Greta Thunberg: Climate Activist

Greta Thunberg: Climate Activist

Mar 27, 2019

At the start of the recent Words by the Water, Keswick’s annual literature festival, Joe Human attended a talk by Mike Berners-Lee, who is professor and fellow of the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University. In his next three pieces Joe is going to write about Mike's, 'There Is No Planet B'. But before then he wants to write about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has inspired the global school climate strikes.

Greta Thunberg in her own words

Having read about Greta since her first solo strike last summer outside parliament in Stockholm (see picture), yesterday I listened to a podcast interview with her, and watched her very powerful TED talk last November.  I also watched a clip of her fearlessly addressing world leaders at Davos in January.  And today I have watched her speak at both the UN COP24 Katowice Conference in December and the European Economic and Social Committee in February. Any one of these will repay the time you give to it, but if you want to choose just one, play her TED talk which lasts 15 minutes. 

She says it as it is

I can’t know the effect she will have on you.  I can only write about the effect she has had on my wife and on me, which has been quite profound.  But I will come to that at the end. 

First, a little more about Greta herself.  She is 16 years old.  Her mother is a well-known Swedish opera singer, and her father a writer, producer and actor.  She has Asperger’s.  When she was 11, as you will hear in her TED talk, she became seriously depressed over the issue of climate change. 

But now she is a brilliant public speaker the likes of which I have never heard before.  She lacks ‘charisma’, but is utterly compelling to listen to.  She has an intense, plain speaking directness, with an ability to make her listeners feel very uncomfortable: she says it as it.  And, to give you a sense of what I mean, here are just three things she has said recently:

I think in many ways we autistics are the normal ones and the rest are pretty strange especially when it comes to the sustainability crisis, where everyone keeps saying that climate change is an existential threat, the most important issue of all, and yet they just carry on like before.  [TED Talk, Stockholm, November 2018.]

You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.  Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being unpopular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. [Address to the UN Plenary Session, COP24, Katowice, Poland, December 2018.] 

We know that most politicians don’t want to talk to us.  Good.  We don’t want to talk to them either.  We want them to talk to the scientists instead; listen to them, because we are just repeating what we are saying and have been saying for decades. [Address to the European Economic and Social Committee, February 2019.]

What Greta has motivated me to do

Since engaging with Greta, who last week was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, my wife and I have started to list the things we MUST now do. 

These are just some of them:

  • to use public transport as much as possible and the car even less;
  • to fly only to visit family, never for holidays;
  • to eat even less fish and dairy, and never meat;
  • to shop second-hand for books, DVDs, CDs, clothing and furniture as much as possible;
  • to write to our MP on green issues whenever there is a need;
  • to reduce even further our plastic intake;
  • to continue, and where possible increase, our commitment to organic, Fairtrade and local;
  • to reuse, recycle and reduce even more;
  • to keep abreast of green issues through publications such as the Ethical Consumer and online;
  • to talk to our family and friends about what we are doing, and about Greta, and to uphold her as a beacon for us all.


Joe Human

Greta Thunberg: Climate Activist