Cover Story

Fighting for our Future: Greta Thunberg, the Climate Justice Warrior

Greta Thunberg sits outside the Swedish Parliament with a banner reading 'School strike for climate'

“Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned that you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together, if we really wanted to.”

These are the words of teen climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, who is challenging the world with her innocent defiance. Speaking at the U.N. Climate Change COP24 Conference, she broke down walls of political correctness with her honest statements, blatantly accusing world leaders and the privileged few of amassing large amounts of wealth whilst ignoring the scars that their cruelty was leaving behind for the planet to recover from.

Who is Greta?

Born in 2003 to actor Svante Thunberg and singer Malena Ernman, Greta was an unknown and ordinary schoolgirl until recently. When she was barely eight years of age, she heard that due to the actions of human beings, the Earth’s climate was being impacted negatively. When other children watched the informative movies and moved on to other mundane topics, little Greta simply could not get the thought of the dying planet out of her mind. “If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal?” she wondered about such things incessantly.

As a result of how deeply affected Greta was by this, at the age of 11 she became ill, falling into depression. She stopped talking and eating, losing about ten kilos of weight within two months, following which she was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, OCD and selective mutism. Commenting on this during her speech at TEDxStockholm, she remarked that her selective mutism meant that she only spoke when it was necessary: “and now is one of those moments.”

“Rich countries need to get down to zero emissions within 6-12 years so that people in poorer countries can have a chance to heighten their standard of living by building some of the infrastructure that we have already built, such as roads, schools, hospitals, clean drinking water, electricity and so on. Because how can we expect countries like India or Nigeria to care about the climate crisis, if we, who already have everything, don’t care even a second about it?”

Greta’s various ailments made it difficult for her to let go of something once she found it to be deeply disturbing. She admits to thinking about environmental injustice obsessively, which eventually led to her becoming depressed. Due to her being an introvert, Greta did not share her feelings with anyone until she was staying home from school and needed to speak to her parents. She explained how she felt and shared all the information that she had unearthed, following which they began to understand her concerns.

This was a turning point in Greta’s journey because it made her realize that instead of allowing depression to cripple her spirit, she could raise awareness and do good for the world. Greta’s parents say that she was relentless in her pursuit — she convinced her mother to give up flying and her father to become a vegetarian. Greta achieved this with a great sense of determination which fuelled her passion: saving the planet from destruction.

On one fine day in August 2018, still an ordinary schoolgirl at the time, she skipped school to sit outside the Swedish parliament with a handmade banner that roughly translated to ‘School strike for climate’. She sat outside the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks to protest against the lack of action regarding the climate crisis and posted what she was doing on Twitter and Instagram. On 8 September 2018 she decided to continue striking every Friday until Swedish policies provided a safe pathway in line with the Paris Agreement. Initially, she received pity from passersby and was discouraged even by acquaintances until her consistent action began to get noticed gradually. The hashtags #FridaysforFuture and #climatestrike went viral and spread until many students and adults began to strike outside of their parliaments and local city halls all over Europe.

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Anuja Siraj is the author of A Lifetime’s Worth and an Aerospace Engineer currently associated with Airbus.

Anuja Siraj

Anuja Siraj is the author of A Lifetime’s Worth and an Aerospace Engineer currently associated with Airbus.