loved, hated and ridiculed as a climate icon

Berlin. The first reports appeared in Swedish media at the end of August 2018. A 15-year-old girl sat down in front of the Reichstag in Stockholm with a sign she had written on herself.

It reads: “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate).

August 20, 2018 was the first day of school for the still unknown Greta Thunberg in ninth grade. A little later, this day made the Swedish teenager one of the most famous people in the world, and it subsequently triggered an avalanche of international school strikes.

Thunberg had apparently struck a chord with her generation. The fast-growing crowd of supporters, however, did not only include peers. Scientists, some business leaders and climate politicians reinforced the young woman’s message: climate change must be slowed down under all circumstances, better still stopped.

pressure on the street

The pressure from the streets became massive – and it was successful. In Germany, for example, the grand coalition put together a comprehensive climate package in 2019, against which Fridays for Future, among others, complained. Successful. From the point of view of the Federal Constitutional Court, the Climate Protection Act of 2019 fell short, according to a decision last year. The Bundestag had to make improvements in the interests of climate protection.

A year after her first school strike — by which time Fridays for Future had already become an influential climate movement globally, but especially in Germany — Thunberg said she felt she had to do something. She had been dealing with climate change and global warming for a long time and was desperate that nobody was doing anything for the climate. “That’s why I sat down in front of Parliament.”

Thunberg also stated that she initially felt quite alone and hopeless. During this phase, however, she used the tools for her climate mission that gave many of her generation a voice: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Co. From Friday to Friday, she inspired more and more schoolchildren around the world to follow her example.

Thunberg polarized

Above all, it is the uncompromising nature of her demands that makes opinions about Greta Thunberg extremely divergent. There is hardly anyone her age who polarizes as much as she does. Her supporters consider Thunberg to be something of a messiah and repeatedly bring her up for discussion as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

They cheer for performances by Thunberg like at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2019. “I want you to panic,” she says there. “I want you to act like your house is on fire, because it is.”

Above all, however, the regular battles with US President Donald Trump, who has insulted the young woman more than once on social media, are causing her popularity to grow rapidly. Thanks to her communications team, her dealings with what was then the most powerful man in the world seemed very confident.

Trump rails

Remarkable is her reply when Trump etched on Twitter in 2019 against the election of the then 16-year-old as Person of the Year by “Time Magazine”. The US President described Thunberg’s freestyle as “so ridiculous”. And followed up: “Greta has to work on her problem with anger management and then watch a good old movie with a friend! Relax, Greta, relax!”

And Thunberg? She quickly and dirty changed her self-description on Twitter: “A teenager working on her anger management problem,” she wrote there. “Right now I’m relaxing and watching a good old movie with a friend.”

Her appearance in 2019 before the world heads of government and state at the UN climate summit in New York was also legendary. “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of perpetual economic growth. How dare you?” – how dare you?

Criticism of Atlantic cruise

Thunberg also has to accept content-related criticism over time. Her Atlantic sailing trip to the New York summit, for example, was controversial among climate protectors. Since several sailors had to fly to the USA to bring the boat back to Europe, the climate footprint of this publicity-boosting Atlantic crossing was pretty bad.

Other critics considered the expensive action to be evidence of Thunberg’s increasing aloofness. Who can afford such a trip with an ocean yacht? In any case, it was not a role model for CO₂-free, alternative forms of travel.

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baiting in Australia

The Australian mass newspaper “Herald Sun” brought Thunberg’s Asperger’s disease to the fore at the height of the international climate movement. The arch-conservative newspaper of the publisher Rupert Murdoch described her as the “deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement”. Columnist Andrew Bolt went on to say, “I have never seen a girl so young with so many mental disorders treated like a guru by so many adults.”

Greta Thunberg, who describes her Asperger’s disease as an advantage, must learn to deal with the hostilities. Apparently unperturbed, she continues. Later she admits in interviews that this was not easy for her and especially her parents – the opera singer Malena Ernman and the actor Svante Thunberg. “You can’t stand for something good anymore without being questioned, receiving death threats and being hated. It’s very sad where we’ve come to.”

Greta Thunberg, climate activist from Sweden, is on board the ocean-going yacht “Malizia”, ​​which brought her to New York.

The pandemic dampened the furor of Thunberg and the climate movement from 2020 onwards. She herself made her infection public after a trip to Europe with her father and advised children and young people to go into self-quarantine if they showed signs of infection in order to protect other people. As with the climate issue, she is also spreading her conviction in the pandemic: “Listen to science.”

Pro nuclear power

In addition to commitments for Unicef ​​or other organizations, Thunberg always stayed on the ball with other climate protectionists, wrote open letters to governments, spoke at climate strikes or other events and kept reminding governments around the world that even after crises like the pandemic or the longed-for end of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, one thing would remain: accelerating climate change.

Environmentalists were all the more astonished when Thunberg recently said on the German TV show “Maischberger” that she shares the assessment of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to which nuclear power could be a small part of a big solution – to get by without fossil fuels in energy production.

new authority

The fact that politicians like FDP leader Christian Lindner referred to Greta Thunberg of all people when arguing against the shutdown of the remaining German nuclear power plants was firstly ludicrous and secondly proof of the authority that the young Swede now has.

She will remain a climate activist all her life, she says today. And she seems more relaxed than ever. When Sandra Maischberger asks her what Thunberg thinks about Greta from a few years ago, she says with a smile: “Many things. I try not to be too hard on myself.”

Thunberg advocates the continued operation of German nuclear power plants

The energy crisis prompts consideration of postponing an early shutdown of the remaining German nuclear power plants.

The Climate Book

The 19-year-old is still putting off the idea that she will soon no longer be able to go on school strikes because she is finishing school, says Thunberg. She focuses on every day. And the future? Greta Thunberg “probably” wants to study social sciences and then work for non-governmental organizations.

This Thursday she first presented a book. The 500-page work is quite unpretentiously called “The Climate Book”. Greta Thunberg has compiled a selection of texts by over 100 leading climate experts.

In addition to renowned researchers such as Johan Rockström, Michael Mann, Katherine Hayhoe, Friedrike Otto, Stefan Rahmstorf, Saleemul Huq and Carlos Nobre, there are also luminaries such as Thomas Piketty, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Naomi Klein and Amitav Ghosh, according to S. Fischer-Verlag .

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