However, “ordinary” is not the word I would use to describe Greta Thunberg. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and does not operate on the same emotional register as others, which is one of the main reasons she is so driven to prevent climate disaster. As TIME wrote in its feature of Thunberg, when she was in primary school, her teacher taught her class about climate change and its effects. Thunberg said, “I remember thinking that it was very strange that humans, who are an animal species among others, could be capable of changing the earth’s climate. Because, if we were and it was really happening, we wouldn’t be talking about anything else,” in her speech, “Almost Everything Is Black and White” in London on October 31, 2018.
Thunberg’s Asberger’s Syndrome led her to process information about climate change differently; she could not compartmentalize what she had learned and became depressed at 11 years old. She stopped speaking and eating until her family started making lifestyle changes to help the environment, and she eventually came out of her deep sadness.
In May 2018, Thunberg wrote an article about climate change which was published in a Swedish newspaper, and Scandinavian activists contacted her. Thunberg suggested that they lead a school strike for the climate, following in the footsteps of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who struck for gun control action.
Even though the other climate activists did not agree with her idea and her parents were extremely skeptical, Thunberg sat alone outside the Swedish Parliament on August 20, 2018, alone for the duration of the school day.
As the weeks went on, the number of people striking with her increased more and more; by the end of 2018, tens of thousands of European students joined the Fridays for Future movement, and the movement continued to spread around the world.
Since beginning her strike, Thunberg’s life has changed dramatically. She has spoken to the United Nations General Assembly, the World Economic Forum, Facebook, European Parliament, the United States Congress, and more. She has met world leaders from many nations, appeared on The Ellen Show and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In fall 2019, she sailed across the Atlantic to attend the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, planning to then travel to COP25 in Santiago, Chile down the North American and South American continents. Thunberg is committed to limiting her own environmental impact; she practices what she preaches and never flies in airplanes due to the huge amount of carbon emissions from just one flight. Even when COP25 was moved from Santiago to Madrid due to protests in Chile, Thunberg refused to fly back, once again sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the conference.
I recently began reading No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference, a book of Greta Thunberg’s speeches through September 2019. Her voice is powerful, and she holds back no criticism. As TIME wrote, she is not a scientist or a politician — she isn’t able to offer instant policy solutions to climate change, but she is committed to convincing world leaders of the importance of reducing CO2 emissions.
She has frequently compared the climate disaster to a house on fire, saying in a speech at the World Economic Forum in January 2019: “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” At the UN General Assembly in September 2019, she held nothing back. “This is all wrong,” she said. “I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!”
With her firm stance on climate change and harsh criticism of politicians’ inaction, Thunberg has drawn many personal attacks, not only from President Trump, but also from figures such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. However, Thunberg does not back down. As she told TIME, “I think it’s a good sign, actually, because that shows we are actually making a difference and they see us as a threat.”
Greta Thunberg is not ordinary. She is completely unafraid to use her voice to push for the change she needs to see in the world. At only 16, she has become the leader of an international movement. And she is right: if our world leaders do not soon make large strides to reduce carbon emissions, the damage done to the climate will be irrevocable. It will not be easy or simple, but it is not impossible as many make climate action out to be.