Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg doesn't do anything the easy way. As we reported last month, when she decided to attend the upcoming UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23, she put her money where her mouth is, and sailed across the ocean (avoiding the carbon pollution of planes).
That sailing journey? It went off without a hitch despite two weeks at sea with no real sleeping quarters and constant motion. And once she arrived in New York on August 28, she went straight to work, addressing the wildfires that have been burning recently in the Amazon rainforest.
After a reporter asked her if she just wanted to be a normal kid, she replied, "I would love not to have to do this and just go to school, but I want to do this because I want to make a difference."
And it seems clear that she is. Crowds gathered in New York to cheer her arrival and show support. But so have critics.
Making an impact
In the week since she arrived, Thunberg has heard all kinds of criticism from politicians, professors, and newspaper columnists, from Australia to the U.S. to Canada. Some feel that her stance on climate change is honourable and rooted in fact, but a bit extreme. In short, that she is worried about the right thing, just too worried. They feel that she is creating panic.
(And to be fair, in her own words, Greta has said "I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear that I feel everyday.")
But others have attacked her on the grounds that her mental condition — Asperger's — makes her "mentally unstable" and "deeply disturbed". Asperger's is a condition on the autism spectrum that affects a person's nonverbal communication and social interaction. These attacks have been discredited by many as unfair and unrelated to the actual problem of climate change. But, unsurprisingly, the best replies have come from Thunberg herself.
When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!
I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And - given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.#aspiepower pic.twitter.com/A71qVBhWUU
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 31, 2019
Watching action unfold
This gets at one of the most interesting things about Greta Thunberg. Millions of people believe that climate change is an issue. They post and tweet about it. Many even march and protest about it.
But very few people have turned the issue into their life in the way that she has. And what 16 year-old is able to fight back against global attacks with such poise? Her dedication and principles have made her a global inspiration. The number of admirers keeps growing, and includes more and more leaders, too.
This all makes her time in the United States and the upcoming UN Climate Summit even more interesting. We know she's a hero to millions. But can a teenager from Sweden really change the minds of the most powerful people in the world and help to influence climate change policy? We'll be watching closely to find out.