Teen activist sets example for students in her advocacy

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Greta Thunberg, 16, is a climate activist from Stockholm challenging the world’s most powerful leaders to enact environmental policy change.

Thunberg, currently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, started her activism journey in August 2018 by taking every Friday off from school to hold strikes in front of Riksdag, the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm. Her goal was to convince parliament members to reduce carbon emissions.

Thunberg led her first global strike on March 15, which involved 1.6 million people in 133 countries. The most recent strike on Sept. 20 involved 4 million people in 163 countries.

Her strikes have been effective in raising awareness for reducing global emissions. Thunberg most recently addressed the Climate Action Summit of Technology on Sept. 23  at the United Nations in New York City.

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Dr. Amy Stumpf, professor of society and religion, said she supports Thunberg and her march toward a better and cleaner environment.

“We are certainly experiencing climate change; the science confirms that. I take great aggravation with people who cannot seem to agree that we as humans have some impact,” Stumpf said. “We are not the only factor that is causing climate change, but we are a factor and we need to figure out how to live peacefully with our planet.”

Stumpf said she believes Thunberg is a classic example of advocacy. Thunberg has presented herself as a child doing the work of an adult to raise awareness of an issue that affects her generation more than the people in power. She is talking to political leaders who have the power to change policy in their hands but lack desire and urgency.

“The people I have heard criticize her are generally not open to a serious conversation about the well-being of our planet,” Stumpf said. “They dismiss her because they don’t agree with her concern. But anybody who agrees we have a moral — and as a Christian, a spiritual obligation — to care for this planet, to steward it, would say she is doing what she can in a positive way.” If Thunberg wins the Nobel Peace Prize, she will become the youngest recipient. The current youngest Nobel Prize laureate is Malala Yousafzai, who was 17 years old when she was awarded prize for her advocacy for female education after being shot in the head for fighting for her rights in Pakistan.

Jesper Hemmingsson, industrial engineering and management student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, said he finds Thunberg inspiring and admires the way she practices what she preaches.

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“Every single Swede knows the name ‘Greta Thunberg’ without a doubt. She has become the icon for sustainability and the fight against climate change in Sweden,” Hemmingsson said. “As soon as she is making a speech somewhere, Swedish news is all over it, and even if some people are not as impressed by her, her name quite usually comes up in all kinds of discussions.”

Hemmingsson also acknowledged the difference she is making is echoing all over the world.

“It is quite fascinating how famous she has become. She is truly about to become the most famous Swede of all time, and for a very good cause, as well,” Hemmingsson said.

“People are talking about her all over the world – and while not everyone may think she is causing any (action) and is just a big PR trick, even the most negative person will be left with a tiny seed of sustainability in their life after a discussion about her. And that’s a win from her point of view,” Hemmingsson said.

Connor Pacharis, senior business administration major, said he felt Thunberg was receiving too much attention for her individual efforts.

“As much as I love this movement, her contribution to it has been overvalued. She has brought attention to the issue with her fiery passion, but so have most millennials on Facebook,” Pacharis said. “It’s easy to call out people in power, but the true heroes of this movement are the men and women devoting their lives to developing reliable technology to reverse climate change.”

Although climate change continues to be an ongoing issue, Thunberg’s leadership has inspired new activists and policy changes all over the world. She has become an important link in the chain of resolving climate change, however she is not the final word.

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