What a difference one teenage girl and one year makes.
A year ago few people outside Sweden had heard of Greta Thunberg. A year ago, flanked by three friends, she camped outside the house of parliament in Stockholm to urge her government to take action on climate change.
That was a year on from launching her “Fridays For Future” movement — or School Strike for Climate (as it says in Swedish on her sign) — in 2018, encouraging students to skip school to demand action on climate change from their governments.
Thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and now millions are heeding her call. Children across the world, including thousands of Irish students, have been inspired by her to form the largest global climate protest in history.
As the sun rose above the international dateline, protests began in the Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, the Solomons, and Kiribati where children chanted “we are not sinking, we are fighting”. They were joined later by tens of thousands of young Australians, the movement of the sun heralding a new dawn in the battle to save the planet.
Like a global ripple, schoolchildren took to the streets of thousands of cities and towns, from east to west through Asia, Africa, and Europe and on to North and South America.
From Boston to Bandon, students heeded the rallying cry of the teen activist and her movement in a collective call to action. Yesterday, more than 5,000 separate protests were held around the world, involving more than 3m young people.
In response, a Youth Climate Summit will take place at the United Nations today. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres will then host an emergency summit on Monday in which he will urge world leaders to raise their commitments made in the 2015 Paris accord.
Greta Thunberg’s extraordinary journey from local teenage activist to world leader is inspiring. In May of last year, she won a climate-change essay competition for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. It formed the genesis of her activism. Within three months she had galvanised her fellow students to go on strike in protest at lack of action on climate change.
Over the past year she has spoken at United Nations summits, met with world leaders, sailed across the Atlantic in a zero-emissions boat, and, with a biblical vision of apocalypse, has led the largest youth climate strike in history.
Greta Thunberg may not be powerful in the traditional sense but she is hugely influential. Type the letters ‘gr’ on a computer into Google search engine and the first result will read ‘Greta Thunberg’. Try that with the letters ‘tr’ and you will get ‘translate’, ‘trivago’, and ‘tripadvisor’ before ‘trump’ — as in Donald Trump. She is one of the few major figures worldwide to trump Trump.
Yesterday in Ireland, students assembled from around midday in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Drogheda, Navan, Dundalk, Belfast, and many other towns before marching to rallies.
In all, demonstrations were held in more than 50 towns in 18 counties across the country. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke about being inspired by the thousands of young people taking part in the protests.
He said the Government was committed to implementing its climate action plan and yesterday’s demonstrations would spur that effort on.
It will take more than promises to convince Greta Thunberg and her millions of disciples.
“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope,” she says, “but I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”