A teenage environmentalist becoming TIME’s Person of the Year is one of the things I loved most about a year that was often difficult to deal with. It’s symptomatic of the rise of powerful young female voices that is defining our times.
I’ll be honest, it puts my own inconsiderate teenage years into a harsh perspective, but while the adult part of me is deeply ashamed of needing young girls like Greta Thunberg to take matters into their hands, it provides vital hope in a time of crisis. Hope that these new strong young female voices that are fighting for the world have inherited not just the chaos previous generations have created, but also the courage to bring the necessary change around.
One of the most powerful young female voices today
She may only be a teenager, but Thunberg knows what she wants and won’t stop until she’s made sure people are listening. She has managed to get attention where others have failed to do so; she’s achieved commitment where there was none before, inspired young and not-so young to act and shamed those who continue to fail to do what’s right, no matter who they are or how they may retaliate.
She speaks frankly; she doesn’t do sugarcoating. Greta knows that we’re running out of time to right some of our wrongs before it’s too late. She offers facts and expects them to be enough to scare world leaders into action. To scare people into demanding a change from the politicians in charge.
Unless something is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s temperature will continue to rise. According to scientists this will “expose some 350 million additional people to drought and push roughly 120 million people into extreme poverty by 2030”.
With a future that’s increasingly bleak and world leaders who don’t seem very interested in doing something about it, it’s no wonder that she’s gone from a muted depression to anger that’s gone viral. Anger that represents thousands.
The face of a youth-led climate movement first heard about climate change at school and tumbled deep into depression triggered by hopelessness and disbelief. How could global warming be a reality if politicians and world leaders were doing nothing about it? How could adults be so unconcerned by the dreary future being handed down to children? How could they not listen to warnings scientists have given us for years?
At first, she went quiet and stopped eating, inspiring her family to make changes in lifestyle like giving up meat, growing their own food and installing solar panels to appease her anxiety. Gradually, she began to find her voice once again. An uncompromising, no-bullshit voice that she’s been using to wake the world up to the urgency of the planet’s current situation.
Greta’s Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis may have explained why she took her findings on the condition of the planet so hard, but as her father pointed out to TIME, she’s not wrong. While she has been mocked and bullied, her uncompromising passion and straightforward approach has also reached millions.
Her outrage at being forced to begin a climate strike instead of enjoying her childhood made an impression, especially on other young people who share her anger and disappointment. As they should. The demonstrations that have happened worldwide have brought about the kind of pressure that’s hard for leaders to ignore.
Emmanuel Macron told TIME that these weekly demonstrations by young people helped him change, “You cannot remain neutral”.
So, it’s probably a good thing that youths seem so involved. That Greta is not alone in wanting to make things happen where “grown-ups” have failed to succeed, or to even try. According to Al Gore, a Nobel Prize Winner for decades in climate advocacy, “many great morally based movements have gained traction at the very moment when young people decided to make that movement their cause”.
This could be a good sign considering young people, young women, seem to be at the forefront of change. Different, real, flawed, diverse, eloquent, young women who are making big things happen. It’s pretty inspiring.
I often wonder about the kind of woman my niece will grow into as a product of the world she’s been inherited. Of a world that’s fought for great new freedoms and has bred unlikely social champions unwilling to watch it burn. A world that’s at a breaking point that has forced kids out of classrooms to stand up and do what adults can no longer be trusted to do.
In recent years, names like Jamie Margolin (climate change), Emma González (gun control), Marley Diaz (diversity representation), Malala Yousafzai (education for women and girls), Mari Copeny (access to drinkable water) and Zoey Luna (trans youth rights) have proved that Greta is not only not alone in her fight to create awareness – she’s in good company. With more young female voices rising above the static as we stumble into the next decade.
I found the women I looked up to making music, or movies or writing stories. It worked for me – their messages were empowering and helped me define who and how I wanted to be in a lot of ways. It felt a little more self-involved on my side though, more limited. More about changing myself than changing the world. It feels like these kids are changing the world.
At sixteen, Greta is the youngest person to take the title given by the magazine every year. She joins Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Pope Francis in the long list of names who have claimed the cover, which has pleased some and, unsurprisingly, annoyed a few others. The unconventional young hero makes me feel ashamed of myself, but also excited about what she means to girls watching.
The women my niece will look up to are fighting for others. They tear through social convention. They are everywhere. They do everything. And, in a lot of ways, they’re just like her.
Read about the Women’s March that took place in the US