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  • Benedetta Ciavarro

Greta Thunberg: too much power for a teenager?

Greta Thunberg has been under the spotlight for the past year. She gained immediate popularity after being spotted outside the Swedish Parliament protesting against climate change. The image of a sixteen-year-old girl striking all by herself was so moving that it attracted international media attention right away. In the following months, she headed a protest movement called ‘Fridays for Future’ that united millions of students. Their goal is to raise awareness on climate change and to strike against politicians that do not take the issue seriously. This movement is based on the idea that young people need to rebel against the decisions of a generation that won’t live to see the damage it has been causing.

Greta was invited to speak to several institutional audiences, such as the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament and the United Nations Climate Action Summit. She delivered such emotional and engaging speeches that she was able to influence people’s views all around the globe. Towards the end of the year, she was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Due to her increasing success and influence, she has taken a year off school to participate in projects related to environmental activism. Indeed, she has recently been asked to be a guest editor on BBC Radio 4’s Today. The episodes she will be featuring in will be aired during the Christmas and New Year period.

Despite being the symbol of a new kind of protest in which millions of people have engaged, Greta has also faced some backlash. People have attacked her on her physical looks and credibility, defining her as too young and questioning her capacities (mainly because of her Asperger’s Syndrome, which she is very open about having). Despite the cruelty of these criticisms, they are simple bullying mechanisms that reveal another important debate. On one side, many of the disagreements she faces come from sceptical personalities that deny the climate-change crisis. These persons tend to ridicule her based on their different opinions. On the other side, she has been confronted by environmental experts who, while themselves being close to the issue, don’t approve of her ways of delivering the message. Some say that she is addressing the wrong public and shifting responsibilities from people to governments, while others say she shouldn’t create panic, because it depresses young people. Several criticisms have been based on the idea that she simplifies the issue and, therefore, generates anger without having concrete solutions, especially among young people.

Greta has often addressed these kinds of accusations in her speeches. While she started on social media, Greta has moved to being allowed to speak on huge platforms that have reached several people. Her influence has, therefore, increased and she probably has been expecting some of the consequences. On a Facebook post published on the 2nd of February, she responded to the most recurring criticisms. Once again, she denied being politically associated with anyone and described her syndrome as a gift. Another powerful message she delivered was related to her immaturity: ‘that is easily fixed – just start to listen to the rock-solid science instead. […] Then we could all go back to school. I am just a messenger […], I am just saying what scientists have repeatedly said for decades’.

A sixteen-year-old girl probably won’t have the answers to fix worldwide problems. However, when she asks governments to stop emissions of greenhouse gases, this kind of oversimplification is powerful. Public perception in the last year has changed, thanks to the protests and, as experts say, she’s not saying anything new. She is only spreading a much-needed message. By interpreting the issue in an easier manner, she attracts and involves more persons, with the hope that this will raise awareness and also have an impact on the future choices of industries and governments. Furthermore, the movement itself doesn’t only refer to politicians. Since politics remains based on citizen’s opinions, participating in the protest can have an impact on them and their decisions.

She’s using the impact she has to achieve drastic changes, which are scientifically proven to be needed. The emotional involvement is a consequence that needs to be addressed and overcome in a reasonable way. Climate change discussions can produce depression and anxiety, especially among young people, who fear an uncertain future. However, it may seem necessary. Without this type of impact, the issue wouldn’t touch so many people and we should hope that these emotions are used to encourage people to act. Greta Thunberg’s influence is not only powerful, it is necessary.

Image: Flickr / European Parliament

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