Tuesday 26 March 2019

The power of one: how Greta Thunberg is changing the world

Germany: 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg during a protest in Hamburg last week. Photo by Morris Mac Matzen
Germany: 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg during a protest in Hamburg last week. Photo by Morris Mac Matzen

'We can't save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change. And it has to start today."

Those were the words of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in her speech at TEDxStockholm last November. Several months earlier, as the country prepared for elections, she decided to strike outside the Swedish Parliament building to call on the government to take a radical response to climate change. Her actions attracted worldwide attention and have since inspired students across the globe to raise their own voices.

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Since the election, Greta has taken part in school strikes every Friday. She also addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference last year, and in January 2019 she was invited to talk to the World Economic Forum at Davos. Time magazine named her as one of the world's most influential teenagers in 2018.

Greta's activism has inspired the Fridays for Future movement, which sees students skip school each Friday in protest against government inaction towards climate change. Underlying the movement are some striking questions, as stated on their official website. "Why study for a future, which may not be there?" "Why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?"

While the movement is predominantly student-led, many adults including parents, grandparents and teachers have also taken part.

This wave of youth activism is gathering momentum. On Friday, a worldwide protest will see students from at least 57 countries strike from school to demand action from their respective governments. On the Fridays for Future website, 490 events around the world have already been registered. Thousands of Irish students are expected to take part, with events already registered for Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Kildare. Many schools and parents are backing the action. Over 60 schools nationwide have signed up to participate on March 15.

The rapid spread of Greta's message has been aided by the use of social media. Indeed, young people are mobilising their peers through mediums such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The trending hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Climatestrike have connected activists of all ages around the globe. The internet is also providing young people with access to scientific resources on climate change, allowing them to educate themselves on a topic which many say is not often mentioned in the classroom.

"I think that if a few children can make headlines across the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could do together if we wanted to?" said Greta in her Stockholm talk. With more and more young people joining the movement each week, only time will tell what they can achieve.

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