Teen Activist Will Avoid Greenhouse Gas Emissions On Her Way To U.N. Summit A 16-year-old Swedish activist has sailed the Atlantic to attend a U.N. climate summit. She's become a high-profile presence in climate diplomacy, and inspired teens to push for action.
NPR logo

Teen Activist Will Avoid Greenhouse Gas Emissions On Her Way To U.N. Summit

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/754496192/754617729" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Teen Activist Will Avoid Greenhouse Gas Emissions On Her Way To U.N. Summit

NOEL KING, HOST:

A 16-year-old Swedish activist is crossing the Atlantic Ocean to attend a U.N. climate summit in New York. But Greta Thunberg is not flying here. She's sailing. She wants to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions that come with taking a commercial jet. Now, it's that kind of action - her kind of action - that has convinced teenagers around the world to get involved in climate change activism. NPR's Jeff Brady has the story.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: A year ago, Greta Thunberg began skipping school to protest by herself outside Sweden's parliament, demanding adults do more about climate change. This August, she's been on a sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETA THUNBERG: We're currently doing between 20 and 25 knots. Last night, we hit 30 knots. And we are about 300 miles away from Nova Scotia. And it's very rough. There are very high waves.

BRADY: Thunberg documented her two-week trip on social media with daily posts. She says she first learned about climate change when she was 8 and became very concerned about the future of humanity. In this TED Talk from last November, Thunberg says, at 11 years old, she became depressed and stopped talking and eating.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETA: Later on, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, OCD and selective mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it's necessary. Now is one of those moments.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Thunberg says being on the autism spectrum is a gift because she thinks it helps her see issues more starkly. If greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate, then the only answer is to stop emitting greenhouse gases, she says. Here's Thunberg speaking last December at the U.N. climate conference in Poland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETA: We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground. And we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.

BRADY: Thunberg has critics. Some have been cruel, even referring to her mental health issues. Australian conservative columnist Andrew Bolt called Thunberg, quote, "the deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement." Thunberg shot back on Twitter that she is deeply disturbed by hate and conspiracy campaigns. More moderate critics say Thunberg's simple solutions avoid the complexities that come with addressing climate change. Still, many teenagers around the globe are attracted to Thunberg's message, and they're showing up in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) When the Earth we need is under attack...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stand up. Fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) What do we do?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stand up. Fight back.

BRADY: Last March, this climate protest in Philadelphia was inspired by Thunberg's school strike. It was one of many around the world. Just about every U.S. state had an event, even in politically conservative areas like central Oregon. Seventeen-year-old Freddy Finney-Jordet organized a school strike on a street corner in downtown Bend, Ore. He says he's inspired by Thunberg's determination.

FREDDY FINNEY-JORDET: She kind of looks in the camera and has this sort of look of, I'm doing this. Nobody can stop me.

BRADY: Finney-Jordet says, in the past, gun control and LGBTQ issues were his priorities.

FREDDY: After that protest, which I - first, I thought was going to be kind of a one-off thing for me, I started taking a look at exactly how severe the climate crisis was. And that's been my focus ever since.

BRADY: Greta Thunberg is scheduled to address the U.N. next month for a climate action summit. She'll join protests tied to that event. Then she plans to visit Canada and Mexico before traveling to Chile for a climate conference in December. Her family says she's taking a sabbatical from school this year to focus on her climate activism.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CALM BLUE SEA'S "NOW THOSE ASHES ARE AT THE BOTTOM")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.