At 16, Greta Thunberg has become the face of climate change activism in the world. This Swedish teenager’s stirring and hard-hitting speech at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York, berating global leaders for betraying her generation by failing to act on checking environmental degradation, is making waves across social media. In fact, her powerful words “you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words” marked the defining moment at the summit. From a regular ninth-standard student to the most popular environmental activist, Thunberg’s journey has been fascinating while her speeches at various international forums have made a massive impact. However, there are questions over an elaborate web of PR machinery that is at work to project her as the symbol of climate change activism. Curiously, an NGO that is said to be tutoring her, scripting her speeches and setting the agenda has come under a cloud for links with big corporate houses having a global footprint. While one may debate over the methods being adopted to build a global brand around her, the issues raised by her cannot be wished away nor can they brook any delay. On the way to her impactful speech at the climate summit, Thunberg has gathered a cult following, mingled with heads of states, given a TED talk, addressed several high-profile international conferences, sailed across the Atlantic on a solar-powered boat with zero carbon emission to spread climate awareness, been interviewed by countless media organisations and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thunberg’s activism has vaulted her on to the world stage with TIME magazine listing her among the world’s most influential teens. In December 2018, she made a provocative speech accusing leaders gathered from nearly 200 countries at the UN Climate Change conference in Poland of “behaving like children.” She started a school strike for the climate movemnet outside the Swedish Parliament that has since spread all over the world and is now called ‘Fridays For Future.’ With a massive following and support from NGOs and the scientific community, Thunberg has managed to create awareness about environmental issues, especially among the young. Her school strike campaign is now held across the world, with students skipping schools for a few days in protest against inaction on climate. While it is debatable whether high moral theorising alone is enough to force nations into action, there is certainly an urgent need to draw up time-bound action plans to reduce emissions and promote low-carbon footprint lifestyle. The push for renewable energy, electric mobility, phasing out fossil fuels and stringent anti-pollution laws holds key to mitigate climate change. A combination of policy interventions, budgetary support and people’s participation is needed to tackle this challenge.