Updated: Feb 2, 2020
By Elizabeth Gracen:
Let’s consider Greta Thunberg—the most talked-about Gen Z teenager of the moment—a Swedish activist who began a worldwide movement in August of 2018 through the simple act of skipping school and planting herself outside the Swedish Parliament with a hand-painted sign that read “Skolstrejk for klimatet” (School Strike for Climate). Within months, like a glittering, mononymous rockstar, the name “Greta” was on the worldwide lips of adoring fired-up teens and gobsmacked adults alike. In no time, Greta’s climate crisis fury and scientifically damning fact-based accusations aimed toward a sluggish status quo gridlocked on effective action to stop impending climate doom has sparked over four million people to join her cause in climate strikes across the world.
At the start of the new decade, Greta attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to once again speak for the youth and the future of planet Earth. Her impassioned speech, punctuated with her familiar, blunt “truth to power” pronouncements, was met with praise and support right alongside derision and mockery depending on how one’s affiliation with the fossil fuel industry aligned. Headlines from around the globe gleefully highlighted the ongoing feud between Greta and leaders from the U.S. government who deny the climate crisis, with Secretary Steve Mnuchin foolishly entering the verbal sparring ring to do battle with this formidable young woman some forty years younger and seventeen years more social media savvy. What was he thinking? Had he not seen the now-famous Twitter war between Greta and the President of the United States? Did he not know that such a battle is virtually unwinnable with a Gen Z social media wizard with nothing to lose but a bright future for Mother Earth? I mean, c’mon. All you can say to that is, “Okay, Boomer.”
When Greta was named Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of Year it was to honor her ability to create a “global attitudinal shift” in our perspective regarding climate change. What was a once-vague idea of the greenhouse gas effect or the fuzzy concept of rising sea levels has now slammed into us with the hard truth and grim reality of our climate emergency and what it means for future generations. Where Al Gore’s informative, award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth sought to educate us and shake us out of our complacent beliefs about sustainability with fact-based scenarios about global warming, Greta’s enraged voice in the wilderness has been forced to shout, “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”
In Time’s interview with Al Gore about the current climate movement sweeping the world, he said, “This moment does feel different. Throughout history, many great morally based movements have gained traction at the very moment when young people decided to make that movement their cause.”
Greta has willingly, yet reluctantly, stepped into the blaring spotlight of fame, aware of her polarizing effect on the world, but she has done it nonetheless—not for personal attention, but for justice. Her voice echoes that of the many youths I have interviewed for The Gen Z Collective project over the past two years since the first Women’s March in 2017. Greta is an inspiration to them all. She gives them hope in what appears to be an almost hopeless vision of the future. Her voice gives them encouragement to use their own to fight and stand up for what is right and just. She is the personification of their emotions, their incredibly dialed-in knowledge of the world, and their fight-or-flight instinct for survival.
Greta Thunberg is the necessary role model for these perilous times, and I, for one, am glad that she is.
“We deserve a safe future. And we demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”
(Global Climate Strike, New York, Sept. 20, 2019)