Why Greta Thunberg is my idol – for more reasons than climate activism

There's more to Greta Thunberg than climate activism – a lot more. Here's why I look up the 16-year-old Swede


Greta Thunberg is my idol. I never thought I'd say that about a 16-year-old girl, but here we are.

The Swedish-born climate activist, who launched the global 'School Strike for Climate' movement, has proven time and time again that she's a leader. But it goes further than that. To me, Greta is a role model; someone who demonstrates positive characteristics I can only dream of.

Confidence

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Despite her young age, Greta has no problem standing up in front of thousands (or if you factor in her social media audience – millions) of people. She speaks clearly and confidently; unphased and unintimidated by the powerful world leaders sitting before her.

She has spoken at the World Economic Forum; the UN Climate Change Conference; the European Economic and Social Committee; European Parliament; Houses of Parliament in London, to name but a few. What's more, Greta speaks with such conviction that listeners hang on her every word.

Every speech Greta gives is steeped in research. She knows what she's talking about inside-out, and she is more than capable of defending her points.

Age aside, I commend any woman who can put herself out like that. Public speaking is not something I've ever been comfortable with, yet Greta makes it look effortless.

Brave, yet calm

Unfortunately, by putting herself out there, Greta has received a lot of criticism online. Despite a wealth of statistics to back her up, she has been accused of being overdramatic and 'making it all up'. More often than not, this criticism comes from so-called 'climate change deniers'; usually middle-aged men in suits.

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Political columnist David Vance refers to her as a "doomsday cult leader". Columnist Brendan O’Neill went a step further; criticising her appearance. "This poor young woman increasingly looks and sounds like a cult member," he wrote. "The monotone voice. The look of apocalyptic dread in her eyes..."

Meanwhile, journalist Toby Young said she is nothing more than the "privileged" daughter of a former Eurovision Song Contest entrant.

Personal insults like these are hurtful to anybody, let alone a vulnerable teenage girl.

"It's okay if you refuse to listen to me. I am, after all, just a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden. But you cannot ignore the scientists, or the science..."

Still, Greta responds calmly to these attacks. Rather than hitting back with rash or impulsive comebacks; she remains calm and collected. Her responses (if she bothers to respond at all) are not personal attacks on the man; rather she cautiously questions his stance on the climate crisis.

For Greta, the focus is always on the greater cause; not cheap bullying tactics.

When Andrew Bolt labelled her "deeply disturbed", Greta responded, "I am indeed 'deeply disturbed' about the fact these hate and conspiracy campaigns are allowed to go on and on and on just because we children communicate and act on the science".

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Determination

Despite criticism, Greta Thunberg never gives up her fight for climate justice. She is committed to going the extra mile; whether it's organising school strikes for climate; travelling by train to join international protests or sailing by 'carbon zero' yacht to a UN Climate Action Summit.

Greta will arrive in New York this week after sailing across the North Atlantic Ocean. The teen refuses to travel by plane because of the harmful carbon emissions it would create, and so she was invited to make the two-week journey on the 18-metre racing yacht, Malizia II.

Beyond hi-tech navigation equipment and a laboratory to monitor CO2 levels in the water (all of which is powered by solar energy), there’s little else on board.

There is no bathroom, but a blue bucket which can be emptied overboard after-use. Then, when it comes to meals, Greta eats freeze-dried packets of vegan food mixed with water heated on a tiny gas stove.

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If that's not determination and dedication, I don't know what is.

Passion

Lastly, Greta's passion for the environment and the future of our planet is remarkable. Contrary to what her critics say, she is not 'just looking for attention' – she truly cares about the climate crisis and is committed to making a difference. To me, that kind of passion is admirable.

In a heartfelt speech at European Parliament, Greta slammed MEPs for their inaction on climate change; criticising them for focusing too heavily on Brexit. She also noted how quickly politicians reacted to the recent fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. "The whole world witnessed with sadness and despair the fire at Notre-Dame, but Notre-Dame will be rebuilt," she said.

"I hope it has strong foundations and I hope we have strong foundations," she added, "but I'm not so sure.

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"I beg you, please do not fail on this"

"We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and the extinction rate is 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal," she continued tearfully, "with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day.

"Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of our forests, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, the acidification of our oceans; these are all disastrous trends being exhilarated by a way of life that we, in our financially fortunate part of the world, see as our 'right' to simply carry on."

Greta went on to say, "It's okay if you refuse to listen to me. I am, after all, just a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden. But you cannot ignore the scientists, or the science, or the millions of children who are school-striking for the right to a future," she said.

"I beg you, please do not fail on this".

And so I've deemed Greta Thunberg my idol. Yes, she's young, but that doesn't undermine her power nor the message she's trying to communicate.

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At 16 years of age, she is more educated and informed on climate change than most of us. She has the confidence, bravery, determination, intelligence and passion needed to fight those at the top. In the past 12 months, she's done more for the earth than any world leader.

She's an inspiring role model – and we need her.

Photo: Greta Thunberg via Twitter


Read more: 'Biggest compliment yet': Greta Thunberg responds to criticism from the oil industry

Read more: How to talk to your children about climate change

Read more: Iceland held a funeral for its first glacier destroyed by climate change

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