Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg and the "Greta Thunberg Effect"

A 16-year-old Swedish girl with braids is on Time Magazine's cover, nominated for a Nobel Prize, giving OPEC fits, and just might be keeping Donald Trump awake at night.
Marcia Wendorf

No matter which side of the climate change debate you are on, the facts speak for themselves. In July 2019, Alaska experienced all-time record heat of 90 degrees F. This past weekend in Washington D.C., the temperature soared to well over 100 degrees F.

Washington is home to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese, and who has dismissed a scientific report on climate change produced by his own scientists. The Trump administration has also attempted to roll back key climate regulations.


While the "adults in the room" wrestle with the question of whether climate change is real or not, there is a quiet "children's crusade" going on with an unlikely figure at its head — a Swedish 16-year-old who wears braids. Meet Greta Thunberg.

Greta Thunberg protesting at the Swedish Parliament
Greta Thunberg protesting at the Swedish parliament. Source: Anders Hellberg/Wikimedia Commons

The summer of 2018 was Sweden's hottest in 262 years. In August, ninth-grader Thunberg began protesting every day outside of Sweden's parliament, demanding that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Following the September 2018 Swedish general election, Thunberg continued protesting, but only on Fridays, and she inspired school students across the world to take part in student strikes.

Thunberg organized a "school strike for the climate," and on March 15, 2019, an estimated 1.4 million students from 112 countries joined Thunberg and walked out of their classrooms for a day. The students demanded stronger action and policies to address climate change.

Students marched across Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Philippines, India, Mauritius, Nigeria, Kenya, Luxembourg, Italy, France, Sweden, Spain, Iceland, Ukraine, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Chile, Poland, the Czech Republic, Israel, and South Africa.

In the U.S., the protests were coordinated by U.S. Youth Climate Strikes and Fridays for Future. In the UK, approximately 50,000 students took part, with 20,000 marching in London and with 4,000 marching in Brighton. On May 24, 2019, students from 125 countries demonstrated.

Thunberg's Speeches

On November 24, 2018, Thunberg spoke at TEDxStockholm. Then, on December 4, 2018, she addressed the United Nations Climate Change COP24 Conference in Katowice, Poland.

The speech she delivered will go down in history as one of the greatest speeches of all time, and it is even more extraordinary when you consider that it was delivered by a 15-year-old.

In January 2019, Thunberg spoke at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. With hundreds of private planes having delivered delegates to the gathering, Thunberg wasted no time in saying, "Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I think many of you here today belong to that group of people."

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She went on to say to delegates, "I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire – because it is."

On March 29, 2019, Thunberg spoke in front of 25,000 people in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate. At an April 2019 meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Thunberg told members of parliament and EU officials, "The extinction rate is up to 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day". She also addressed the erosion "... of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rain forest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans… are all disastrous trends." Following the speech, Thunberg received a 30-second standing ovation.

Thunberg at the European parliament
Thunberg at the European parliament. Source: European Parliament/Wikimedia Commons

The "Greta Thunberg Effect"

On March 13, 2019, two members of the Swedish parliament and three members of the Norwegian parliament nominated Thunberg for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. With announcements starting on October 7th, should Thunberg win, she would become the youngest recipient ever.

In May 2019, publisher Penguin released No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, which is a collection of Thunberg's speeches. That same month, artist Jody Thomas painted a 50-foot-high mural of Thunberg on a wall in Bristol, England.

Also in May 2019, Time Magazine put the 16-year-old on their cover, and media around the world started commenting on the "Greta Thunberg effect." Britain's secretary for the environment Michael Gove and Labour politician Ed Miliband have both praised Thunberg.

In May 2019 European elections, Green parties have almost doubled their vote, and in June 2019, Swedish Railways reported an 8 percent increase in the number of Swedes taking the train versus flying.

In their landmark 1974 book All the President's Men, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein described advice they were given by their secret source, "Deep Throat," to "follow the money."

On July 3, 2019, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mohammed Barkindo, called climate change campaigners such as Thunberg "perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward."

Barkindo added that this "mobilization" against oil was "beginning to ... dicate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry." To understand the effect that Thunberg is having: follow the money.

Thunberg's response was "They see us as a threat because we’re having an impact."

In an April 2019 article on The Huffington Post entitled, "Why They're Really Scared Of Greta Thunberg," writer Alan Grant says that Thunberg "frighten(s) the life out of a particular middle-aged and middle-class establishment type of person… and that the reaction to her is driven by the fear of knowing that losing their place to her and those like her (in political conversation) is inevitable."

If President Trump is awakened by bad dreams at 3:00 a.m. for one of of his famous "tweetstorms," it may not have been Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg that scared him. It might have been a young Swedish girl with braids.

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