Greta Thunberg gave up air travel because planes emit astronomical amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. She skips class every Friday to protest, even though she loves school, because of Sweden’s failure to live up to the Paris climate agreement. And the 16-year-old has given up nearly all of her hobbies to focus exclusively on saving the planet.
“I used to play theatre, sing, dance, play an instrument, ride horses, lots of things,” she told the Guardian. But now she spends all her time campaigning for sustainability. “You have to see the bigger perspective.”
On Wednesday, Thunberg capped off 32 hours of train travel to camp in Davos with climate scientists in temperatures that plunged to -18 degrees Celsius.
She traveled to the mountainous area to protest the World Economic Forum (WEF) and urge the gathered world leaders and wealthy attendees to do more to address climate change.
“I ask you to stand on the right side of history,” she said in a video address to the conference. “I ask you to pledge to do everything in your power to push your own business or government in line with a 1.5C world.”
She also chastised those attending for their outsized impact on the environment.
“I think it’s a bit of hypocrisy that they go here by private jets and talk about the climate crisis and they say that, ‘Oh, we care about this very much,’ but they obviously don’t,” Thunberg told the Associated Press.
During a panel session at the WEF, Thunberg delivered a rousing speech in which she called on those gathered “to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.”
Thunberg started protesting in 2018 and turned it into a weekly event following the Swedish elections when she realized that the government wasn’t doing enough to protect the planet.
Her protests are simple. She skips class on Fridays to stand outside the Swedish Parliament building, holding signs, chanting, and trying to inspire other people. Like many of the great protest movements throughout history, her protests gain power through dogged perseverance.
Since she began, students from around the world have joined the effort, a movement known as the "School Climate Strike," according to the AP.
Wow! They're back and this time they're 32,000 strong! These students want #climateaction and they are not going to stop marching until they get it!— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) January 24, 2019
Be Like Them!!!#ActOnClimate#Klimaatmars#Youth4Climate#ClimateMarch#klimatstrejk#FridaysForFuture via @Green_Europepic.twitter.com/Jra5Zq4TLg
“I never would have imagined that it was going to be this big and spread so far that there is now a school strike going on in every continent except Antarctica, and that is very cool and very incredible,” Thunberg said. “Just this last week, there were over 12,500 students on school strike in Brussels and over 22,000 in Switzerland and over 30,000 in Germany.”
Many young people around the world recognize that their futures are imperiled by climate change and are consequently taking action.
Various youth-led lawsuits are calling on governments to transition to clean energy societies, teenage activists are getting corporations to reduce their ecological footprints, and sustainable lifestyle movements are being led by young people.
These kids are talking a big game, but they’re not overreacting.
In 2017, 15,372 scientists signed an open letter that said “time is running out” and climate change impacts will be “catastrophic” in the near future.
And last October, the UN released a comprehensive climate change report that said that achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement “would require rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.“
The world is currently nowhere near on track to keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the main goal of the Paris agreement.
That’s why Thunberg and her peers feel such a sense of urgency.
“Either we start a chain reaction with events beyond our control, or we don’t,” she told the Guardian. “Either we stop the emissions or we don’t. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival.”