Can one person change the world? Ask Greta Thunberg, the young environmental activist who is living proof that a small act of principled defiance can have a truly global impact.
In August 2018, a then 15-year-old decided to sit outside the Swedish parliament every day instead of going to school. She wanted to publicly break the law in protest at the lack of action from politicians to tackle the climate crisis—and the futility of studying for a future that looks set to devolve into environmental chaos.
Her school strike soon went viral. Media from across the world broadcast the protest, enthralled by Thunberg’s committed and uncompromising zeal. From September 2018, she decided to continue this ‘Skolstrejk’ on Fridays, promising to continue until the Swedish Government set clear plans in motion to limit global warming to under 2 degrees.
Within 6 months, school children on every continent were taking part in protests. Over 4,100 strikes have been registered on the FridaysForFuture website, from Europe to South America to Africa, with the overwhelming majority taking place every week. The events are spearheaded and run by students, even those as young as 10 years old, who have harnessed the power of social media to bring people together and force change in ways that previous generations have not.
“They are done waiting for the politicians who have failed to act their entire lives”, environmental activist organisation Greenpeace writes on its website about the school strikes. “Now the young have started to move, and stopped playing by the rules. Everything may be about to change, because for them it has to.”
This all culminated with the biggest event in the movement’s history in mid-May 2019: More than 1.4m children and young people—in over 1,500 cities across the world—walked out of their classrooms and went on strike from school. They’re fighting for politicians to take the climate crisis seriously; for 100% renewable energy by 2030; and for no new coal, oil or gas projects to be launched.
Thunberg has become an international climate celebrity, travelling to conferences and parliaments around Europe to deliver talks on failures of the political class. She continues to plead for change as new reports reveal further truths about the impending ecological disaster, such as news that ice in the Antarctic is melting much faster than predicted.
And people across the world continue to join the movement. One school striker from Sydney, Eloise Kieler, told The Guardian she had no choice but to walk out of lessons. “Wouldn’t you go on strike too, if you thought doing so could help protect your own future”, she asked.