“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” says Greta Thunberg. While the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist has consistently turned away accolades for her work on climate change, Time magazine has awarded her the title of 2019 Person of the Year — and we have to agree with their decision.
What many don’t know about Thunberg is that when she first learned about climate change and the challenges facing our planet at the very young age of eight, she became depressed and even stopped talking and eating. Her condition worsened to the point that her family sought medical attention, and she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary,” Thunberg said in her TEDX talk. “Now is one of those moments.”
Thunberg began her work in her own home, encouraging her family to go vegan, start upcycling, and to give up flying on airplanes to reduce their own carbon footprint. At first, she used charts and graphs to try and convince her family to adopt a different lifestyle, and when that didn’t work, she told them that they were stealing her future (a sentiment she has reiterated to world leaders) — and that’s what made it click.
Thunberg says that the changes her parents eventually made gave her hope for the future, and by 2018, she gained a sense that her voice mattered and that she could make a difference. That year, she began holding school climate strikes before the Swedish parliament, demanding that the Swedish parliament invoke and enforce regulations to reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. She stood alone (at first) outside of the parliament building with signs that read, “School strikes for climate.”
In an interview on Democracy Now!, she explained that her decision to begin protesting came after she observed students in the US doing the same for greater gun control as a result of school shootings that had taken place in Florida.
Thunberg received push-back from her teachers for missing out on school to protest, but she didn’t let this stop her. “As people, they think what I am doing is good, but as teachers, they say I should stop,”she said. Her father isn’t the biggest fan of her missing school either, but Thunberg has continued to fight by taking time off to travel all over the world to give speeches and attend protests and conferences (including the UN climate talks). And in a very short time, she became one of the most internationally-recognized climate activists of all time.
“She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement,” Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said on the Today show, when he announced Thunberg as Person of the Year. It’s a big achievement, but this award isn’t always a positive — it simply recognizes, “the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse,” as former Managing Editor Walter Isaacson wrote in the 1998 issue. Thunberg has been this person.
In just one year, Thunberg went from a solo-protestor with a hand-made sign, camping out in front of the Swedish parliament, to a world-renowned activist with millions, including presidents, the Pope, and other world leaders as her audience. Felsenthal wrote that choosing Thunberg as Person of the Year “says as much about the moment as it does about her,” highlighting the impact one youth could have on an entire global audience.
Thunberg ’s activism, her passion, her determination, and her belief in herself and her cause have stirred the world to the core and changed the course of history. And during this holiday season, we express gratitude for her courage to stand up and speak out despite the powerful forces that threaten the future of our planet.
Thunberg, as Time’s person of the year, reminds us that one individual, regardless of gender, age, or class, can change everything. As Thunberg herself said, “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Her bravery is an inspiration to us all!