Greta Thunberg is an activist best known for calling attention to the devastating effects of climate change on our planet. From taking part in school strikes and owning that her Asperger syndrome is her superpower, to crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a powerful stand against carbon emissions, this is the incredible story of a schoolgirl who is changing the world.
The Swedish general elections were coming up, and Greta wanted to make sure that politicians were keeping the climate crisis at the front of their minds. There had been a worrying number of wildfires and heatwaves across Sweden, and Greta didn’t see her country’s government doing anything to address them. So she decided to strike every day until the elections closed on 9 September 2018. She was ready.
Greta immediately asked her classmates for help. It turned out that they were worried about climate change too, but skipping school was something they didn’t want to do. They knew they’d get into trouble. So while they supported Greta she soon learned that she’d be striking alone. Her parents weren’t happy about her decision either.
‘When I told my parents about my plans they weren’t very fond of it. They did not support the idea of school striking and they said that if I were to do this, I would have to do it completely by myself.’
A scary thought, sure, but she wasn’t going to back down. Little did Greta know that that Friday morning in August was about to start a global movement, millions strong, which would end up being louder than she had ever imagined.
‘Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?’
On the morning of Monday 20 August 2018 Greta woke up, brushed her teeth and ate her breakfast. But instead of getting ready for school, she took hold of her hand-painted banner emblazoned with the words ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (the banner translates as ‘school strike for the climate’).
She walked out of the front door and made her way to the Riksdag.
Alone but unfazed, Greta sat down and started her solo strike.
Sitting cross-legged, she laid her sign out, and put a stone on top of a pile of flyers about climate change to stop them from blowing away in the wind. She had what she needed to start, but now she needed people to pay attention.
- Are you surprised by the reaction from Greta’s friends and family?
- How do you think Greta felt on the morning of Monday 20 August 2018?
Greta’s solo strike continued every day, just as she had promised. And on 7 September 2018 she went even further. Greta announced that she would continue the strike every Friday until the Swedish Government committed to reducing their carbon emissions, as set out in the Paris Agreement of 2015.
We live in an age where social media connects us with each other and allows us to talk about important issues like climate change, and Greta’s story shows how powerful this can be. The image of a fifteen-year-old girl, hair in plaits, cross-legged outside the seat of the Swedish Parliament spread far and wide. Soon Greta wasn’t alone any more – millions more in hundreds of countries across the globe joined her. And so the #FridaysForFuture movement was born.
#FridaysForFuture was started by Greta, and soon after there were other young climate activists who began setting up marches in their hometowns.
On 30 November 2018 around fifteen thousand school children in thirty cities up and down Australia followed Greta’s lead and took to the streets.
And the revolution was spreading. More and more young people were making signs and marching in the hope that finally their leaders would pay attention.
A month later, in early December 2018, preparations were almost finished for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. Knowing that political leaders were getting ready to discuss the burning issue, millions more young people made preparations of their own. In the lead-up to the conference, and during it, strikes were organized in 270 cities across the globe, from Belgium to Japan.
Meanwhile Greta had been invited to speak at the conference. She thought it was funny that the people she was calling on to act had invited her to speak about a problem that they weren’t doing enough to resolve.
‘I think it is insane that people are gathered here to talk about the climate and they arrive here in private jets.’
Can you explain what a solo strike is?
How did social media contribute to Greta’s success?
Task: In the extracts, we learn that Greta said, ‘if I were to do this, I would have to do it completely by myself.’
What do Greta’s words tell us about her as an individual?
Task: Choose an environmental issue that is important to you and write an opening for a speech to be read at a similar conference where world leaders are present.