By Sanjana Ahmed
Born in the post millennial world in Stockholm, Sweden, Greta Tintin Eleonara Ernman Thunberg is the name the planet will remember for truly turning the wheels to change the world as a final hope of saving the planet.
Still 15, during the summer of 2018 Greta won an essay competition for a newspaper on ‘climate change’ (Business Insider, 24 Sept 2019).On August 20 of that same year, Greta skipped school to attend her first protest in front of the parliament of her country, Sweden (Reuters, 19 August 2019). Carrying her iconic sign with black letters on a white cardboard, it read: SKOLSTREJK FOR KLIMATET (Swedish for ‘School Strike for Climate’). Thus, she began her climate protests and public speeches for which she has now become an internationally recognized climate activist.
Even before getting into the spotlight, young Greta took exemplary stances by fighting for two years with her parents to reduce the family’s carbon footprint. They convinced them to do so by becoming vegan and giving up flying (more on which she writes in her 2018 book Scenes from the Heart).
Ahead of the 2018 Swedish general elections, she first decided not to attend school, after a series of heat waves and wildfires resulted in one of the hottest summers Sweden had experienced in 262 years. Her demands, plain and simple, were that the Swedish government mitigate carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Treaty.
On Twitter it said, she was handing out leaflets that stated, “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.’’
With the social media generation by her side, Instagram and Twitter blew up and took up her cause. Her Hail Mary climate speeches inspired an international movement for school students who take time off from school to take participate in demonstrations to demand action to prevent further global warming and climate change to march into the streets every Friday from September 15 , 2019 onwards in a weekly protest which has come to be called ‘Fridays For Our Future’. The 27 September protests had a turnout of over 2 million people worldwide, including 1 million people in Italy and several hundred thousand people in Canada. ( The New York Magazine)
While she continues to suffer from Asperger Syndrome, On September 27, 2019 as she visited Montreal, Canada she led the world demanding action on the escalating emergency.
To quote the New York Magazine, ‘’She was the Joan of Arc of climate change, commanding a global army of teenage activists numbering in the millions and waging a rhetoric war against her elders through the unapologetic use of generational shame,’’calling the Joan of Arc of climate change, which may seem a bit of a hyperbolic comparison, however, as of present circumstances there isn’t any fitting alternative to this analogy from political history to draw on.
Her speech at the United Nations climate-change conference in Katowice, Poland criticized the crowd of its nihilistic self-interest. The speech that not only took a powerful stance amongst people of all ages across the world also called out world leaders in the most blatant manner, making her a popular example on youth activism. Although that hasn’t stopped all the negative comments that come along her away on a regular basis. According to 7news,one such comment was made by French billionaire and world’s second richest man, Bernard Arnault who ownsLouis Vuitton Moet Hennesy (LVMH) said that, ‘She’s a dynamic young girl, but she’s surrendering completely to catastrophism.’ Recently after her moving speech at the UN climate-change conference, even the President of the United States of America jumped in to have his say on the matter. President Trump’s subtle jab at her climate-change conference speech on Twitter said, ‘She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see.’ It was a low blow to say the least from a man holding the office to the most important country in the world. The next day, Greta had some fun with Trump’s tweet too; she changed her twitter bio to read, ‘ A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.’ Proving she can be sarcastic too (The Guardian, 24 Sept 2019).
Greta knows her movement is reaching the right crowd too as she’s utilizing all the efficient medium for it. She has been recording herself doing the protests from the very beginning and that took to social media, which in turn caused a massive ripple effect reaching not just her generation but a large percentage of millenials too. She’s reaching a global audience through art as well: recently she made her musical debut with british band the 1975 (who’s strongly engaged on the climate crisis too) on a track called The 1975, where she reiterates that adults have failed but homo sapiens haven’t and there is still time to change things around (The Guardian, 25 July 2019).
Lily: Thailand’s Greta
While the Thunberg effect led the climate crisis movement for millions of civilians and world leaders, it also helped propel lesser known but just as amazing young environmental activists into the limelight. One such young person is Lily, who has been referred to as Thailand’s Greta Thunberg. She is twelve years old and has ditched school to wage a war on plastics in Bangkok, Thailand (The Jakarta Post, 17 Sept 2019).
Inspired by Greta, she says the fight is also in Southeast Asia. Her first major victory, came this June 2019 when she convinced one of Bangkok’s biggest shopping mall Central to stop giving out plastic bags in its stores once a week. Thailand being the sixth largest global contributor to ocean pollution has more responsibility than its government would like to accept. This is where Lily decided to go speak directly to those who distribute plastic bags and persuade them to stop.
She knows she’ll receive a lot of pushback but that doesn’t deter the bubbly young girl from collecting plastic waste from the canals of Bangkok. Her latest feat came this month when she also managed to get the omnipresent 7-Eleven convenience stores to pledge to stop handing out single-use plastic bags by January next year.
Keeping in line with youth activists doing their part for the environment, meet native Canadian Autumn Peltier; who’s fighting to protect Canada’s water. This 15 year old pleaded Justin Trudeau to protect Canada’s water, and has since addressed a panel at the United Nations headoffice (cbc.ca, 28 Sept 2019).
Autumn, Lily and Greta are only couple faces in the sea of young faces of the next generation around the world, that may cause people to listen differently. These youngsters are angry at their elders for trashing the planet that they have to live on. They want action and they want them to do better, because our world is disappearing and they want world leaders to put their money where their mouths actually are.
PHOTO STORY: GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE 2019
On September 27th, people across the world marched on the streets to demand immediate climate action from their governing institutions. I was among the 5,000 people marching in Ottawa from Tabaret, to Confederation Park, to the Parliament Hill. It was beautiful to see people of all ages, including seniors, children, youth, adults, people with disabilities, pregnant women, gather together to fight for the future of the next generation. Here is a brief photo story as it happened in Canada’s Capital city.
All photographs were taken by Faria Ahmed.