AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Students holding signs that said denial is not a policy and raise your voice, not the sea chanted today outside the White House.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Business as usual is not enough. Business as usual is not enough.
...A crisis. Act like it. This is a crisis. Act like it.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Climate action.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want it?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Climate change has got to go. Hey, hey...
CHANG: A protest for climate action happens every Friday here. It doesn't usually draw more than a hundred people. But today, a small 16-year-old with a braid down to her waist was there.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Greta, Greta, Greta...
CHANG: Greta Thunberg started these weekly strikes for the climate last year in her home country of Sweden.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
GRETA THUNBERG: But I'm just going to say that I'm so incredibly grateful for every single one of you. And I'm so proud of you.
CHANG: The movement grew. She's now been invited to speak around the world. To get to the U.S., though, she chose to sail instead of taking a plane.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
THUNBERG: Never give up. We will continue. And see you next week on September 20.
CHANG: I met Thunberg today at the UN Foundation on Pennsylvania Avenue, practically right next to the White House. And I asked her if she wanted to meet with the people inside that building, many of whom are skeptical of climate science.
THUNBERG: I haven't been invited to do that yet. And honestly, I don't want to do that.
CHANG: Why not?
THUNBERG: Because I don't want to meet with people who don't accept the science.
CHANG: But don't you want to change people's minds?
THUNBERG: Yeah, but I think I'm doing that to others. And I - they don't need me to come there. If they want someone to change their mind, it should be scientists and professionals within this area. So I don't think I'm the one person to do that.
CHANG: Well, then how do you reach people who don't see climate change as an urgent problem? I mean, don't you even want to try?
THUNBERG: I don't specify in targeting certain groups. I just try to get my message across to everyone. And whoever listens listens. And of course, these people are maybe not the ones who willingly listens to this. But I think I'm just trying to influence the opinion...
THUNBERG: ...And - in general. And I think that once enough people realizes the urgency, then others will also have to adapt.
CHANG: How important do you think the U.S. is in combating climate change as a whole?
THUNBERG: Incredibly important. You are such a big country. In Sweden, we say when we demand politicians to do something, they say it doesn't matter what we do because just look at the U.S. So I think you have an enormous responsibility in leading this role, and I think you have a moral responsibility to do that.
CHANG: I am so curious, can you tell me how you first became passionate about climate change? When did it begin? How did you get so focused on this cause?
THUNBERG: I - it was in school when I was taught about the climate crisis and everything that was happening around the world.
CHANG: How old were you?
THUNBERG: I think I was 8...
THUNBERG: ...Nine, 7 maybe. I don't remember exactly. But I remember that, of course, made me very sad as every other child in my class. And we saw these horrifying pictures of plastic in the oceans and floodings and so on. Everyone was very moved by that. But then it just seemed like everyone went back to normal, and I couldn't go back to normal because those pictures were stuck in my head. And I couldn't just go on knowing that this was happening around the world. So then I started to read about it and inform myself about it, ask people and read books and articles. And I just started slowly to understand what was happening.
CHANG: And do you remember when it started clarifying for you that beyond reading about it and worrying about it that you as an individual could actually do something? When did that realization dawn on you?
THUNBERG: I don't think there was a specific moment. I had depression when I was 11, and then how I got back from that depression was by telling myself I can do so much good with my life instead of just being depressed.
THUNBERG: And so that was a way to get me out of that depression. And then I became a climate activist, started to attend demonstrations and marches and join organizations and contact people within these movements. But I just felt like things were still too slow, and so I decided to try something new. And that's when I started planning the school strike. And then I just decided to do it.
CHANG: I want to ask you about something a little more personal now. You have told people that you were diagnosed with Asperger's. You're on the autism spectrum. And you have said that that part of you has helped you take a leadership role on climate change. Tell me; why is that?
THUNBERG: My diagnosis helps me see things a bit more clearly sometimes when everyone else seems to just compromise and have this double moral that's - yeah, that's very important, but also, I can't do that right now, and I'm too lazy and so on.
THUNBERG: But I can't really do that because I want to walk the talk...
THUNBERG: ...And to practice as I preach. So that is what I'm trying to do because if I am focused on something and if I know something and if I decide to do something, then I go all-in. And it seems like others are not doing that right now. So yeah, it has definitely helped me.
CHANG: I love that. You believe it being on the autism spectrum helps you see things very starkly, very clearly and keeps you consistent about your message.
THUNBERG: Yeah, and keeps me focused as well.
CHANG: As you have evolved into this warrior, how have your parents reacted? Are they a little bit concerned (laughter) about your global trekking, or are they fully behind you? What do you - what would you say?
THUNBERG: I mean, of course they are concerned that I am doing all this and that I am not going to school, of course - now I've taken a gap here, but still. But I think they also see that I am happier now than I was before because I'm doing something meaningful. Because they see I am much more happier, so then, of course, they want me to do what makes me happy.
CHANG: Of course.
THUNBERG: And - but also, of course, they are concerned that I am so public and that I am not going to school, I've taken a gap year and so on. But I think they support me in at least some way. They know that what I'm doing is morally right.
CHANG: And they are seeing you smile a lot more these days, huh?
CHANG: That's wonderful to hear.
Greta Thunberg, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today. It was such a pleasure.
THUNBERG: Pleasure to talk to you, too. And thank you.
CHANG: While in the U.S., Thunberg will visit Capitol Hill, be at the UN Climate Summit in New York and from there, join youth from all around the world in a climate protest one week from today.
(SOUNDBITE OF EL PERRO DEL MAR'S "DARK NIGHT")
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