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“The Greta Effect”: Inspiring Climate Activism

Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden who has made international headlines for holding world leaders accountable for their inaction on the climate crisis.

“The Greta Effect” refers to the way her message has inspired vast quantities of other people -- both teens and members of the older generations -- to care more about climate change and take meaningful action so that governments will have no choice but to listen.

As the story (shared via many viral social media posts) goes, she started out alone, opting to skip school for three weeks in August 2018 to protest in front of the Swedish parliament. Last Friday, September 20, 2019, Greta and other teenage climate activists mobilized an estimated 4 million people across more than 160 countries during the global #climatestrike.

She traveled to New York to address the United Nations, opting to come via sailboat rather than jet. Greta’s journey across the Atlantic took two weeks. The vessel on which she traveled proclaimed her message in four simple words on its sails: “Unite Behind the Science”. Obviously, a flight would have been cheaper and much faster. It was both a symbolic gesture and an act of integrity. Due to jet-engine emissions, Greta has refused to travel by air for the past few years. One aspect of “the Greta effect” is the development of “flight shame” among some Europeans, which has kept an increasing amount of travelers off of planes and onto more sustainable modes of travel.

Despite her innocent appearance and simple yet important message, Thunberg is triggering many conservatives and climate change deniers, including President Trump, whose nasty tweet about her does not deserve repeating here. “She is the Greta Effect,” according to one commentator on a Fox News morning show. “She's causing and instilling fear in millions of kids around the world, and actually has them believing that government can legislate our climate.”

Of course, Greta has continued her work despite the petty insults and hate being directed at her from right-wingers. She and 15 other children filed a complaint with the U.N. this past Monday against the nations of France, Germany, Turkey, Brazil and Argentina, claiming that these five economic superpowers are violating human rights by not doing enough to address the climate crisis. Certainly the United States could be added to that list.

Greta has also affected book publishing. Sales of environmentally-themed books have doubled in the last year, according to Nielsen Book Research. There are so many new fiction books related to climate change and global warming that the science fiction sub-genre has merited a name: “cli-fi”.

In her TED talk in Stockholm and in media interviews, Greta has spoken candidly about falling into a depression at age 11, three years after she’d learned about climate change in elementary school and was aghast at the lack of concern among adults. She was diagnosed with OCD and Asperger’s syndrome, the latter she refers to as her “superpower” in speaking out bluntly against climate change. Greta stopped speaking during her period of depression and doctors labeled her with yet another condition, selective mutism.

Greta was told that she would find her voice when she found something worthy of speaking out about. The climate crisis is her motivator, and now she is the voice of her generation being heard around the world.



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