From The Straits Times    |


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Even if you haven’t been in touch with the news this year, there is no doubt that you couldn’t have heard of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. The Swedish teenager was recently named as Time’s Person of the Year.

She single-handedly started the Fridays for Future movement encouraging youth to strike from school on Fridays to fight for their future that is threatened by climate change. 

Greta’s climate change journey started when she 8. She was deeply affected by the lack of urgency among adults to solve the issue that by 11, she fell into a depression. She stopped eating and talking. 

During that period, Greta was also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD and selective mutism.

Her parents nursed her while changing their habits to reduce their carbon emissions to encourage their daughter. 

“We did all these things, basically, not really to save the climate, we didn’t care much about that initially…We did it to make her happy and to get her back to life,” said Greta’s father, Svante Thunberg, in the Time’s Person of the Year article. 

In May 2018, Greta wrote an essay on climate change that was published in a Swedish newspaper. It gained the attention of a few Scandinavian climate activists who contacted her but were not willing to protest.

Greta had wanted to follow the example of school strikes to protest gun violence in the US. 

On her own, in August 2018, Greta went on a school strike in front of the Swedish parliament to pressure the government to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Time article reported she wrote on each flyer: “My name is Greta, I am in ninth grade, and I am school-striking for the climate. Since you adults don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either.”

Greta is showing us the power of youth. Here are 5 ways Greta is leading the way in creating change in the world. Let her words inspire you: 

Her World's sustainability issue

1. It just takes one to make a difference

If a 16-year-old can get millions across the world to protest for their future in less than a year, imagine the things you can do as an adult with the resources you have. Also, social media helps.

“Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to,” said Greta in her speech at the COP24 in Katowice, Poland in 2018. 

2. Find your purpose, loner or not 


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Greta felt alone when she learned about climate change and couldn’t shake off how sad she felt about it.

On the first day of her school strike, she stood alone. Her Asperger’s limited her too but eventually, it didn’t stop her cause. 

“And believe me, my diagnosis has limited me before. Before I started school striking, I had no energy, no friends and I didn’t speak to anyone. I just sat alone at home, with an eating disorder.

“All of that is gone now, since I have found a meaning, in a world that sometimes seems meaningless to so many people,” wrote Greta in an Instagram post. 

3. Your difference is your superpower

Greta regards her Asperger’s as what makes her unique. It gives her intense focus and a direct way of speaking that betrays her age. 

She explains in a TEDxStockholm talk: “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary – now is one of those moments. For those of us who are on the spectrum, almost everything is black or white.

“We aren’t very good at lying, and we usually don’t enjoy participating in this social game that the rest of you seem so fond of.” 

Greta had also tweeted: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.” 

4. Who’s the adult here? Age is just a number

Greta has repeatedly schooled adults and shows who’s the mature one in her many speeches and Twitter responses over the year.

Grown men who are politicians (looking at you US and Brazil presidents) have stooped to the level of ‘haters gonna hate’ in their tweets about her. She showed her thick skin and humour by taking their comments and using them in her Twitter bio. 

In her speech to UK’s Houses of Parliament, Greta addressed naysayers, including then-prime minister Theresa May, saying: “I know many of you don’t want to listen to us – you say we are just children. But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science. 

“Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting valuable lesson time, but I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?”

Of course, her best schooling was in her most famous speech at the UN Climate Summit in New York, US.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

5. Less talk, more action

Greta says what she means and means what she says. 

In her speech to the US House of Representatives, she simply said: “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action.” 

At the COP25 UN Climate Conference in Madrid, Spain, Greta repeats herself: “For about a year I have been constantly talking about our rapidly declining carbon budgets over and over again. But since that is still being ignored, I will just keep repeating it.”

And she’s not one to hog the spotlight for no good reason. At the UN Youth Climate Summit in New York, US, she spoke for a mere few minutes saying: “Yesterday, millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united, and that we young people are unstoppable.” 

Let’s do more, be better, and try harder in the new year. 2020 seems like a good time to start.