Greta Thunberg ignited a global movement when she decided to go on a climate strike in Sweden in August 2018. It's been a little over a year since that fateful movement started, and the 16-year-old environmental activist is now being recognized as TIME Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year. And she's the youngest person to ever receive this accolade.
“Wow, this is unbelievable! I share this great honour with everyone in the #FridaysForFuture movement and climate activists everywhere,” Thunberg tweeted in response.
After the year she’s had, this recognition is not so unexpected — Thunberg was the force behind the largest climate demonstration in human history. And, she has met with some pretty powerful global leaders to advocate for climate action, including a groundbreaking speech at the United Nations and a candid meeting with the Pope.
“She has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not,” TIME wrote on Thunberg.
Despite all her recognition, and even refusal to accept accolades, Thunberg's initiative and goals are about advocacy and mobility more than anything else, with her protest tactic of choice being climate strikes. In August 2018, Thunberg skipped school to camp out in front of Swedish Parliament demanding climate action from legislators.
One year later, in September 2019, she inspired 4 million people around the world to join a global climate strike. In fact, Collins Dictionary named “climate strike” as it’s word of the year, citing increased usage due to Thunberg. She was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year, but lost to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
But this 16-year-old, who even uses her Asperger's as a "superpower," is still struggling to grapple with her newfound celebrité — Margaret Atwood once called her Joan of Arc. But with the foresight of someone wiser than her years, she still presses for the public to pay less attention to her and more attention to climate change. A self-described introvert, Thunberg was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome four years ago and also has selective mutism — a severe anxiety disorder in which a person is unable to speak in certain social situations. Thunberg credits both conditions for her tenacity as an activist. And for many members of Gen-Z, who love a good meme about anxiety, she is an inspiration.
The other finalists for Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year were the Hong Kong protesters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump. In an online reader poll, the Hong Kong Protesters received the most amount of votes, capturing over 30 percent of 27 million votes. Still, Thunberg inspired a global change that could not go unrecognized.