On December 11, TIME Magazine announced its Person of The Year. Teen-aged climate activist, Greta Thunberg, will take this year’s award after a year in which she has addressed the UN Climate conference in Madrid, the United Nations in New York, and the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Modest Thunberg has received much media attention since she, all alone, first sat outside the Parliament in Stockholm in August 2018. Prepared to forego school until the Swedish Parliament met in September, she was joined on the second day by a stranger. By early September, there was enough support that she announced she would continue a strike every Friday until Sweden aligned with the Paris Agreement.
At the end of 2018, Thunberg made her first big address at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland. “You say you love your children above all else,” she said, “and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
Since then her clear message has gone viral: she has met with chief executives, heads of state, thought leaders, movie stars, the Pope. She speaks quietly and forcefully and she calls adults to task: by refusing to act in the face of extraordinary crisis, she suggests they are being foolish at best, and corrupt at worst. These words threathen some, and in particular those high-placed politicians with thin skin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Thunberg entirely: “I don’t share the common excitement.” President Donald Trump mocked her sarcastically on Twitter as “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future,” and last week tweeted "Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!", while Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro called her an insulting word that roughly translated to “little brat.”
Thunberg’s response to these direct attacks has been to adopt the riducule into her Twitter bio, which is kept up to date with each new attack.
Her clear message is adding to the good groundwork that others have done for many years. In Europe, pressure from green parties in the European Parliament have helped to push a promise for a “Green Deal” for Europe.
TIME Magazine has reported that in the US, a clear majority of Americans now consider climate change a “crisis” or “major problem”. “Even Republican lawmakers who have long denied or dismissed climate science are taking note. In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy acknowledged that his party “should be a little bit nervous” about changing attitudes on climate.” This is an interesting comment given the massive relaxation of US environmental regulations since Trump took office two years ago.
But the wide-spread climate activism is also affecting global corporations who are at least acknowledging the PR benefits of chatter about sustainability. Among others, “in September, workers at Amazon, Facebook and other major companies walked out during the climate strikes. … In December, Klaus Schwab, the founder and CEO of the World Economic Forum, published a manifesto calling on global business leaders to embrace a more responsible form of capitalism that, among other things, forces companies to act “as a steward of the environmental and material universe for future generations.””