By Hannah Stryker
There are only 11 years left until the dangers of climate change become irreversible, according to the U.N. General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés from Ecuador believes we are the last generation to save our planet from a permanent catastrophe. During the General Assembly meeting in March 2019, leaders discussed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Calls from global youth leaders were echoed when Garcés demanded that world leaders make 2020 the last year that carbon emissions increase from human activities.
Determined youths of the world have recently come to the forefront of the climate change debacle by calling out large corporations and encouraging people to be more conscious about climatic decisions. One 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg from Sweden, has made a name for herself due to her strong activism and media presence.
Thunberg has been a voice for all climate change activists since August 2018, when she skipped school to protest outside parliament for greater action against climate change. Skip to September 2018, and Thunberg had effectively channeled her efforts to create her “Fridays for Future” campaign. By November, more than 17,000 students in 24 countries were taking part in Friday school strikes. Thunberg’s first major event was in November at the U.N. climate talks in Poland.
“The Greta Effect,” as many like to call it, has shaken the world. Just recently, a major worldwide climate strike formed as a result of Thunberg’s impact on young people. The Global Climate Strike took place in various locations across the world from Sept. 20-27. Participating locations included New York, Berlin, Jakarta and many others. The strike on Sept. 20 occurred just before the U.N. Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, where countries discussed how they could potentially curb greenhouse gas emissions. Greta was among the group of speakers at the U.N. meeting.
The University of Maryland Sustainability Cooperative also organized an event for the Global Climate Strike in D.C on Sept. 20. Students met at the Testudo statue in front of McKeldin Library, and marched to Capitol Hill from John Marshall Park in D.C. The UMD Fridays for Future website had a sample email for students to send to their professors to explain any class absence due to the march.
“It was extremely empowering to be around so many people who passionately cared about the environment, and it gave me hope that change is possible,” freshman neurobiology and physiology double major Narayan Spaur said about the D.C. strike.
Ahead of her speech at the U.N. Climate Summit, Thunberg sailed to New York City from Britain on an emissions-free yacht. The two-week journey was a “huge challenge,” according to Thunberg, but she has given up flying due to airplane emissions being a huge factor in climate change.
Thunberg addressed the first ever U.N. Youth Climate Summit on Sept. 21. Young leaders were able to share their solutions to the crisis. Amongst the other youth leaders, Thunberg said “We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.”
While at the climate summit on Sept. 23, Thunberg expressed her concerns for the future with world leaders.
“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you,” Thunberg said.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering.”
Thunberg’s emotional speech at the summit sparked a social media frenzy. The massive online response was full of mixed emotions, with some looking to Thunberg as a leader, while others criticized her. Many Twitter users, including news commentators and politicians, have belittled Thunberg by using the fact that she has Asperger syndrome against her. Michael Knowles, an American conservative commentator, appeared on Fox News and called Thunberg “mentally retarded” in response to her U.N. speech.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter to say “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Thunberg then quickly changed her Twitter bio to “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future,” proving that she wouldn’t even allow the U.S. president to get the best of her.
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg said during her U.N. speech. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”
Thunberg continues to protest climate change every Friday. She recently became one of four winners of Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March 2019.
“I think Greta Thunberg is a great figure in the environmental movement, and she certainly shows how powerful youths are,” sophomore computer science and journalism double major Jesse Anderson said. “However, I wish she would shine light on the other youths of color, especially indigenous teens, who have been fighting for the environment for decades.”
Other youth climate activists, like 17-year-old Jamie Margolin, are also fighting climate change, but have not received as much recognition as Thunberg for their efforts. Margolin has been organizing public demonstrations and lobbying efforts since she was 14 in her hometown of Seattle. She founded a youth-led climate action group called “Zero Hour,” which has protested and partnered with other youth organizations.
Mari Copeny, also known as “Little Miss Flint,” is an 11-year-old who wrote a letter to former President Barack Obama in March 2016 about the Flint, Michigan water crisis. As a result, Obama flew to Flint and met with locals to make the nation more aware of the problem. Copeny now has a partnership with a water filtration company that provides clean water for those in disadvantaged communities. She is also an advocate for the People’s Climate March.
There are many other young activists in the world that should be an inspiration for all climate change protesters, and deserve the recognition Thunberg receives. There is enough room in the world for all youth activists, so make sure to advocate for what is important to you.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Greta Thunberg’s Facebook page.
Hannah Stryker is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.