2. Introduction to Greta

Fast Facts about Greta
  • Born: January 3, 2003
  • Nationality: Swedish
  • Occupation: High school student and climate activist
  • Parents: Actor Svante Thunberg (father) and singer Malena Ernman (mother)
  • Active since: August 2018, when she first began protesting outside the Swedish parliament every Friday until the election
  • Beliefs: Everyone is responsible for stewardship over the environment, but broad systematic change is more effective than any decisions we can make as individuals.
Background and Family

Greta Thunberg is an 18-year-old climate activist from Stockholm, Sweden. She comes from a famous family, but famous for reasons other than climate activism. Her mother, Malena, is a famous opera singer and performer. Her father, Svante, is a former TV actor. Greta, however, is anything but mainstream in her claim to fame and entered the world stage in a far more unlikely way. Today, as a leader and reluctant figurehead of the movement to address what she calls the “climate crisis,” it’s hard to imagine the humble beginnings that started her journey.

Education and Asperger’s Diagnosis

In the fall of 2018, Greta was a 15-year-old living a fairly normal life in a normal city. Like many, she grew up relatively quiet, spending much of her time alone, with her family, and with her dog, Moses. When she was eight years old, she learned about climate change while watching a documentary about the melting ice caps. Witnessing such a global and urgent issue upset her deeply, igniting the passion that would define both her and the mission she embarked on afterward. Around the age of eleven, she experienced depression, accompanied by an eating disorder and difficulty communicating with those outside her family. This led to her being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Greta sees her Asperger’s as a strength that gives her clarity on the climate issue: “I have Asperger’s syndrome, and to me, almost everything is black or white” (Thunberg 2018).

“School Strike for Climate”

Greta’s understanding of climate change has motivated her approach to activism. Greta believes that because adults have not taken the climate crisis seriously, they have placed the burden of responsibility on children. Although Greta was a good student, she wondered why she ought to prepare for a future for herself and later generations that climate change could alter forever. This is what led her to go on strike: She decided to skip school every day for three weeks before an important government election. Instead, she would sit on the cobblestones outside the Swedish parliament to bring about climate awareness in her community. It was here that she first drew the media’s attention and gained a following of others her age who shared her passion for a safe and secure environment. 

Global Figurehead

As Greta’s passion grew, it spread, and with her family’s support, she accepted her first invitations to speak at climate summits in Europe and beyond, as a representative of the younger generation. In 2019, she spoke to an audience of world leaders at the UN climate summit in New York, accusing them of daring to ignore the climate and leaving environmental responsibilities to the younger, outspoken generations that will be affected by it most. Despite her growing influence and responsibility, Greta stays true to her roots and takes little credit for her leadership in a youth movement. To her, her leadership wouldn’t be necessary if the threat of climate change were already being tackled in the way it should have been years ago.

Discussion questions:

Discuss these with a partner or small group. You can use the graphic organizer to take notes.

  1. After reading, is there anything you didn’t know about Greta before that you were surprised to find out?
  2. What do you notice about Greta’s background that you might have in common with her?
Next Lesson: Asperger Syndrome