The Greta Thunberg effect: meet the young climate activists demanding change

In less than a year, climate activist Greta Thunberg has become a global figurehead for change. Her impact is unquestionable, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and honoured with an Amnesty International Award. We spoke to four young activists who told us why they too are striking and why we must act now. 

Donna Mackay

‘Can you hear me? Is the microphone on?’ 16-year-old Greta Thunberg quietly asked the British Parliament earlier this year. ‘Because I’m beginning to wonder…’ she stated, silencing the room.

In August 2018, Thunberg sat alone outside the Swedish Parliament with a simple ‘school strike for climate change’ placard, determined to raise awareness for climate change. By March of 2019, she had sparked a wave of similar protests on an unprecedented scale, with nearly 1.5 million schoolchildren and students participating in both grassroots and city-wide protests. They demanded leaders listen, halt fossil fuel emissions and instigate dramatic change to policies to protect their future. 

Greta Thunberg outside the Swedish Parliament
Greta Thunberg outside the Swedish Parliament. Photo: Anders Hellberg

Last year, the IPCC released a landmark report that warned to avoid climate catastrophe we must take urgent action, cutting carbon emissions by 50% in the next decade, reaching net-zero by 2050. It detailed that once we rise above a 1.5°C degree threshold, we will enter into a phase of catastrophic and irreversible change, prompting unstoppable environmental disasters.

‘Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we have all created. But that is just another convenient lie. Because if everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame,’ an impassioned Thunberg accused global leaders from the financial, political and private sectors in January of this year at the World Economic Forum. It was far from the standard rhetoric they were used to hearing at such events, but Thunberg is on a mission to shock those in power to change.

More on the climate crisis

Galvanised by Thunberg’s protests, FridaysforFuture (the movement started by Greta) youths continue to boycott classes to raise awareness. Their aim is simple: to make their governments conform to the Paris Agreement of 2015, preventing the 1.5°C rise and implement effective climate legislation. Their determination is palpable. 


'This is an issue that will determine life and death for many people' - Haven Coleman

Noga Levy-Rapoport is 17 years old and a climate activist. She recently took part in the strikes in London. ‘The school strikes are, and always will be, deeply personal for me and for so many others; those who live with eco-anxiety feel deeply connected to a burnt-out world, with guilt and blame forced onto us by unregulated corporations and the far-reaching claws of neoliberalism,’ she told us.

Holly Gillibrand is 14 years old and a passionate environmentalist based in Scotland. She was inspired by Thunberg’s strike and decided to take action against climate destruction too: ‘Before Greta began school striking for the climate, climate change and the breakdown of our ecosystems was never mentioned. Now everyone knows about the climate crisis and ecological breakdown and the school strikes have become an international movement.’

‘Greta has inspired me to not only strike for the climate but to make a stand for what I believe in. She has inspired millions of children around the world to do the same,’ Holly told us.

Hilda Nakabuye Flavia is a student and the organiser of FridaysForFuture in Uganda. Thunberg’s rallies promoted her own school strikes too.  ‘Her speeches motivate us to stay strong amidst people’s criticisms, they empower me to fight and demand even harder for a safe future. The school strikes globally act as a platform for us youth and students globally to air out our views and demands for climate action. They provide space for everyone's participation and inclusion in the fight to protect the earth.’

Fridays For Future march in Bonn, German, March 2019. Photo: Mica Baurmeister
Fridays For Future youths march in Bonn, Germany, March 2019. Photo: Mica Baurmeister

'The incessant excuses of inactive politicians and leaders have spurred on children to take action, myself included'. - Noga Levy-Rapoport

Haven Coleman is 13 years old and co-executive director of the US Youth Climate Strike. She is an organiser, activist and speaker. ‘We all need to take steps to stop the climate crisis, because this is not only something that people in the future have to deal with, it is something that millions and millions of people are dealing with right now,’ said Haven.

These students passionately believe we have a level of personal responsibility to stop the climate crisis. ‘[It] affects everyone regardless of their age, size, status, nationality and sex, therefore, it’s everyone's responsibility to combat climate change,’ said Hilda.

Holly advocates the widespread demonstrations because ‘the climate and ecological emergency is such an important crisis that we all need to do whatever we can, whether that's protesting, speaking out or making changes to your personal lifestyle.’

Noga agrees: ‘The fear of not having a safe future, the anger at a failed and broken system, and the seemingly incessant excuses of inactive politicians and leaders have spurred on children around the world to take action, myself included.’


'You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time. We’ve let you know that the change is coming whether you like it or not.' - Greta Thunberg

So, what’s next? These young activists are now working towards September’s strike, ‘[We will] organise, educate, and agitate, all through summer, culminating in the UK’s general strike for climate on the 20th September, and beyond, until we bring about the systemic change necessary for our environment, our climate, our lives, and our futures,’ says Noga.

Thunberg and her fellow activists are sending a message, a message that they will not be silenced and that they will not let their future be stolen. As Greta stated at the UN Climate Change Conference, ‘We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time. We’ve let you know that the change is coming whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.’


Haven echoes Thunberg’s rapturous sentiment, ‘this is an issue that will determine life and death for many people, it is our right and duty to act when something is wrong. Climate change is something wrong, it is something that will and is causing so much destruction. The question is, why aren't we all fighting?’


No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg is out now. You can listen to an extract of her speeches, taken from the audiobook of No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, below. 


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