Greta first encountered climate change at the tender age of eight. Like most children, she watched documentaries about global warming in school. And like most, Greta was affected.
But her classmates stopped talking about the planet after watching the films. After the screen was turned off and unplugged, suddenly, homework and cliques were once again the biggest concerns inside the classroom.
The images of global warming, however, stayed with Greta. And those are the same mental images she now uses to taunt world leaders into action.
How did Greta become the face of the global movement for the environment?
May 2018: An Essay Writing Competition
Greta’s ticket to the limelight was a climate change essay writing competition for Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper. Her piece, “We Know — and We Can Do Something Now,” bagged an award.
Her article caught the attention of Bo Thorén, a fellow climate activist who focused on the movement’s youth arm. He approached her and forwarded ideas on what young Swedish students could do to raise awareness about the issue.
With the goal to get people informed and concerned, Thorén suggested staging student protests at schools. He was inspired by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, who, after a horrific school shooting incident, staged protests to amend US gun laws.
The US movement proved to be effective; thousands of American students from Colorado to New York walked out of class and marched to state capitol buildings, calling for gun control laws. The strikes stirred more intense gun legislation debates in the American Congress.
Greta liked the idea of school protests. The problem was, nobody else did.
So she decided to strike on her own.
August 2018: A Solo Protest
In August 20, 2018, Greta walked out of school and marched to the Swedish Riksdag (the parliament). Bearing a cardboard sign that says “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (School Strike for the Climate), she stayed outside the building for the entire school day, from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM. She was handing out fliers filled with facts and figures on climate change.
The demand of her protest is clear: Greta calls for the Swedish government to reduce carbon emissions by 15 percent — levels stated in the Paris Agreement.
Twitter and Instagram posts about her solo protest lured journalists, who publicized her strike heavily.
The following day, Greta returned; only this time, she was joined by several other activists, who also stayed outside the building during school hours. The crowds grew bigger in the days leading to the Swedish National Elections, which were held on September 9.
At this point, Greta had been on strike for 21 days. In less than a month, her movement gained traction among the Swedish public.
The solo strike triggered a nationwide — then, worldwide — student protests for climate action. She used her newfound popularity to launch Fridays For Future (FFF), which called for students to skip school every Friday and hold strikes to demand the people in power to take action.
By December 2018, more than 20,000 students in 270 towns and cities in Australia, the United Kingdom, US, Belgium, and Japan attended the strikes.
March 2019: A Global Protest
During the course of the protests, Greta was invited to address several international bodies on climate change, like the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland in December 2018 and the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January 2019.
On March 15, 2019, FFF called for a global school strike. About 1.4 million people from 2,233 cities in 128 countries took to the streets.
A few months later, the number of protesters grew fivefold — the September Global Climate Strike saw over 7.6 million people across 185 countries holding placards and pressuring their leaders to implement change.
April 2019: A Speech at the European Union
As the new face of the global climate revolution, Greta was invited to speak at the European Union in April 2019. In her tearful speech, she likened global warming to our only house being on fire. Panic is required, action is necessary.
According to her, if the house in on fire, the EU wouldn’t have held three emergency Brexit summits and instead redirected their attention to the climate crisis.
September 2019: A Speech at the United Nations
Greta also chided the world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019. Referencing to their inaction, she exclaimed in her impassioned speech, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
In the summit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pushed representatives of participating nations to formulate concrete and realistic strategies to commit to zero emissions by 2050.
October 2019: A Nobel Peace Prize Miss
Greta’s movement has grown in a scale veteran environment activists did not expect. She was nominated by three Norwegian lawmakers for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize and became one of the favorite candidates from a pool of 300.
But she was passed over, and the laurel was awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The selection of the winner is very secretive, but experts surmise that Greta lost because there’s no linear, scientific connection between environmental degradation and armed conflict. Climate change — and its effects like heavy flooding and powerful storms — is not an established security issue. Moreover, Greta received the nomination in March 2019, before the movement landmarks, such as the March Global Protest and September Global Climate Strike.
Greta assures people, however, that she didn’t start the movement for awards or recognition. She mainly wants people who call the shots — those who have the power to implement widespread change — to help save the planet. It’s not a question of who wins what. It’s a question of survival.
As of October 2019, FFF records about 11 million strikers in about 6,400 cities in 220 countries.