Less than a year before Greta Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she was relatively unknown. However, after skipping school for weeks on end, the Swedish teen has become somewhat of a sensation among young people. And thanks to Thunberg’s passion and determination, kids around the world have joined her in her astonishing fight.
It’s sometimes said that youth is wasted on the young. Yes, the old adage seemingly suggests that the most vibrant years of our lives – the times when we’re likely to have the most energy and optimism – occur as children. But as kids, some of us squander our opportunities to make lasting changes in the world.
But this is not true in all cases. In fact, there have been lots of young people throughout the years who have used their unique –and often unjaded – views of the world to make real differences. And in doing so, these children have been widely celebrated by the adult world for the amazing accomplishments that they’ve made.
What’s more, if we glance back through history, it becomes clear that young people achieving remarkable goals is in fact nothing new. Alexander the Great, for instance, who was born in 356 B.C., began fighting to expand the Macedonian Kingdom at the age of 18. Plus, he had already become king two years earlier after the death of his father.
Over his 13-year rule, Alexander expanded his empire far beyond Macedonia. His armies captured lands from Greece all the way to India, in fact, making his kingdom one of the most vast in the ancient world. In addition, Alexander remained undefeated throughout his reign. He died at the age of 32, however, as a result of a fever.
Meanwhile, Joan of Arc is another historic figure who made a lasting impact from a young age. The French heroine, who was later made a saint, was just 17, in fact, when she convinced her native country to give her a leading position in the military as it fought in the Hundred Years’ War. And to do so, she cut her hair and sported male clothing.
But it was Joan’s actions in Orléans that would make her a national heroine. That’s because she helped to conquer the English forces that had captured the city. However, Joan didn’t get to enjoy her newfound status as the so-called “Maid of Orléans” for long. She was captured by the enemy in 1431, you see, and burned to death – aged just 19.
Meanwhile, another famous wunderkind is the Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When Mozart was just a boy, he would listen to his sister Nannerl learning how to play piano. But it was he who would go on to become one of the most important classical musicians of all time. And it seems that the Austrian’s extraordinary talents were evident from a very young age.
The book The Compleat Mozart, by William Cowdery and Neal Zaslaw, contains a quote from the composer’s eldest sister, Nannerl, confirming his early potential. She said, “At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father, who wrote them down.” And throughout Mozart’s lifetime, he would go on to create over 600 compositions.
With a little help from his father, Mozart wrote his first symphony at the tender age of eight. And if this weren’t impressive enough, he spent his childhood years touring and playing musical at the royal courts of Europe. But while the influential composer did get to enjoy his success, he succumbed to an early death when he was just 35.
Given the bad publicity that the youth of today sometimes get, you’d be forgiven for thinking that stories like these don’t happen very often anymore. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s easy to find examples of clever and exceptionally brave young people who are achieving great things and fighting for a better world.
Take Malala Yousafzai, for example. Born in Pakistan in 1997, she advocated for girls’ rights to education from an early age, despite the danger that this posed. And in 2009 Yousafzai began blogging anonymously for BBC Urdu about the rise of the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where she lived. At the time, the militant organization was on a violent rampage in the area and imposing its fundamentalist beliefs on the people there.
In 2009 the Taliban prohibited all girls from studying in the Pakistani city of Mingora and even destroyed over 100 all-female education facilities. However, just when Yousafzai’s power was being taken away, her voice grew louder, and she continued to write about what was happening in her community. The young girl’s activism didn’t go unnoticed, either, and she and her father both received violent threats directly from the Taliban.
Then, at the age of 15, Yousafzai was shot by a Taliban gunman as traveled to her house on a bus. The bullet struck the teen in the head and passed through her neck before coming to a halt in her shoulder. The girl was flown to a nearby hospital but later traveled to the U.K. where she received life-saving treatment.
Luckily, Yousafzai survived the assassination attempt, and her family later settled in the U.K. But despite her ordeal, she has refused to be silenced. In fact, Yousafzai has since risen to prominence as an activist for female education, scooping up a number of accolades along the way. And one of the top awards that Yousafzai has received is the Nobel Peace Prize. Indeed, she won it in 2014 at the age of 17 – making her the youngest ever recipient at the time.
For its part, the Nobel Peace Prize has been handed out nearly 100 times since 1901 – to 27 organizations and 106 individuals. Notable winners include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa. And as the award’s name suggests, it is given to those who are actively working to bring peace to our planet.
It’s fair to say that the Nobel Peace Prize is one of the most famous awards in the world. So, when in March 2019 a relatively unknown Swedish teenager was honored with a nomination, it presumably came as a shock to some. But the more you learn about Greta Thunberg, the more it becomes clear that she’s a force to be reckoned with.
Thunberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2003 to actor and author Svante Thunberg and opera singer Malena Ernman. And interestingly, the youngster’s grandfather Olof is also well known in the Swedish entertainment industry. But Thunberg’s teenage years would see her break from her family tradition – and become famous in an altogether different field.
But although Thunberg was destined for greatness, her childhood was not without potential obstacles. In December 2018, for instance, she revealed that she has Asperger’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an anxiety disorder that affects her speech. And yet the teen’s conditions haven’t held her back one bit.
It was the age of eight that Thunberg learned about climate change – and the revelation altered the course of her childhood. Upon discovering that most scientists agree that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming, the young girl made a very grown-up move: she decided to drastically change her own lifestyle to help combat the issue.
Even at such a tender age, Thunberg found the advice about recycling and switching off lights to save energy insufficient to tackle climate change. She also couldn’t understand why fighting global warming wasn’t at the forefront of humanity’s agenda. And so, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, Thunberg decided to become the change that she wished to see in the world.
At TEDxStockholm in December 2018, Thunberg shed some light on why she feels so compelled to fight global warming. She said, “For those of us who are on the spectrum, almost everything is black and white.” And as a result, the teen couldn’t understand how other people could go on living as normal while fully aware of the “existential threat” of climate change.
For Thunberg, fighting to save the planet became an obsession. She explained to The Guardian in March 2019, for instance, “In school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that; those pictures were stuck in my head.”
At first, Thunberg let her worries about climate change fester, and she fell into a deep depression. The girl stopped talking and even skipped school, until she eventually opened up to her parents about what had been troubling her. And as many parents do, they tried to reassure Thunberg that everything would be okay. But the determined teenager wasn’t satisfied.
That’s when Thunberg decided to face climate change head on by changing some of her family’s lifestyle habits. Her mom stopped traveling by airplane, for one thing, despite the impact that it had on her job, while her dad gave up eating meat. And once Thunberg had seen the positive change that she had incited in her parents, she turned her attention to the rest of the world.
Taking inspiration from the Parkland students who had skipped class to protest U.S. gun laws following the massacre at their school, Thunberg decided to go on strike herself – this time, to raise awareness about global warming. And the opportune moment came on August 20, 2018, after a massive heat wave had struck northern Europe, and forest fires had spread across Thunberg’s native Sweden.
Thunberg revealed what happened on that fateful day in Stockholm to The Guardian. “I painted the sign on a piece of wood and for the flyers wrote down some facts I thought everyone should know,” the teen explained. “And then I took my bike to the parliament and just sat there. The first day, I sat alone from about 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. – the regular school day. And then on the second day, people started joining me. After that, there were people there all the time.”
And while Thunberg met her fair share of criticism, she had a cutting response for the people who told her that she should be at school. Indeed, the teen revealed her comeback to said negative comments during her speech at the TedXStockholm conference. She said, “Why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future?”
So, Thunberg decided that she would skip school and petition outside of the Swedish parliament until her nation held its election. And there, she demanded that her country cut its carbon emissions in keeping with the 2015 Paris Agreement – the global framework that has been adopted by hundreds of countries to lower the emission of greenhouse gases. Then, after the elections on September 9, the teenager spoke at the People’s Climate March and began striking every Friday outside parliament.
But Thunberg’s astonishing activism didn’t end there. Not content with simply protesting the Swedish government, the teen urged individuals in other countries to sit outside their own parliaments and congresses, too – until the powers that be began to take global warming seriously. And Thunberg had some stellar advice in her speech at the People’s Climate March. She said, “Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. Please join in.”
It’s fair to say that Thunberg’s words came loud and clear. In fact, her rhetoric resonated around the world, and by December 2018 she had inspired more than 20,000 students to join in her “school strike for the climate” in no less than 270 cities across the globe. And as we entered 2019, Thunberg’s environmental youth movement only continued to grow.
That’s because in March 2019 Thunberg-inspired school strikes took place in a staggering 2,000 cities across the world, with around 1.4 million students taking part. And as a result, Thunberg became a rising voice in the campaign to protect our planet. Along with her TED talk, in fact, the teen delivered speeches at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Thunberg warned an audience full of business leaders and politicians that we have just over a decade to fix climate change. But in order to rectify the environmental crisis, society will have to alter its way of living dramatically, she claimed. And she didn’t mince her words when it came to expressing the challenges we face as a species, either.
Yes, during her eloquent speech at Davos, Thunberg gave her listeners a whole lot to think about. “Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it: we have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.”
What’s more, Thunberg implored adults to take the crisis more seriously. “I want you to panic,” she added. “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then, I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire – because it is.”
Unsurprisingly, the attention that Thunberg’s remarkable campaign received didn’t go unnoticed by three Norwegian MPs. And the politicians decided to nominate her for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. As a result, the teenager joined a shortlist of 301 candidates in the running for the prestigious award.
Among Thunberg’s nominators is Norwegian MP Freddy Andre Ovstegard. And in March 2019 he explained why to the AFP news agency, “We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, conflict and refugees. [She] has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”
After learning of the remarkable news that she had been included in the Nobel Peace Prize shortlist, Thunberg took to Twitter to celebrate. The teen announced the revelation to her nearly 400,000 followers, simply writing that she is “honored and very grateful for this nomination.”
The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in October 2019 and presented two months later at Oslo City Hall in Norway. The winner will be chosen by five people – the Norwegian Nobel Committee – who are selected by the parliament. And should Thunberg be successful, she will become the youngest ever recipient of the prize. That’s because at 16 she is a year younger than Malala Yousafzai was when she took home the accolade back in 2014.
Until then, it looks likely that Thunberg will continue her fight to protect our planet and encourage others to do the same. And the more support she gets, the more hopeful she becomes. The teen told her audience at TedXStockholm, “If a few children can [make] headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together, if we wanted to?”