Greta Thunberg

by Ella Williams from Fredericksburg, VA

Greta Thunburg is a humble, selfless, and resilient hero of her generation. Only seventeen years old, Greta has become one of the most well-known and impactful activists facing climate change in our modern day. She began her fight against global warming at a young age by engaging in a protest consisting of just herself and a hand-made sign. Since then, she has cultivated nearly two million supporters of her own movement known as “Fridays for Future.” Greta was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at age eleven, but since then, she has come to recognize it as more of a superpower than a disability. She claims that in a crisis that calls for outside-of-the-box thinking, people who have different minds are just what is needed. She has had to overcome countless obstacles during her pursuit of climate justice, such as criticism from opposing politicians, the struggles of being famous as a child, and even the task of sailing across the Atlantic ocean in a small, emission-free boat, but she has continued to prove herself to be resilient in overcoming all of these. Greta’s ability to put the movement before herself and fight consistently for what she believes in proves her to be a determined, strong-willed, and selfless hero. 

Greta was eleven years old when she first learned about climate change in school. While her classmates were able to digest this concept and move on to other things, Greta was deeply disturbed by the notion of human industrialization slowly destroying our natural environment, and even more so, by the lack of focus on this obviously pressing issue. Greta stopped eating and speaking in reaction to how overwhelmed she felt. She was paralyzed by an immense anguish that came with the knowledge of the climate crisis. After a year of her consistent demonstration of unusual behavior, she was diagnosed with selective mutism, obsessive compulsive disorder, and Asperger's syndrome. Her diagnosis with Asperger's in particular explained some of the behaviors that she had been exhibiting. For example, people with this condition have the ability to hyper-focus on the things that they value, and to prioritize them first and foremost. Greta is able to do this with the issue of the climate crisis, and has proven herself to be quite successful in creating change this way. “In this society, everyone's the same. It is a gift to be different, and if you are on the Autism spectrum, that makes you different. In a crisis like this, we need to think outside of the box, we need people who think differently, and that means that people who work differently can be a good recourse for that” [Thunberg, G. (2019, November.) Greta Thunberg on The Ellen Show]. Though being on the Autism spectrum can be viewed as a negative thing in our society, Greta argues that it really is a superpower to have a different way of thinking in the midst of a crisis that calls for creative solutions and determined people. 

Greta Thunberg is not easily discouraged. Shortly after she discovered that she had Aspergers, she began her solo school strike for the climate in her hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, not at all deterred from action by the new knowledge of her diagnosis. She sat alone with a hand-made sign outside of the Swedish Parliament building every Friday during school hours. For weeks, no one joined her in her efforts. Many strangers stopped to confront her about not being in school and the illegitimacy of climate change, but this hardly left an impression on her determined attitude. It was this conviction and confidence in her message that saw her through for weeks of solo protesting until one day, she was joined by another schoolgirl. Gradually, the movement she had created began to gather supporters, and soon, the streets of Stockholm, Sweden became flooded with the allies of the “Fridays for Future” movement. It was Greta’s unique mind’s way of persisting in the face of challenge that ended up enacting powerful change. 

Greta’s creation of the “Fridays for Future” movement was not the only example of how this young activist demonstrated resilience. Once Greta’s movement began to pick up speed, she began to receive recognition from bigger names and conventions that dealt with climate change. She was eventually asked to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she spread her messages of urgency and proactiveness in regards to the climate crisis to many previously idle adults. This caused a defensive attitude to arise amongst a few politicians and journalists, who proceeded to write unrelenting articles and spread messages to their supporters about Greta’s illegitimacy. “None of that matters because the climate hysteria movement is not about science. If it were about science it would be led by scientists rather than by politicians and a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left” (Knowles, M. 2019, September/October. The Washington Post.). Other hurtful comments were made discrediting Greta because of her mental condition and age, but these hardly made a mark on her. In the documentary that recently came out detailing Greta’s life and journey, I Am Greta, she can be seen laughing at a hateful tweet directed towards her that accuses her of being overly dramatic and theatrical during her speeches. This shows that her entire focus is on the movement, not on the insults that people might direct towards her. “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you're winning!" [Thunberg, G. (2019, January 2). Greta Thunberg Responds to Critics].

Greta’s full dedication to achieving climate justice and complete surrender of normalcy in her teenage years demonstrates a quality of selflessness that is unmatched by many. When most people hear about the impacts of climate change and its slowly approaching and irreversible deadlines, they are concerned, but not quick to make huge life alterations. The average mentality consists of the view that each person is just one amongst nearly seven billion others on the planet, and therefore, they couldn’t possibly change anything with simple actions. This is where Greta is immediately set apart as a hero. She observed that if all seven billion people had the same mentality of indifference and hopelessness, then nothing would ever change. She knew that if climate change was ever going to be prevented, that someone was going to have to sacrifice a normal, comfortable lifestyle and do everything they possibly could to draw attention to the issue. “I shouldn't be up 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? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering” [Thunberg, G. (2019). Greta Thunberg's United Nations Speech]. Greta is very selfless for sacrificing the normalcy that so many people covet today to help future generations live in the healthiest environment possible. 

Greta Thunberg does more than just give speeches; she backs up her powerful words with action. Greta has gone completely vegan, as she knows that animal agriculture has a large carbon footprint. She has also stopped shopping for things that she doesn’t absolutely need to survive. The most life-altering thing that she has decided to do is to stop flying, which was a decision that required creative and demanding alternatives. On August 14, 2019, Greta set sail on a small, emission-free boat that carried her from Plymouth, UK, to New York City. She did this both as a greener alternative to flying, and as a statement to people in power about the lengths that young activists are having to go to in order to fight climate change. Her voyage lasted three weeks, there and back. In her documentary I Am Greta, there is footage of her aboard this boat recording a verbal journal entry into her phone. “It’s so much responsibility,” she says, “I shouldn’t have to be doing this. It shouldn’t all be on my shoulders” [Thunberg, G. (2020, October/November). I Am Greta]. This quote refers to the selfless act that she has committed in not only taking on a six-week voyage in efforts to spread the word about global warming, but also the immense amount of responsibility that she has taken on during this movement. So many people look to her for guidance, so many people expect her to be a nonstop fighter. Greta has chosen to put the future health of planet earth on her shoulders because not many others have been eager to do so. This is a very honorable and selfless act. 

In Greta’s enormous efforts to raise awareness about climate change, she has also gathered a lot of publicity surrounding her personal image and home life. This was not something that Greta was at all in pursuit of. “For an activist who insists on putting the cause before herself, it’s also a somewhat uncomfortable acceptance of the spotlight. ‘I haven’t really achieved anything,’ Thunberg says, speaking by phone from Sweden. ‘Everything the movement has achieved’” [Coyle, J. (2020, November/December]. Greta Thunberg on Two Very Surreal Years of Protesting and Fame]. This quote shows that Greta’s intentions were never to become famous; they were just to draw attention to the movement. Any viewer of her public speeches can also notice that Greta does not wear flashy clothing or makeup. She shows up to all of her public events exactly as she is, often in a casual outfit with messy braids. This again shows where her priorities lie within the production of her platform: not with her fame or vanity, but with real change and awareness of the severity of global warming. 

Greta Thunberg is an altruistic and strong force to be reckoned with. In a world of people who have selfishly chosen to move on from the demands of climate justice, she has sacrificed normalcy in her life to be the true voice of future generations. She did not seek out the fame; in fact, she has never really craved attention. But once she understood that the planet lacked an invigorated spokesperson, she knew that she would never be able to look herself in the eye if she didn’t volunteer for that position. She defies the stigmas surrounding the autism spectrum and continues to advocate for people who were simply born with minds that work differently from the rest. The progress that she has made and the things that she has done, such as her six week voyage and her solo strike for the climate, prove that she is not only a motivational speaker but a passionate activist who is willing to fight for what she believes in from all angles and fronts. Greta is the perfect model of a modern-day hero due to her boundless selflessness, passion for the cause that she supports, and her resilience in all aspects of her life.


Page created on 5/13/2021 11:35:21 PM

Last edited 11/30/2021 6:56:56 PM

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Thunberg, Greta. The Disarming Case to Act Right Now on Climate Change. [Online] Available

Gowthaman, Nirandhi. 12 Motivational Quotes by Greta Thunberg That Will Inspire You to Change for the Planet. [Online] Available

Coyle, Jake. Greta Thunberg on Two Very Surreal Years of Protest and Fame. [Online] Available

Grossman, Nathan. I Am Greta.Hulu2020.