It’s been quite a week for 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. On Tuesday, December 10, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro publicly referred to her as a “little brat.”
Earlier this week Ms Thunberg had tweeted, “Indigenous people are being literally murdered for trying to protect the forrest (sic) from illegal deforestation. Over and over again. It is shameful that the world remains silent about this.”
The Brazilian President responded to this by telling journalists, “Greta said that the Indians died because they were defending the Amazon. It’s impressive that the press is giving space to a brat like that.”
The word he used for “little brat” is “pirralha,” which the teen activist promptly adopted for her Twitter bio.
On Wednesday, Ms Thunberg was awarded Time’s Person of the Year for 2019. Edward Felsenthal, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said that she is as part of a generation of “leaders with a cause and a phone who don’t fit the old rubrics but who connect with us in ways that institutions can’t and perhaps never could.”
The activist is the youngest person ever to be honored by Time.
At 15, she started her activism by absenting herself from school and holding up a sign in front of Sweden’s Parliament that said, “School Strike for Climate.” The first day she did this, she was all alone. But when she led a global climate strike in September, around 4 million people, mostly youth, attended.
She has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame from that point—as she was given the chance to speak at the United Nations, meet Pope Francis, among other high-profile events.
Time says it’s because she has succeed where others have failed. “She has persuaded leaders, from mayors to Presidents, to make commitments where they had previously fumbled: after she spoke to Parliament and demonstrated with the British environmental group Extinction Rebellion, the U.K. passed a law requiring that the country eliminate its carbon footprint. She has focused the world’s attention on environmental injustices that young indigenous activists have been protesting for years. Because of her, hundreds of thousands of teenage ‘Gretas,’ from Lebanon to Liberia, have skipped school to lead their peers in climate strikes around the world.”
Some critics, many of whom dispute the reality of climate change, have called the young activist an attention-hungry opportunist, who is missing out on the fun of her teenage years by taking the future of the planet very seriously. Too seriously, they say.
Can one teen really make a difference? Ms Thunberg is by no means the only young person who is striving to lift their voice for a worthy cause. She is preceded by a few years my Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, who began fighting for the education of girls at a young age, and by a few months by America’s teenage gun control activists, who decided that a shooting at their school was one too many.
Young people are leading movements to bring about change in Hong Kong, as seen by the massive protests there, Iraq, Lebanon and even Chile, where this year’s climate conference had been scheduled, but which had to be moved due to upheavals partly caused by students still in high school.
But head and shoulders above them all is Ms Thunberg, who is arguably the most famous young environmentalist in the world.
So is she truly a hero, deserving to be named person of the year? Or is she just a spoiled brat—as many of us were at that age.
The answer may depend on how you perceive the future of our planet. If you believe scientists’ dire warnings then you’d be apt to believe in Ms Thunberg, and hail her as a hero who, at the very least, is trying to stop the ravages of climate change before it’s too late.
But if you’re a skeptic in these matters, no doubt it’s easy to dismiss her as a child throwing a tantrum, a privileged Westerner throwing her weight around undeservedly.
Only time will tell whether Ms Thunberg is able to help bring about the changes that she wishes to see.
But this is the problem. With the earth warming at an alarming rate, Ms Thunberg and those of her generation believe that they’re running out of time. -/TISG