How Greta Thunberg mobilised millions to act on climate emergency in just a year

The 16-year-old Swedish teenager is one of the youngest climate change activists in the world.

Greta Thunberg is among the youngest and fiercest climate activists alive today. 20 August marked the first anniversary of the start of Greta Thunberg's strike for the future.

We're taking a look back at the journey and changes Thunberg has seen in her incredibly powerful year in the limelight, fighting for everyone's world like there's no tomorrow.

How it began

Thunberg was 15 when she stood outside the Swedish parliament with a hand-painted cardboard sign that read ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (School Strike for the Climate) and would continue to stand there every Friday till the media started taking notice. Slowly but surely her message began to spread. She handed out leaflets that read, "I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future." With sheer will and determination to make a difference, Thunberg kick-started what would grow into a global campaign for climate action.

Since then she has inspired millions of youth to take to the streets, in a peaceful and non-violent way, to show their frustrations with the inactions that their politicians with regard to climate change. Fridays for Future (FFF) is an organization that Thunberg founded to spread the reach and scale of her movement far and wide. Several branches have cropped up world-over that organize local protests and strikes every week on a Friday, in keeping with Thunberg's own tradition.   

As an activist, she is taking on powers and authorities in the world, forcing them to take notice of the state of the climate and act on it. In her view, and that of her millions-strong followers, politicians and people in power ought to act responsibly and dramatically if the world is to avoid catastrophe. Thunberg's media savvy, eco-activism has inspired a lot of people to raise their collective voices in protests, marches and online in support of urgent climate action.

Founder, the Greta Thunberg effect

The term ‘Greta Thunberg effect’ has been coined to explain the growing concerns a lot of children now have for the world and its changing climate. It also explains the increase in talks that politicians are now having after her speeches. This effect is not just limited to children and politicians – Sweden's general public has started using the trains for intercity travel instead of flying, said the Swedish railway authorities. They are actually embarrassed to travel by planes because of the environmental harm it causes, a phenomenon that goes by "flygskam" or "shame of flying," a word that has grown immensely popular since Thunberg’s public and outright refusal to fly anywhere. The hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #istayontheground, is also beings used plenty on Twitter.

Many of the countries and their governments in the UK are finally taking notice of the need for climate change and beginning to talk about implementing policies. However, that is not enough. OT quote Greta Thunberg, “'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 Thunerg during her speech at the World Economic Forum.

Greta Thunberg during her speech at the World Economic Forum.


Greta and the World

She was 15 when she spoke at TEDx Stockholm, revealing her diagnosis of ‘selective mutism.’ The complex childhood anxiety disorder in which a child is unable to speak or communicate effectively in certain social settings. As Greta puts it, that means she just talks when it's absolutely necessary. With all the speeches she gives on climate change, shows the significance of the topic for her.


Her speeches have been transcribed and immortalised in a book, No one is too small to make a difference by Penguin Books the proceeds of which go to charity. A 15-foot mural of Thunberg graces a wall in Bristol, England. The lower half of her face is submerged underwater, portraying rising sea levels resulting from climate change and global heating.





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Some of my speaches have been released as a book by Penguin Random House. It’s out now! All of my earnings will go to charity. Just like the other books by me + my family.


A post shared by Greta Thunberg (@gretathunberg) on

She has also lent her voice to an instrumental song for the British pop band 1975. Proceeds from this song were/will be given to Extinction Rebellion on Thunberg’s request. In the song, she talks about the urgency that is needed to deal with climate change and encourages people to not just talk about it but to actually do something. Thunberg’s activism has precipitated a global change of terms from 'climate change' to 'climate crisis' and from 'global warming' to 'global heating'. Thunberg has been featured in TIME magazineon the front page of GQ, and will also appear on Vogue in a special edition of the magazine guest-edited by the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markel. Greta has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish minsters and received the Amnesty International Award for 'Ambassador of Conscience'. She has also got the Prix Liberté award from France’s Normandy region this year.

In case you need any more convincing about the Thunberg's power today, she has been invited to speak at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in the French parliament amid calls for her boycott, to the European Union and the World Economic Forum, to name a few. She has also met the Pope, the former US President Barack Obama, actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on one-on-one exchanges.




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Yes we can. #fridaysforfuture #schoolstrike4climate #climatestrike A post shared by Greta Thunberg (@gretathunberg) on

Currently, Thunberg is sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on a zero-carbon-emission boat – the Malizia. It is a racing boat owned by Pierre Casiraghi, the grandson of the Prince of Monaco that has been fitted with solar panels and other gadgets to ensure that her journey is carbon-neutral. She is making a two-week journey to the US in the hopes of spreading awareness on climate change and attend the important UN Climate Summit in New York. (You can follow her journey here.)


Greta and India:

India hasn't been spared, free of Thunberg’s influence. Regular protests now take place in many states – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai more than most. Protests are organized by branches of the FridaysForFuture organisation in India. Youth attend in huge numbers, receiving support from another climate action group – Extinction Rebellion. The silent protests and marches usually end with speeches from activists who have been working on the ground. While people in India too, are starting to take notice of the climate crisis (more so than Greta herself), she has undoubtedly increased climate awareness and participation of people in action be leaps and bounds.

Now, what India desperately needs is a climate action policy. A recent Greenpeace report found that India has the most sulphur dioxide hotspots of any country in the world. Many states in southern Indian are facing acute water shortages while the states in northern India are drowning because of excess and unseasonal rain. Other growing problems include longer heatwave periods in the dry North and prolonged summers all over India. Increasing temperatures and air pollution affect many states making it unbearable to leave the house in summers. Deforestation to increase food production is also a major problem in India. There has been an upward trend in the increasing number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra because of droughts that are also an effect of climate change.

New young activists to look out for

There are other young climate warriors fighting for their right it live and for climate change all over the world. Licypriya Kangujam is a seven-year-old girl from Manipur, India and she is demanding the enactment of the climate change law in India. She is India's very own Greta Thunberg and has represented India and the children from the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region in the UN’s in the sixth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction 2019. She has also participated in the 2018 Asia Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risks Reduction that was held in Mongolia.

Katie Eder is a 19-year-old youth from American and the Executive director of Future Coalition, a youth lead organisation that is fighting and suing the US government for violating their right to life, liberty and property by knowingly contributing to climate change. The organization has started the #AllEyesonJuliana campaign which has 21 youth activists who are plaintiffs (accusers) in the case.

Nadia Nazar and Jamie Margolin are two young girls from Maryland, USA who have co-founded This is Zero Hour which is a movement working towards helping the youth find their voice with regard to climate change. They started their organization in 2017 and have organized many rallies, marches and protests with the most recent one being the D.C. Youth Climate Strike in Washington D.C, USA. They organized and lead the three day event that spoke about climate activism. Nazar is also the Maryland state lead for the U.S. Youth Climate Strikes.


The Meek Family is up of the two sisters Ella (13) and Amy(15) Meek from the united kingdom. They have founded the Kids Against Plastic campaign to encourage people, businesses and schools to stop using plastic and reduce the use of single-use plastic. They were heavily inspired by a youth movement in Bali called Bye Bye Plastic and have recently given their first TEDx talk. They are also two out of the 250 British #iwillambassadors who are trying to make a difference in their communities.

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