The untold truth of Greta Thunberg

Earth's average temperature has risen and fallen naturally over many millennia, but according to NASA, "The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century." As of this writing, 18 of the last 19 years since 2001 have been the warmest years ever recorded. Per CBS, a 2019 report by more than 450 researchers who relied on 15,000 scientific and governmental sources warned that 1 million plant and animal species face extinction due to climate change. Even the U.S. Department of Defense has weighed in, calling climate change a serious threat to national security.

In the face of such daunting prospects, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has made it her mission to lower greenhouse gas emissions and make the world a greener, more sustainable place. In 2018, a 15-year-old Thunberg began galvanizing youth all over the globe and taking world leaders to task for failing to take climate change seriously. In 2019, an estimated 1.6 million people participated in a climate strike she directly inspired. Here's the story of how Greta Thunberg became the face of the climate youth movement and the obstacles she has faced on her journey.

Greta Thunberg has cared about climate change since age 8

Anyone who's listened to Greta Thunberg probably knows that she'll tell you, "I don't want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists." Thunberg has been listening to climate scientists since age 8, according to the Guardian. Stunned by the apparent indifference of adults and consumed by concerns about the future, she later fell into a deep depression.

It's important to note that Thunberg has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder often characterized by social awkwardness, difficulty interpreting social cues, and an obsessive preoccupation with a particular interest. As Thunberg put it, "I overthink. Some people can just let things go, but I can't." In school, videos of starving polar bears and pollution reduced her to tears. Devastated by the world's disastrous trajectory, she stopped going to school and even stopped eating. She recalled in an interview, "I almost starved to death." 

Eventually, Thunberg concluded that "the best medicine against that concern and sadness is to do something about it, to try to make a change." She started by convincing her parents to become more climate-conscious. She bombarded them with graphs, got them to watch documentaries, and read books. "I made them feel so guilty," she said. And little by little, it worked. Thunberg's mother, a popular opera singer, ultimately quit traveling by plane and her father became a vegetarian.

Greta Thunberg sees Asperger's syndrome as her superpower

Some of Greta Thunberg's conservative critics have attempted to discredit her by bringing up her Asperger's syndrome and past struggles with depression. The Times Union reported that Maxime Bernier, head of the People's Party of Canada, branded her "clearly mentally unstable," citing Thunberg's autism spectrum disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and previous mental health woes. Media Matters recounted how Daily Wire podcaster Michael Knowles went after Thunberg on Fox News, calling her a "mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents." 

Of course, if mental illness alone invalidates someone's ideas, then nobody should take Isaac Newton's claims about calculus or gravity seriously because, as noted by Live Science, the father of modern science  was "prone to bouts of depression and once suffered a mental breakdown." In fact, many people deemed geniuses throughout history were often neurotic or mentally ill. And Asperger's syndrome, which used to be classified as a mental illness, according to the UK National Health Service, doesn't impair intelligence. Rather, it diminishes social skills and makes communication difficult. 

Far from seeing her Asperger's as a disadvantage, Thunberg has called it a "superpower." She has a point. As Time points out, scientific research on child prodigies shows a high occurrence of traits related to autism in general and Asperger's especially. Per the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, autism tends to reduce "irrational decision-making" because it increases people's "drive to seek information in ambiguous circumstances."

Greta Thunberg's inspirations include Rosa Parks and Parkland protesters

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks said that "each person must live their life as a model for others." Parks — a "shy and soft-spoken" person, according to PBS – would serve as a role model for Greta Thunberg. As Thunberg explained, "I learned she was an introvert, and I'm also an introvert. And I thought, 'It's not just extroverts, we introverts can make our voices heard.'" It must have been a powerful realization for Thunberg, who told the Guardian, "I have always been that girl in the back who doesn't say anything. I thought I couldn't make a difference because I was too small." 

In 2018, Thunberg spoke out about climate change in a huge way. That summer, forest fires turned parts of the Swedish landscape into a sweltering hellscape amid a record-setting heatwave. Thunberg wanted to make parliament take notice in the lead-up to the national elections. She found inspiration in the students in Parkland, Florida, who led a nationwide school walkout to protest the epidemic of school shootings and gun violence engulfing the U.S. 

Thunberg skipped school and sat outside the Swedish parliament alone with a self-made sign. Inspired by her quiet courage, more protesters turned up for her second outing. The movement gained and Thunberg, despite being shy and quiet, even gave a speech. It marked the start of a remarkable movement inspired by a girl who lives her life as an example for others.

Greta Thunberg talks the talk and takes the train

When an environmental doomsday looms in the not-too-distant future, it makes sense to tell humans they need to try harder to live within their ecological means. And Greta Thunberg doesn't just talk the talk; according to the Guardian, she also eats the eat, maintaining a vegan diet. Based on findings from a study of 119 countries, Oxford University researcher Joseph Poore concluded, "A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use."

When she isn't holding sit-ins, Thunberg also walks the walk with the smallest carbon footprint she can reasonably manage, which sometimes means taking the train. In fact, when traveling long distances on land, she exclusively uses trains, which are far more environmentally friendly than air travel, according to a 2018 analysis of routes throughout Europe conducted by Die Welt. 

Per Business Insider, in 2019 Thunberg took a 65-hour round trip train ride between Switzerland and Sweden. When she needed to cross the ocean to visit the U.S., Thunberg traveled on a solar-powered, zero-emissions yacht that CBS said had no kitchen, bathroom, refrigerator, or heater. So you could say that she talks the talk and "walks the walk" on water.

Greta Thunberg helped sue five countries

To quote Jim Croce, "You don't tug on Superman's cape." Unless, of course, you're Greta Thunberg and Superman contributes heavily to global climate change – in which case Thunberg will tug on his cape and tell him his X-ray vision is shortsighted. And if that doesn't sway him, she'll try to sue the "S" off his chest. As described by the Conversation, in 2019, Thunberg and 15 other young climate activists tried to sue the "S" out of France, Germany, Turkey, Argentina, and Brazil (none of which contain an actual "S," oddly enough). The youths, whose ages range from 9- to 17-years-old, aren't looking for a payday but rather to force these five countries — in cooperation with other nations — to set legally legally binding emission reduction targets. 

The legal framework that allows the Thunberg and company — or as we like to call them, the Climate Friends — to even attempt this lawsuit is laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention requires participating countries to act within the best interest of children when taking any legislative action which concerns their well-being. Per UNICEF, "Children will bear the brunt of climate change" as droughts and extreme weather events increase and diseases spread more rapidly. If you're wondering why the Climate Friends didn't sue the world's biggest superpower, the United States, well, the U.S. refused to ratify the treaty. 

Greta Thunberg gives world leaders an earful

"Castigating the powerful has become routine" for Greta Thunberg, according to Time. Since her ascension to the world stage, she led the life of an anti-jetsetter — a trainsetter, if you will, traveling far and wide to warn world leaders about how far behind they are on preventing an impending climate disaster. She has spoken to the UK Parliament, to the U.S. Congress, and at a climate conference in Poland. And when she speaks, she doesn't mince words. 

During a fiery speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Thunberg  asserted, "Our house is on fire," and then proceeded to verbally torch the billionaires in attendance for focusing on wealth at the planet's expense. In the United States, she famously tore into the United Nations. Eyes blazing with urgency, she declared, "How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words." She ripped into "fairytales of eternal economic growth." She warned that "the eyes of all future generations are upon you and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you."

Detractors have laughed at Thunberg's looks and mocked her "monotone voice" but some pretty high-profile figures actually listened to her words and encouraged her to keep speaking. Pope Francis, praised her efforts, met Thunberg in person, and urged her to "continue to work." She has also bumped fists with Barack Obama, who told her, "You and me, we're a team." 

Greta Thunberg's climate activism angers right-wingers

The politics surrounding environmentalism are so contentious in the U.S. that according to a 2013 study in PNAS, American conservatives are significantly less likely to buy energy-efficient light bulbs that are labeled as ecologically friendly, even if they know those light bulbs will benefit them economically. (Without the eco-friendly label, they opt for energy efficiency). So it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that Greta Thunberg's efforts to counteract rising global temperatures make the blood of some right-wing media figures boil. 

Media Matters compiled a list of some of the numerous right-wing attacks on Thunberg. For instance, Steve Milloy, who was part of Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency transition team, tweeted, "Greta the Climate Puppet leads a twisted cult." Fox News host Laura Ingraham likened Thunberg to a character from Children of the Corn. Right-wing author, filmmaker, and convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza likened Thunberg to pigtailed Nordic girls featured in Nazi propaganda. Others insulted her looks and suggested she was mentally disabled.

According to Rolling Stone, many right-wing media personalities argue that young climate activists like Thunberg were "indoctrinated" by their parents. After all, what free-thinking teenager in their right mind would be against polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink? How could 16-year-olds, who are only two years away from legal adulthood in the U.S. and Sweden, form independent opinions about climate change that disagree with right-wingers?

Greta Thunberg meets AOC

In 2019, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) introduced her Green New Deal resolution, which says that the United States has "a duty" to "achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions," provide clean air and clean water and ensure economic justice among other things. Republicans quickly ripped the resolution, with Donald Trump falsely claiming that the Green New Deal would "permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military." According to Forbes and the Atlantic, Greta Thunberg also has objections.

The Atlantic that Thunberg "rejects specific policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, instructing politicians instead to 'listen to the science.'" But when Thunberg "made that statement" to Congress, she was urging them to listen to the scientists instead of her and making a call for swift action, not calling out a piece of legislation. More importantly, the Green New Deal literally cites climate science in the text. Meanwhile, Forbes wrote that that Thunberg was critiquing the Green New Deal when she criticized the partisanship and fairy tales. The analysis almost blames Democrats for Republican denials of climate science, claiming they became mainstream during Al Gore's presidential run. It further argues that proposing the GND makes it a liberal issue. Greta Thunberg actually met AOC in person in 2019, and they seemed like two peas in a Green New Pod. Far from critical, Thunberg told the congresswoman, "Thank you so much for standing up and offering hope to so many people, even here in Sweden." 

Donald Trump takes a swipe at Greta Thunberg

When pressed about whether she would try to change President Donald Trump's mind about climate change, Greta Thunberg told reporters, "'Listen to the science' and he obviously does not do that. If no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis and the urgency, why would I be able to?" 

Thunberg's stance is understandable. Trump has tweeted that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." As president he uprooted green policies put in place by Barack Obama. The Independent reported that as of September 2019, Trump had "rolled back or attempted to roll back 85 environmental regulations," including rules designed to protect people from asbestos, air pollution, unclean water, and lead paint.

Trump might not listen to science, but he apparently listened to Thunberg tell UN members that world leaders are failing to the detriment of children all over the world. In response, the president tweeted, "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Thunberg in turn adopted his description as her Twitter bio. After seeing Trump's unique brand of statesmanship on full display internet discovered an anti-bullying message that Thunberg tweeted weeks earlier: "When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you're winning!"

Greta Thunberg received the "alternate Nobel Prize"

It's not easy being green, especially when climate change threatens to exacerbate the spread of a "deadly frog disease," per the BBC. It's also not easy pushing for a greener world, especially when others push back. The road gets rougher when you enter the realm of politics, where people's approach to intellectual honesty is rarely intellectual or honest. Even worse, often success seems like a long shot at best. But as Greta Thunberg said, "Of course it's difficult to think about the climate crisis, but that is not an excuse for not doing anything. Even if there's no hope, we have to do everything in our power to stop this."

Despite the size of the challenge, despite detractors laughing at her looks and mocking her "monotone voice," despite people calling her a pawn who couldn't possibly thinking for herself, despite critics attempting to use her past struggles with depression against her, she trudges forward and inspires millions of people to try. That's why she's been nominated for a Nobel Prize and why the Right Livelihood Foundation awarded Greta Thunberg the "alternative Nobel Prize." According to CBS, that prize comes with $103,000 in cash. Upon accepting the honor, Thunberg graciously declared, "It is not me who is the winner. I am part of a global movement of school children, youth and adults of all ages who have decided to act in defense of our living planet. I share this award with them."