The curious case of Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg isn’t like most 16-year-olds.
While most children her age are busy with school, she has sailed across the Atlantic, stared down the President of the United States and spearheaded the global environmental movement.
A year ago, Greta Thunberg was known only by those close to her. She wasn’t a celebrity; she wasn’t a social media influencer; she was simply a young girl, passionate about fighting climate change.
Her global rise to prominence began in August 2018, when she started ‘Skolstrejk for klimatet’ (translated as ‘School strikes for the climate’) by protesting outside the Swedish Parliament building. Through this campaign, she encouraged other schoolchildren to strike every Friday until more was done to tackle environmental problems. As weeks passed, the global media coverage of #FridaysForFuture skyrocketed with her campaign growing in popularity with schoolchildren across the globe. The sheer scale of this movement was demonstrated during the 2019 Global Week for Future in September when more than 4 million people worldwide joined Greta to draw greater attention to the negative effects of climate change.
Through this movement, she has acquired a larger global audience than most politicians and has become the figurehead of the global environmentalist movement. Her name is now intrinsically linked with the issue of climate change and she is a major reason why the issue of climate change has become so prominent recently. Many even speculated that she was the favourite to win the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
However, like so many people before her, the sudden rise to fame has brought with it criticism from various right-wing politicians and other conservative commentators. This includes climate change deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists, who may feel threatened by the environmentalist agenda that she is promoting. Oftentimes, these criticisms have extended to include personal attacks against her, her family and supporters.
For instance, during her transatlantic voyage to the 2019 UN general assembly, she posted a picture on Instagram with a plastic bottle in the background. Instantly, conservative commentators used this image to portray her as a hypocrite and to denigrate her entire campaign, even though it wasn’t confirmed who had used that bottle.
She has also become a target of various attacks by a string of right-wing politicians leaders across the world. In particular, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly belittled the environmentalist movement in general and suggested that some people may be using children like Greta to further their own interests.
“Nobody explained to Greta that the modern world is complicated and complex.” — Vladimir Putin
Similarly, she has fiercely disagreed with President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accord. Following her speech at the UN, Trump tweeted that “she seems to be a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”.
Moreover, it is difficult to find an ulterior motive for her staunch campaigning other than a sincere passion for saving the environment. While politicians may be criticised for using environmental issues as a front to benefit their political platform, Greta is neither a political figure nor a celebrity. Instead, she only features in the public limelight, because she is willing to stand up for her own beliefs.
The question that few in the media have ever stopped to ask is: why has Greta, in particular, become the face of this global movement?
It is no coincidence that the face of this environmental movement is a young child. Unlike other global issues, the major ramifications from climate change will take place in the long term, so it will be the future generations who are most affected. This is the reason why so many children protested about climate change, rather than attending school, because they are acutely aware of the impact that climate change will have on their future world.
“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.” — Greta Thunberg
However, as she becomes more important to the campaign for fighting climate change, it is likely that she will attract even more criticism. Regardless, of what the future lies in store for Greta Thunberg, it is certain that her influence on climate change will remain as vital as ever.