When I was 16, I spent most of my time writing angrily in my diary, fantasizing about the bass player of Sum 41, and scowling at the cows who stared at me while I waited for the bus to take me to high school. Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, on the other hand, spent her 16th year making international headlines for her climate activism, reaching not just her peers but actually getting through to many adults, too. It makes sense, then, that Time would name Thunberg their youngest-ever person of the year.
— TIME (@TIME) December 11, 2019
What did you do this year? Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic ocean in a carbon-neutral vessel on her way to give a speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, started the largest climate change protest in history on September 20, and was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I finally got around to Marie Kondo-ing my best friend’s closet. Looks like I could and should probably start looking to Thunberg for some inspiration.
Thunberg isn’t just fighting for the climate rights of the privileged. In fact, she’s used her racial privilege and her platform to speak out against policies that are killing indigenous people, like the climate activists in Brazil who are being murdered for protesting against illegal deforestation of the Amazon.
Similarly, when she had her turn to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit, she stayed mostly quiet, and instead turned the mic over to young indigenous activists, including Rose Whipple of the Santee Dakota, Chilean activist Angela Valenzuela, and Carlon Zackhras of the Marshall Islands, so they could say their part.
She was also invited to speak with 16-year-old activist Tokata Iron Eyes at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to talk about climate change and visited Standing Rock in North Dakota to speak with activists there about the Dakota Access Pipeline and other issues affecting their community.
She seems to recognize that even though she’s the one in the spotlight, it’s essential that she use her position to highlight the activism of indigenous people who have been fighting against climate change long before she started her campaign. Fighting climate change isn’t just about people in big cities having to use their air conditioners less – for many people in the world, it’s already a matter of life and death, something that often gets ignored in the US mass media. It’s admirable for a 16-year-old to have such a better grasp of the big picture of climate change activism than many of the adults who are involved.