At Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick profiles teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg won’t fly, for climate reasons, and her willingness to make personal sacrifices for the Earth gets Rodrick thinking about his own influence on the planet’s future. The teen’s message is not all doom and gloom, it’s about taking action, now: she’s working tirelessly to influence politicians and decision makers because we still have eight years to reduce carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic damage to Earth.
My Greta travels featured a Vancouver-Zurich round trip and then an L.A.-Stockholm trip. In between, I fly from Vancouver to L.A. for another story. It’s the job, but I take stock in horror and calculate that my three flights burn more carbon than the yearly usage of the average citizen of more than 200 countries. I torch the atmosphere so I can hear others praise the girl who won’t fly.
“The phrase ‘A little child shall lead them’ has come to mind more than once,” Al Gore tells me in Davos, before sharing his favorite Greta moment. It was at the U.N. summit last fall. “She said to the assembled world leaders, ‘You say you understand the science, but I don’t believe you. Because if you did and then you continue to act as you do, that would mean you’re evil. And I don’t believe that.’” Gore shook his head in wonderment. “Wow.” He then gives a history lesson: “There have been other times in human history when the moment a morally-based social movement reached the tipping point was the moment when the younger generation made it their own. Here we are.”
Somehow, it was Greta turning her weakness into strength that made her a global icon. According to Malena, Greta fell silent after seeing a film in school depicting floating armies of plastic infesting our oceans. Other students were horrified, but quickly returned to their iPhones and talk of upcoming ski trips. Not Greta. She fell silent and obsessed over the climate’s demise.
“I felt very alone that I was the only one who seemed to be worried about this,” Greta tells me in Stockholm. “I was the only one left in this sort of bubble. Everyone else could just continue with their lives as usual, and I couldn’t do that.”
Greta read all she could and sometimes went online and battled with climate deniers, oft exclaiming triumphantly, “He blocked me,” to her parents. She eventually wrote an essay on the climate crisis for a Swedish newspaper. Eco-activists contacted her, and Greta mentioned the inspiration she took from the school strikes after the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, and suggested a climate version. The activists showed little interest. Greta didn’t care and slowly broke out of her cocoon.