At the end of her first week on strike in August 2018, Greta Thunberg handed out flyers that said: “You grownups don’t give a shit about my future.” Her appearance at the 2019 UN Climate Summit capped a year in the spotlight for the teenage climate activist. Delegates at the summit gave her a standing ovation, but the sound of their applause couldn’t mask Greta Thunberg’s deep frustration.
“This is all wrong,” she said. “I shouldn’t be up here … yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”
Everything from posters to children’s picture books have captured the inspiring example of Thunberg’s bravery and determination. But adults, even supportive ones, still shirk the opportunity to really pay attention to the remarkable movement she is a part of – its history, its present and its visions for the future.
In doing so, they miss the significance of the last two years. The climate strike movement has grown into a network of global campaigns focused on systemic change to tackle the climate crisis. In the process, young people have outgrown the mainstream environmental movement. They don’t want recognition in the world of today. They want a new world, and they are building it.
System change not climate change
Why is Thunberg frustrated? For one thing, adult leaders have applauded young activists before. In 2014, the then 25-year-old Marshallese poet and climate campaigner Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner addressed the opening of the UN Climate Summit, and delegates were in tears. In 2018, she published a poem with another young indigenous activist, Aka Niviana, which captured their disillusionment with the failing international leadership on climate change.