Greta Thunberg was born on 3 January 2003 in Stockholm, Sweden, the daughter of opera singer Malena Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg. Her paternal grandfather was actor and director Olof Thunberg.
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg FRSGS (Swedish: [ˈɡrêːta ˈtʉ̂ːnbærj] (listen); born 3 January 2003) is a Swedish environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition. Thunberg is known for her straightforward speaking manner, both in public and to political leaders and assemblies, in which she urges immediate action to address the climate crisis.
Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was eight years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. The situation made her depressed. She stopped talking and eating, and lost ten kilograms (22 lb) in two months. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. In one of her first speeches demanding climate action, Thunberg described the selective mutism aspect of her condition as meaning she "only speaks when necessary".
Greta struggled with depression for three or four years before she began her school strike. When she started protesting, her parents did not support her activism. Her father said he does not like her missing school but said: "[We] respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest, and be happy". Her Asperger diagnosis was made public nationwide in Sweden by her mother in May 2015, in order to help other families in a similar situation. While acknowledging that her diagnosis "has limited me before", Thunberg does not view her Asperger's as an illness, and has instead called it her "superpower".
Thunberg's activism started after convincing her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint. In August 2018, at age 15, she started spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on climate change by holding up a sign reading Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate). Soon, other students engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Together, they organised a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays for Future. After Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were multiple coordinated multi-city protests involving over a million students each. To avoid flying, Thunberg sailed to North America where she attended the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. Her speech there, in which she exclaimed "how dare you", was widely taken up by the press and incorporated into music.
In August 2018, Thunberg began the school climate strikes and public speeches for which she has become an internationally recognised climate activist. In an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, she said she first got the idea of a climate strike after school shootings in the United States in February 2018 led to several youths refusing to go back to school. These teen activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, went on to organise the March for Our Lives in support of greater gun control. In May 2018, Thunberg won a climate change essay competition held by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. In part, she wrote "I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history?”
Thunberg has received various honours and awards over the course of her activism. Before the start of her school strike in May 2018, she was one of the winners of a climate change essay competition by Svenska Dagbladet (The Swedish Daily News) for young people. Thunberg has refused to attend ceremonies or accept prizes if it requires her to fly, such as for the International Children's Peace Prize. She has received prizes from various NGOs, but also from scientific institutions that lauded her success in raising awareness.
On 20 August 2018, Thunberg, who had just started ninth grade, decided not to attend school until the 2018 Swedish general election on 9 September; her protest began after the heat waves and wildfires during Sweden's hottest summer in at least 262 years. Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and she protested by sitting outside the Riksdag every day for three weeks during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate).
After October 2018, Thunberg's activism evolved from solitary protesting to taking part in demonstrations throughout Europe; making several high-profile public speeches, and mobilising her growing number of followers on social media platforms. After the December 2018 general elections, Thunberg continued to strike only on Fridays. She inspired school students across the globe to take part in student strikes. That month, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in at least 270 cities.
— Greta Thunberg in her TEDx TalkStockholm, November 2018
Some of Thunberg's speeches have been incorporated into music. In 2019, Thunberg contributed a voiceover for a release of "The 1975", a song by the English band by the same name. Thunberg finishes the song by urging: "So, everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel." Proceeds will go to Extinction Rebellion at Thunberg's request. In September 2019, John Meredith set her UN Action Summit speech to death metal. The Australian musician Megan Washington and composer Robert Davidson used the same 'how dare you' speech, for a performance at an event exploring the future of music. DJ Fatboy Slim created a mashup of this speech with his dance hit Right Here, Right Now.
Her speech during the plenary session of the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) went viral. She commented that the world leaders present were "not mature enough to tell it like it is". In the first half of 2019 she joined various student protests around Europe, and was invited to speak at various forums and parliaments. At the January 2019 World Economic Forum, Thunberg gave a speech in which she declared: "Our house is on fire". She addressed the British, European and French parliaments, where in the latter case several right-wing politicians boycotted her. In a short meeting with Thunberg, Pope Francis thanked her and encouraged her to continue. By March 2019, Thunberg was still staging her regular protests outside the Swedish parliament every Friday, where other students occasionally joined her. According to her father, her activism has not interfered with her schoolwork, but she has had less spare time. She finished lower secondary school with good grades. In July 2019, Time magazine reported Thunberg was taking a "sabbatical year" from school, intending to travel in the Americas while meeting people from the climate movement.
In February 2019, 224 academics signed an open letter of support stating they were inspired by Thunberg's actions and the striking school children in making their voices heard. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres endorsed the school strikes initiated by Thunberg, admitting that "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." Speaking at an event in New Zealand in May 2019, Guterres said his generation was "not winning the battle against climate change" and that it's up to youth to "rescue the planet".
In February 2019, Thunberg shared a stage with the then President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, where he outlined "In the next financial period from 2021 to 2027, every fourth euro spent within the EU budget will go towards action to mitigate climate change". Climate issues also played a significant role in European Parliament election in May 2019 as Green parties recorded their best ever result, boosting their MEP seat numbers from 52 to 72. Many of the gains came from northern European countries where young people have taken to the streets inspired by Thunberg.
More specifically, Thunberg has argued that commitments made at the Paris Agreement are insufficient to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and that the greenhouse gas emissions curve needs to start declining steeply no later than 2020—as detailed in the IPCC's 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° C. In February 2019, at a conference of the European Economic and Social Committee, she said that the EU's current intention to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 is "not sufficient to protect the future for children growing up today" and that the EU must reduce their CO2 emissions by 80%, double the 40% goal.
Make the World Greta Again, is a 30-minute documentary released by Vice featuring interviews with a number of youth protest leaders in Europe, and showing the run-up to the March 2019 global climate protests. Greta (working title) is a planned 2020 documentary for Hulu, produced by Cecilia Nessen and Frederik Heinig via B-Reel Films, and directed by Nathan Grossman." On January 29, 2020, Thunberg announced that she filed to trademark her name, the name "Fridays for Future," and Skolstrejk för klimatet to protect her movement from commercial interests. She says she has no interest in trademarks, but "it needs to be done" because her name and movement were constantly being used for commercial purposes without consent.
Speaking at international forums, she berated world leaders that too little action is being taken to reduce global emissions. She makes the point that lowering emissions is not enough, and says emissions need to be reduced to zero if the world is to keep global warming to less than 1.5C. Speaking to the British Parliament in April 2019, she said: "The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual". In order to take the necessary action, she added that politicians should not listen to her, they should listen to what the scientists are saying about how to address the crisis.
Greta Thunberg has been depicted in popular culture and art. Greta and the Giants, a book by Zoë Tucker and Zoe Persico, published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books was inspired by the life of Thunberg. American painter Elizabeth Peyton chose her 2019 portrait Greta Thunberg as the leading image of one of her shows. She has been depicted in multiple murals. In Bristol, a 15-metre-high (49 ft) mural of Thunberg by artist Jody Thomas, portrays the bottom half of her face as if under rising sea water since May 2019. Thunberg was featured on the Time magazine cover in May 2019 issue, where she was described as a role model and one of the "next generation leaders". She and fifteen others were featured on the cover of the fashion magazine Vogue created by guest editor Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in September 2019.
In June 2019, a YouGov poll in Britain found that public concern about the environment had soared to record levels in the UK since Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion had "pierced the bubble of denial". In August 2019, publication and sales of children's books about the climate crisis reportedly doubled compared to the previous year. Publishers attribute this to the "Greta effect". Inspired by Thunberg, wealthy philanthropists and investors from the United States have donated about $600,000 to support Extinction Rebellion and school strike groups to establish the Climate Emergency Fund. Trevor Neilson, one of the philanthropists, said the three founders would be contacting friends among the global mega-rich to donate "a hundred times" more in the weeks and months ahead. In December 2019, the New Scientist described the impact made by Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion with the headline: "The year the world woke up to climate change".
Thunberg has spearheaded the anti-flying movement, promoting train travel over flying on environmental grounds. The buzzword associated with this movement is flygskam or 'flight shame'. It is a phenomenon in which people feel social pressure not to fly because of the rising greenhouse gas emissions of the airline industry. It was originally championed by Swedish Olympic athlete Björn Ferry, but has gained significant momentum after Thunberg’s refusal to fly on environmental grounds. Thunberg backed the campaign to fly less, and made it part of her 2019 "awareness tour" in Europe. Sweden has reported a 4% drop in domestic air travel for 2019 and an increase in rail use. The BBC says that the movement could halve the growth of global air travel, but Airbus and Boeing say that they still expect to grow at around 4% until 2035. In June 2019, Swedish Railways (SJ) reported that the number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys had risen by 8% from the previous year, reflecting growing public concern (reflected in a survey published by the Swedish Railways) about the impact of flying on CO2 emissions.
In August 2019, Scott Walsman wrote in Scientific American that Thunberg's detractors have "launched personal attacks", "bash [her] autism", and "increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence." Writing in The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty said that columnists including Brendan O'Neill, Toby Young, the blog Guido Fawkes, as well as Helen Dale and Rod Liddle at The Spectator and The Sunday Times had been making "ugly personal attacks" on Thunberg. British TV presenter Piers Morgan also mocked Thunberg. As part of its climate change denial, Germany's right wing Alternative for Germany party has attacked Thunberg "in fairly vicious ways", according to Jakob Guhl, a researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
In August 2019, Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, England, to New York, USA, in the 60-foot (18 m) racing yacht Malizia II, equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines. The trip was announced as a carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing serving as a demonstration of Thunberg's declared beliefs of the importance of reducing emissions. France 24 reported that several crew would fly to New York to sail the yacht back to Europe. The voyage lasted fifteen days, from 14 to 28 August 2019. Thunberg was invited to give testimony in the US House Select Committe on the Climate Crisis on September 18. Instead of giving testimony, she gave an eight sentence statement and submitted the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C as evidence.
In Canada, Thunberg participated in climate protests in the cities of Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver including leading a climate rally as part of the 27 September Global Climate Strike in Montreal. The school strikes for climate on 20 and 27 September 2019 were attended by over four million people, according to one of the co-organisers. Hundreds of thousands took part in the protest described as the largest in the city's history. The mayor of Montreal gave her the Freedom of the City. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance, and Thunberg spoke briefly with him. While in the United States, Thunberg participated in climate protests in New York City, Iowa City, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Denver, and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. In various cities, Thunberg's keynote speech began by acknowledging that she was standing on land that originally belonged to Indigenous peoples, saying: "In acknowledging the enormous injustices inflicted upon these people, we must also mention the many enslaved and indentured servants whose labour the world still profits from today."
In September 2019, Donald Trump shared a video of Thunberg angrily addressing world leaders, along with her quote that "people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction". Trump wrote about Thunberg, tweeting: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Thunberg reacted by changing her Twitter bio to match his description, and stating that she could not "understand why grown-ups would choose to mock children and teenagers for just communicating and acting on the science when they could do something good instead." In December 2019, President Trump again mocked Thunberg after she was named Person of the Year for 2019 by Time magazine: "So ridiculous", Trump tweeted. "Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!" Thunberg responded by changing her Twitter biography to: "A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend."
Presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke, and Bernie Sanders expressed support after her speech at the September 2019 action summit in New York. German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that young activists like Thunberg had driven her government to act faster on climate change.
In October 2019, Vladimir Putin described Thunberg as a "kind girl and very sincere", while suggesting she was being manipulated to serve others' interests. Putin criticised her as "poorly informed": "No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden." Similar to her reaction to Trump, Thunberg updated her Twitter bio to reflect Putin's description of her. In December 2019, Thunberg tweeted "Indigenous people are literally being murdered for trying to protect the forrest [sic] from illegal deforestation. Over and over again. It is shameful that the world remains silent about this". When asked about this subject two days later, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro responded: "Greta said that the Indians were dying because they were trying to protect the Amazon. It is impressive how the press gives voice to such a brat." On the same day, Thunberg changed her Twitter description to "pirralha", the Portuguese word for "brat" used by Bolsonaro.
— Greta ThunbergPerson of the YearTIME magazine October 2019
Thunberg had intended to remain in the Americas to travel overland to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) originally planned in Santiago, Chile in December. However, it was announced on short notice that COP25 was to be moved to Madrid, Spain, because of serious public unrest in Chile. Thunberg has refused to fly because of the carbon emissions from air travel, so she posted on social media that she needed a ride across the Atlantic Ocean. Riley Whitelum and his wife, Elayna Carausu, two Australians who had been sailing around the world aboard their 48-foot (15 m) catamaran, La Vagabonde, offered to take her. So, on 13 November 2019, Thunberg set sail from Hampton, Virginia, for Lisbon, Portugal. Her departing message was the same as it has been since she began her activism: "My message to the Americans is the same as to everyone – that is to unite behind the science and to act on the science."
Interviewed in December 2019 by the BBC, her father said his wife stopped flying to try to 'save' their daughter rather than the climate. He added: "To be honest, (her mother) didn't do it to save the climate. She did it to save her child because she saw how much it meant to her, and then, when she did that, she saw how much (Greta) grew from that, how much energy she got from it."
On 30th December 2019 Thunberg was guest editor of the BBC Radio's flagship current affairs programme, the Today Programme. Thunberg's edition of the programme featured interviews on climate change with Sir David Attenborough, Bank of England chief Mark Carney, Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja, and Shell Oil executive Maarten Wetselaar. The BBC subsequently released a podcast containing these interviews and other highlights. On 11 January 2020 Thunberg called on German company Siemens to stop the delivery of railway equipment to the controversial Carmichael coal mine operated by a subsidiary of Indian company Adani Group in Australia, but on 13 January Siemens said that it would continue to honour its contract with Adani.
Thunberg arrived in the Port of Lisbon on 3 December 2019, then travelled on to Madrid to speak at COP25 and to participate with the local Fridays for Future climate strikers. During a press conference before the march, she called for more "concrete action," arguing that the global wave of school strikes over the previous year had "achieved nothing", because greenhouse gas emissions were still rising—by 4% since 2015.
Thunberg has pointed out that climate change will have a disproportionate effect on young people whose futures will be profoundly affected. She argued that her generation may not have a future any more, because "that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money". She also has made the point that people in the Global South will suffer most from climate change, even though they have contributed least in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Thunberg has voiced support for other young activists from developing countries who are already facing the damaging effects of climate change. Speaking in Madrid in December 2019, she said: "We talk about our future, they talk about their present."
On 21 January 2020, Thunberg returned to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, delivered two speeches, and participated in panel discussions hosted by The New York Times and the World Economic Forum. Thunberg used many of the themes contained in her previous speeches, but focused on one in particular: "Our house is still on fire." Thunberg joked that she cannot complain about not being heard, saying: "I am being heard all the time."
In February 2020, BBC Studios announced that it is set to produce a new documentary series about Thunberg and her work.