““Can you hear me?” Greta Thunberg asks the 150 members and advisers in the U.K. Houses of Parliament. She taps the microphone as if to check if it’s on, but the gesture is meant as a rebuke; she’s asking if they’re listening. She asks again later in her speech. “Did you hear what I just said? Is my English O.K.? Is my microphone on? Because I’m beginning to wonder.” There is laughter, but it’s unclear if it’s amused or awkward. Thunberg is not smiling. She’s here to talk climate; a catastrophe is looming, her generation will bear it, and she knows whom to blame. “You did not act in time,” she declares.
“Castigating the powerful has become routine for the 16-year-old. In December, she addressed the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland; in January she berated billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her London speech was the last stop of a tour that included meeting the Pope. (“Continue to work, continue,” he told her, ending with, “Go along, go ahead.” It was an exhortation, not a dismissal.)
“Just nine months ago, Thunberg had no such audiences. She was a lone figure sitting outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, carrying a sign emblazoned with Skolstrejk for Klimatet (School Strike for Climate). She was there for a reason that felt primal and personal.
““I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference,” she says.
“Inspired by the survivors of February 2018’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., she began a weekly schoolwork strike every Friday, turning to social media to implore politicians to support and take steps toward halting carbon emissions. Since the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December, Thunberg’s Twitter following has grown by nearly 4,000% to reach 612,000; many have also followed her lead offline, striking to demand change. “Before, I never really spoke when I was in my lessons or with my classmates,” she told me shortly after her London speech. “But now I am speaking to the whole world.”
“The world is listening. As well as spreading across Europe, the U.S. and Australia, students in Global South countries experiencing severe effects of climate change such as Brazil, Uganda and India have taken action too, following Thunberg’s lead. In the words of Parkland student Emma González, Thunberg’s way of “inspiring steadfast students and shaming apathetic adults” has turned her single idea into a worldwide movement.
“As the movement has attracted attention, Thunberg’s life has been transformed. “When I grow up, I want to be able to look back and say that I did everything I could,” she says. “I think that more people should feel like that.””