How Greta Thunberg Became a Global Icon

Greta Thunberg is just 17 and has become a global face in the fight against the climate crisis. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she is celebrated, hunted, and criticized. But her voice is still heard. Let’s learn how Greta became a global icon.

Greta Thunberg sat down outside the Riksdag. Every school day from August 20, 2018, until the election on September 9. She was there with the sign “School strike for the climate”. A 15-year-old went on a school strike to draw attention to the climate crisis. In her purple rucksack she had the school books so she wouldn’t fall behind in the lessons, and her lunch box.

Regarding her strikes, she told a newspaper in Stockholm that her parents want her to be in school, but they also understand how important this is to her. She also shared that the first time she heard about the climate crisis; she was in first grade. The teacher talked about Earth Hour, about turning off lights to pay attention to global warming. But she didn’t understand. She thought if humans could save the climate, then they surely would. Until then she did not pay attention much.

Greta Begins Activism at 12

When she was twelve years old, she read an article about aviation emissions and became even more involved. Her moral obligation became to do what she can. Drastic measures are required, decision-makers must act, and companies must be pressured to switch to climate-saving alternatives.

Greta received more and more attention and more school kids joined the strikes by her side. On Friday 7 September 2018, two days before the general election of Sweden, a mini-festival was organized for Greta Thunberg and the campaign. Popular artists played for free and the mood on and in front of the stage was solemn as if everyone understood that this was something out of the ordinary.

Greta, dressed in a dark blue hooded jacket with a light blue zipper, leopard print pants, blue sneakers, and her hair up in characteristic braids, accepted the microphone from the suit-clad emcee and had the stage to herself.

With one hand in her pocket and a cautious smile, she said she was going to read out a text she had written for a newspaper.

“Last summer, climate scientist Johan Rockström, and a few others wrote that we now have a maximum of three years to turn the emissions curve if we are to pass the Paris Agreement. It has now been over a year and two months since then. During that time, many scientists have said the same thing, while a lot of other things have gotten worse, emissions have continued to increase.”

Sweden is Not at All Climate-friendly

She underlined the stupidity of asking her why she is passionate about the climate issue and the Paris Agreement. From time to time, she was interrupted by cheers. Methodically, completely unaffected, she read on and pointed out that Sweden is not at all as climate-friendly as we like to think.

“In Sweden, we live as if we had 4.2 globes. Our ecological footprint is among the ten worst in the world per capita. This means that every year Sweden steals 3.4 years of natural resources from future generations. We, who belong to the future generations, want Sweden to stop doing that. Now”.

She was careful to say that what she does is not political because “the climate and the biosphere do not care for a single second about our politics and our empty words.

“The climate and the biosphere only care about what we actually do. This is a cry for help to all the newspapers that still do not write and report on the climate, despite the fact that you said that the climate was the fate of our time when the forests burned last summer”.

The heat and drought paralyzed Sweden in the summer of 2018. It was a blazing hot signal that something was seriously wrong. Nevertheless, the climate issue was not particularly present in the election debates.

The Green Party, stumbling close to being kicked out of the Riksdag, decreased by 2.5 percent compared to the election four years earlier. There, in the late summer heat on Nytorget, Greta Thunberg continued to go hard on everyone who, in her eyes, seems to be more afraid of the transition that will prevent a climate disaster than the climate disaster itself.

“Many say that Sweden is a small country, that it doesn’t matter what we do. But if a few girls can make headlines around the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together.”

Then she carefully folded her piece of paper and left the stage.

She Changed Her Parents First

The story of Greta Thunberg is also the story of her parents; singer Malena Ernman and former actor Svante Thunberg. Malena Ernman is an internationally acclaimed opera star. She is also known for standing up for refugees and being an open society.

In the book “Scenes from the Heart”, Malena Ernman and Svante Thunberg write painfully personally about the eating disorders Greta had a few years ago.

“Greta will not come to school on Monday. Greta stopped eating two months ago and if there is no dramatic change, she will be admitted to Sachsska Children’s Hospital next week”.

Malena also writes,

“We have spoken out bluntly. We have screamed, laughed, threatened, begged, cried, and offered every bribe our imagination could think of. Svante walks over to the sheet of paper on the wall and writes Lunch: 5 gnocchi. Time 2 hours and 10 minutes”.

It is about starvation, about hours in the hospital, and endless visits to BUP. About bullying, exclusion, and finally a diagnosis; Asperger’s, high-functioning autism and OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. A doctor says: “We could give her the diagnosis of selective mutism as well, but it can often go away on its own over time.”

Becoming the Most Important Opinion Maker

Think selective mutism and think about Greta who, since August 2018, has developed into the most important opinion maker of our time, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. And we can consider her as one 10 Children Who Made a Difference in The World.

In this journey of becoming a global icon, she meets world leaders from around the world and spoken at many conferences. French President Emmanuel Macron met her at the Élysée Palace in Paris. She has spoken at the climate summit in Katowice, Poland, and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, she has met UN chief António Guterres and been praised by Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Through her commitment, she has been given something to live for, without compromise.

She said in a TV show that,

“I got my parents to stop flying a few years ago. Because my mother depended on flying for her job, she had to change careers. Now she’s doing musicals in Stockholm instead,”

The family’s eating habits have also been drastically affected. They are now vegans.

On that same TV show Greta also talked about the climate, but also about her diagnoses:

“If I didn’t have Asperger’s and was so weird, I would have been stuck in this social game that everyone else seems to be so fond of. It makes me function differently and see the world from a different perspective. I see a lot of things in black or white”.

Climate Strikes on Every Friday

Mynttorget in Stockholm is hardly a square. It is spread out between the Riksdagshuset and the Royal Palace, right on the edge of Gamla Stan. The neighborhood around breathes power and politics, power and literature, and the Swedish Academy and the Stock Exchange are not far away. But who cares about regents and ministers when there is a Greta Thunberg? 

It is Friday, March 15, 2019, and Mynttorget in Stockholm is not a thoroughfare for cars and pedestrians like other days. It’s still morning, but already full of people. In a few hours, the demonstration train with school students will go from Sergels Torg, here to Mynttorget. But Greta Thunberg and her friends in Fridays for future Sweden, who since the election, strike every Friday and many, many other young people are here.

“What should we do? Save the climate! When? Now, now, now!”, it is chanted and journalists from all over the world run their legs off to possibly talk to Greta Thunberg, who allows herself to be interviewed by SVT, but not by many others.

People who are close to Greta do what they can to “let her breathe”. Now she is Greta with the whole world, both for those who see her as the world’s hope and for those who consider her a threat who spreads fake news about the climate. Or just a representative of immoral truancy.

The rain hangs in the air and every step Greta takes is followed by an interested public, children and young people, and journalists and photographers. Together with some of the core squad, Greta Thunberg goes off to a cafe to get some peace and quiet. It looks like a lemming train where Greta in her white, thick hat and her purple jacket is once again the one who draws everyone’s eyes to her.

All over the world, school youth are on strike. At Mynttorget, First Aid Kit offers a magical version of “My Silver Lining” and there are short, pithy, and hopeful, but still angry speeches from the small stage. The rain has increased and Greta is now wearing a long yellow raincoat, which became an iconic outfit around the world. 

“We are facing an existential crisis; the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced and yet it has been ignored for decades by those who have known about it. You know who you are, you who have ignored this and you who are most guilty of this and it is not us”.

Greta Thunberg looks around, looks out over the crowd, and says: “We won’t accept it, we won’t let it happen so that’s why we’re striking. We strike because we want a future and we will continue …”. One week later.  Now it’s Friday again and Mynttorget is suddenly bathed in sunshine. About twenty protesters are here. It’s just after eight in the morning and many journalists are already here.

This is how Greta Thunberg continues to rampage the world leaders and climate crisis deniers.

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