How one Swedish teenager inspired a global movement for climate action

As school pupils around the world prepare to walk out of lessons and strike for the climate, we explore how a solo protest outside the Swedish parliament by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg sparked a global movement.

climate strike

Today, Friday 15 March, sees climate strikes take place in more than 1,500 towns and cities across 105 countries worldwide, involving hundreds of thousands of young people. But what has prompted this unprecedented global action? 

It all started in Sweden in August 2018, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to skip school and sitin front of the Swedish parliament with a hand-painted banner every day for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. 

I’ve always been that girl, in the back, who doesn’t say anything. And so I thought that I couldn’t make a difference… because I was too small.”

The inspiration for her school strike came two years earlier when Greta saw a film about negative emissions technologies (NETs) and learnt that they would not be sufficiently well developed in her lifetime to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

greta thunberg

Greta became very afraid and found herself constantly worrying about global warming. She felt she had to do something and decided to follow the lead of the US students who staged a national walk-out to demand action on gun violence after 17 pupils were shot dead at a high school in Florida.

Greta decided to continue striking every Friday until Swedish policies are aligned line with the Paris agreement. She posted about what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and her activism was contagious. 

What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.”

She began to gain international attention after giving an incredibly powerful and emotive speech at TEDxStockholm in November of last year. The following month she was invited to speak at the COP24 climate summit in Poland, where she told the assembled world leaders that they were behaving like children. A few weeks later she was named one of the world’s most influential teenagers by TIME Magazine and in January of this year, she addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

I don’t want your hope. 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.” 

greta thunberg

The hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #ClimateStrike gained momentum and many students and adults began to protest outside of parliaments and local city halls all over the world. In the UK, a UK-wide school strike on 15 February saw more than 10,000 young people walk out of schools in at least 60 towns and cities.

Yesterday it was announced that Greta Thunberg has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize – and rightly so. This young woman has done more to raise awareness and drive action in a few short months than world leaders and policy makers have achieved in the same number of years.

The global climate strike taking place today is tipped to be one of the biggest environmental protests the world has ever seen. Will you be there?

We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change — and it has to start today.”

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