Greta Thunberg. It’s a name that brings to mind a Valkyrie warrior, does it not? Appropriate, given that in barely two years Thunberg’s activism has inspired protests, rallies, and demonstrations worldwide demanding political action to save the environment from greenhouse gases. From neurological disorders to solo protests, it seems that every blow dealt only makes Thunberg stronger. With the eyes of the world upon her, she fights tirelessly to save the world. Literally.
Greta Thunberg Facts
1. Beauty on Water
Thunberg was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital city.
2. Bohemian Upbringing
Thunberg comes from a line of professional artists and performers. Her mother, Malena Ernman, is an opera singer, and her father, Svante Thunberg, is an actor. Furthermore, her grandfather on her papa’s side, Olof Thunberg, is also an actor and director!
3. In the Name of the Father
Fun fact about Papa Thunberg: He’s named after Svante Arrhenius, a scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize who first determined that carbon dioxide emissions could lead to the greenhouse gas effect. Can you spell “synchronicity”?
4. So, Why Are We Just Standing Here?
Thunberg was eight years old when she first heard about climate change, and could not compute why global leaders and authorities weren’t addressing a scientifically-backed environmental threat more seriously.
5. Thinking (Processes) Outside the Box
At the age of 11, Thunberg suffered from a period of depression and lethargy. She stopped talking or eating. Terrified, her parents took her to a doctor—and finally got answers. Medics diagnosed her with Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and selective mutism. That means that if she’s choosing to speak up now, you can bet it’s really important.
6. Neurodivergent and Proud
Thunberg has described her diagnosis as a superpower, stating that “not really caring about social codes” has aided her trademark bluntness in addressing environmental issues. “We need people who think outside the box and who aren’t like everyone else.”
7. Sticks and Stones
Following Thunberg’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23rd 2019, President Donald Trump sarcastically tweeted, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” Thunberg had an epic clap back in response. She co-opted this statement as her bio on Twitter.
8. Diagnosed Darwinism
Thunberg also promotes framing diagnoses like Asperger syndrome as essential neurodiversity that is helpful to human advancement, rather than treating them as diseases in need of a cure.
9. Is That the Best You Can Do?
Although Thunberg has faced ample amounts of flack, criticism, and bullying not only for her bold environmental activism but also because of her neurological disorders, she refuses to let the haters hate. She tweeted the following about what’s really going on when you’re met with petty adversity: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!”
10. Hearth and Home
Every journey begins with a few steps, and Thunberg’s advocacy for environmental conservation began at home. She urged her family to adopt a lifestyle of reduced carbon footprint, resulting in the household going vegan and forfeiting flying. It was a great sacrifice. The latter meant Thunberg’s mother had to partially give up her international singing career.
11. Good Ol’ Mom and Dad
The support and sacrifices of Thunberg’s parents had a lasting effect on the teenager’s commitment to environmental activism. She credits their response with strengthening her belief that she could make a difference.
12. One Is the Loneliest Number
Thunberg’s protests began solo. Beginning in August 2018, Thunberg skipped school for three weeks leading up to the Swedish general election to sit outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign that read “skolstrejk för klimatet” or “school strike for climate.” But now, something magnificent is happening. Thousands upon thousands of people are marching with her.
13. The Heat Is on
The summer that Thunberg began her strike was an incredibly desperate time. It was the hottest summer Sweden had experienced in 262 years. The heat was so extreme it resulted in several heat waves and wild fires.
Thunberg maintained her original strike up until the Swedish general elections on September 9th, 2018. After that, she continued to strike on Fridays only.
15. Come One, Come All
The student Friday climate strikes quickly rallied attention and support. By December 2018, there were at least 270 cities worldwide, attended by more than 20,000 students.
16. From One to One Million
Just to drive home the sheer volume of people who have joined the protest, there have been at least two multi-city protests involving over 1 million students each. Bear in mind that this evolved from a single 15-year-old girl with a hand-written sign.
17. Fridays for Future
Fridays for Future is now an international movement, with both adult and child participants. Students skip school on Fridays in order to protest for stronger climate action on a governmental level.
18. Old Dogs, New Tricks
The adults in Thunberg’s life have had negative reactions. While her father isn’t crazy about Thunberg missing school, he has also said he knows she wouldn’t truly be happy if she couldn’t protest. Similarly, Thunberg has said her teachers, “as people,” support her work, but as teachers want her to stop.
19. I Could Write a Book…
The blunt, stirring, take-no-prisoners speeches that were partially responsible for the rise of Thunberg’s international recognition were published in May of 2019. The collection is entitled No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.
20. A Mother’s Perspective
Authorship runs in the family. In 2018, Thunberg’s mother Malena Ernman published an autobiography following the family as they toured Europe for Ernman’s singing career. Although the book centers on Ernman’s profession, it is about the whole family’s experience, and was written in collaboration with Ernman’s husband and both of their daughters, Greta and her sister Beata.
21. Setting Sail!
Since she’s committed to zero-carbon travel, Thunberg crossed the Atlantic using an ingenious plan. She used a wind-propelled sailing yacht that generates electricity using solar and hydro power. When she got stateside, the praise was deafening: Upon her arrival in New York after the two-week journey, Thunberg was greeted with thunderous applause.
22. You Need a Strong Thesis
The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet held a climate change essay competition in May 2018. It changed Thunberg’s life. She, no surprise, won the competition. The essay caught the attention of a climate change action group, Fossil Free Dalsland. While she was sitting in on one of their meetings, someone suggested a climate strike, further motivating Thunberg to make it happen.
23. The Kid’s Got a Point
Youth spoke, and eventually some grown-ups started listening. In February 2019, 224 academics signed an open letter of support for Thunberg, saying they were inspired by Thunberg and her supporters.
24. UN Backing
António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, has also proclaimed his endorsement of Thunberg’s activism and the school strikes. “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry,” he said in his official capacity.
25. Not Afraid to Point Fingers
Through the many speeches given and protests attended, Thunberg has maintained clear thematic messages. Firstly, that climate change is an imminent threat to civilization as we know it. Secondly, that she holds the current generation of adults responsible for the environmental crisis.
26. We Can Do Better
Thunberg has said that current strategies aimed at reducing carbon emissions are insufficient, and she advocates for policies that eliminate carbon emissions entirely rather than just lowering them.
27. Following Their Lead
Thunberg has one heartbreaking inspiration for her work. She says she was inspired to create a climate strike following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. After the shootings, several students protested by refusing to go back to school. These teen activists later organized the March for Our Lives advocating for stronger gun control in the US.
28. Science Is Cool
One of Thunberg’s signature slogans and platforms is to “unite behind the science.” Indeed, these words were emblazoned and the sale of the carbon-neutral yacht that took her on her transatlantic voyage.
29. A Force Unto Herself
Some people in the media have described the rising number of youth activists, both in regards to the climate strikes and other movements, as the “Greta Thunberg effect.” They also credit this phenomenon with the rising sales and publication of children’s books addressing climate change and the crisis, which have doubled as of August 2019.
30. Friends in High Places
For all of the controversy and push-back Thunberg has received, she has also earned the public support of some extremely powerful names. These include Britain’s secretary for the environment, Michael Gove, and wealthy American philanthropists like Trevor Neilson. Thunberg has closed massive donation deals through these figures.
31. Choo Choo!
Swedish Railways reported that between 2018 and 2019, 8% more of the Swedish population are choosing the train over air travel for domestic journeys–the Greta Thunberg effect continues! This phenomenon even has its own name on social media: “Flygskam,” or “Flying Shame.” It’s also got its own hashtag: #jagstannarpåmarken, or #istayontheground.
32. You’re out of Order!
Thunberg does have enemies—big ones. Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Turkey; these are the countries that Thunberg and 15 other young activists are filing a lawsuit against for not being on track to meet emission reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. There’s a bitter irony to France being one of these countries, n’est-ce pas?
33. Heck of a Time
Time magazine featured Thunberg on their May 2019 cover, naming her a “next generation leader.”
34. Thunberg in Thirty Minutes
Vice made a short documentary about Thunberg and the student climate strikes entitled Make the World Greta Again. The best part? It’s on YouTube.
35. How Dare You
Arguably Thunberg’s most stirring speech to date was at the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit on September 23, 2019. Probably the most widely discussed part of this speech was the accusation of, “How dare you.” But did you know that the speech in its entirety was short but impactful 495 words? Short, but oh so sweet.
36. I Dedicate This Award to…
In September of 2019, Thunberg received Amnesty International’s Ambassadors of Conscience Award. The prize is meant to celebrate “unique leadership and courage in standing up for human rights,” and is Amnesty International’s highest honor. Upon receiving the award, Thunberg made a very heartbreaking dedication.
She said the prize was for the millions of youth who have taken part in the climate strikes over the past year.
37. Put It on the Trophy Shelf
Thunberg has received more than 15 awards and similar honors in the comparatively brief period of her activism. Following her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, #Greta4NobelPrize quickly hit the trending list on Twitter in several countries. And guess what? She was officially nominated for a Nobel in March 2019. If she wins, she’ll be the youngest recipient ever.
38. Substitute Nobel
Whether Greta will claim the Nobel Prize remains to be seen. That being said, she is one of the winners of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award, colloquially known as the “alternative Nobel Prize.”
39. Done With This
Thunberg’s first solo strike also featured leaflets, which Thunberg handed out. Inside was a disturbing message. They read, “I am doing this because you adults are [crapping] on my future.”
40. Sorry, I’m Busy
It wasn’t for want of trying to rally her fellows that Thunberg’s strikes began as a solo endeavor. She tried to persuade other young people to join her and take action, but they dealt her an awful blow. As she said, “no one was really interested.” Well, who needs ‘em?
41. Skip the Pleasantries
Thunberg has become famous for her blunt, often scolding address of political figures—but few people realize just how scathing she can be. She has accused world leaders of acting like children, and most recently gained infamy for that “How dare you” speech at the UN Climate Action Summit. Honestly? She’s not wrong.
42. TED Talkin’
When she spoke at TEDxStockholm in 2018, Thunberg said she didn’t go to school to become a climate scientist, which people often suggest to her. She has a chilling reason for this. As she says, all the science behind climate change is complete. According to Thunberg, the work left to be done is combating ignorance and denial.
43. That’s My Face, You Can’t Have It
In 2018, someone extremely close to Thunberg coldly betrayed her. Late that year, Ingmar Rentzhog of the organization We Don’t Have time used Thunberg’s image and name without her knowledge in order to raise millions. Though Thunberg had a role in the company, it was only as an unpaid youth advisor. Following this debacle, she terminated her advisory role with WDHT. As she said, “[I] do what I do completely for free.”