On August 20th, 2018, a 15-year-old teenager chose to skip school and sat outside the Parliament building of her country, holding a cardboard with ”Skolstrejk for Klimatet” written on it. She was protesting the lack of policy against climate change, and she wouldn’t be content until her country chose to do more about it. Yes, this was Greta Thunberg. Who else can best represent the mass movement against climate change that created a roar all over the world?
Like everyone else, Greta was shocked when she learned about the damage of climate change and the inaction by global institutions. She was sitting towards the end in her classroom when there was a documentary being screened to educate them on climate change. She and everyone at the school were alarmed by the state of climate change action across the world. But as she saw her classmates talk about something else within 15 minutes of the documentary’s end, she understood why no one else did something about it.
But Greta couldn’t shake the idea and how much it bothered her. She spoke about it at home. Her mom stopped travelling in airplanes, and her family also turned vegan. These changes by her family were Greta’s first instance of someone changing their lifestyle after she could make them believe in individual efforts. She then went to the next nearest source, the local newspaper. She submitted an article for a local writing competition about climate change titled, “We know — and we can do something now” and won the first prize for her effort.
As a result of getting a platform that reached out to more people than she had ever managed to before, she was approached by a local climate activist who spoke of the student strikes against gun laws in the US. That’s when it struck Greta—she could be the change that no one in Sweden thought they could be. And she was ready to fight.
This led to her choosing to go to the parliament to protest and fight for what she wanted to change. She also decided to take some flyers with her, stating some facts around global warming. She updated the information about her protest on her online platforms, and a couple of journalists visited her as well.
Greta came back, day after day, and more and more people started showing up. She did this with her co-activists for 21 days until the Swedish Elections. Things soon started turning around, and her movement started getting traction. She also gained support through her mother’s Instagram as she had a considerable following due to her career as a singer.
Greta was asked to give multiple talks thereafter, in rallies, and conferences. She was now reaching out to thousands. But her parents were quite apprehensive about this newfound popularity that Greta was gaining. She had a touch of Asperger’s and autism. They knew that she was mentally different when it comes to processing negative information.
They were also concerned because she sometimes had trouble speaking in crowds. But as Greta Thunberg put it,” Basically, it means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments,” telling the crowd about her disorder. And this was a hit. Greta now was an online sensation with many filming her and posting her speeches online. She was also being invited to speak at global and national conferences. Thus began a virtuous cycle, where Greta was resonating with and reaching out to more people.
In less than a year, on Friday, March 15, 2019, a global school strike was called. About 1.6 million people from 2,233 cities in 128 countries took part in the protest globally. It was the single biggest day of climate action in history. That’s how much impact one 15-year-old teenager from Sweden had on the global climate action.
Why is her story so triumphant and compelling? Because Greta is relatable—because she can be your bench mate in class or your childhood friend. And you can believe and stand by someone like her. She cares about the same things as you.