The other side of Greta Thunberg | Sunday Observer

The other side of Greta Thunberg

29 May, 2022

We all know about Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate campaigner. She first drew public attention when she protested outside the Swedish parliament in 2018. It was against excessive carbon emissions by world super powers.

At that time she was 15, and that single-person campaign gradually inspired thousands of young people across the world to organise their own strikes. According to the BBC, by December 2018, over 20,000 students - from the UK to Japan - had joined her by skipping school to protest. In 2018, she expanded her campaign up to forming a movement known as Fridays for Future (also called School Strike for Climate). Because of this, in 2019, she received the first of three Nobel Peace Prize nominations for climate activism, and the same year in December, she was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

These are widely known facts about Thunberg, but there are lots of lesser known or unknown facts about her. Following are behind her scenic side.

Climate strike, the word of the year

The hallmark of Greta Thunberg is to embark on impossible journeys. As said earlier, she began a global movement by skipping school: starting in August 2018, she spent three consecutive weeks camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read Skolstrejk för klimatet: “School Strike for Climate”. Within 16 months since, she could address heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history, according to ‘Time’.

World media reported that after her success, her image has been celebrated in murals and Halloween costumes, and her name has been attached to everything from bike shares to beetles. Prominent novelist Margaret Atwood once compared her to Joan of Arc, and lexicographers at Collins Dictionary named her pioneering idea, climate strike, the word of the year.


Greta’s full name is Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg. She was born on January 3, 2003, in Stockholm, Sweden. Her mother, Malena Ernman, was an opera singer and former Eurovision Song Contest participant, while her father, Svante Thunberg, was an actor and a descendant of the scientist who created a model of the greenhouse effect.

Asperger syndrome

How could Thunberg become such an aggressive activist at such young age? If you look at her speeches, especially her speech at 2019 UN climate conference in New York, she spoke with very angry – “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words!” It was not a 16 year-old teenager there anymore, but a different person. After seeing her speech, the then US President Donald Trump tweeted that she should “work on her anger management problem.”

But how could Greta Thunberg transform another person? Many researchers attribute this to a rare disease that she was diagnosed with: Asperger syndrome. This disease is now considered an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the facts, ASD is characterized by abnormalities in social interactions (as in classic autism) but with normal intelligence and language development. Encyclopaedia Britannica mentions,

“People with Asperger syndrome tend to focus deeply on one idea or interest, and Thunberg’s cause became climate change. She first learned about the issue when she was approximately eight years old, and within a few years she changed her own habits, becoming a vegan and refusing to travel by airplane.”

Writing for ‘Climate, Changed, Climate Ideas’ website, Karl Mathiesen reveals, “the seeds for Thunberg’s conversion to social justice advocacy arguably go back to the very beginning of her activism, which was sparked, famously, by a feeling that she and the rest of her generation were being betrayed: Given the cause and consequences of climate change, why weren’t responsible adults — parents, teachers, politicians — doing more? Why was no one panicking?”

Mathiesen also writes, “In her early teens, Thunberg became sick. She ceased eating and talking. Activism, both Thunberg and her parents have said, was her salvation. It was also a process of finding and banding together people who shared her anxiety and her view that, ultimately, climate change is a moral question: right and wrong — or as she has said, black and white.”

In this way, it is not difficult to figure out how Thunberg became such an unusual person. Thunberg herself acknowledges the role her development disorder plays in her. At one point, she tweeted: “I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And—given the right circumstances—being different is a superpower.”

In addition to her environmental work, she is also working on raising awareness about Asperger and inspiring those who had the disorder.

Thunberg had good opportunities to speak on climate issues before many world leaders. Because of this, she received many accolades as well as harsh criticisms from politicians and prominent figures across the world. Accordingly, Prince Harry praised Thunberg’s campaigning, saying “every country, every community, every school, every friendship group, every family needs their own Greta”.

Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 summit, has said that Thunberg’s UN speech in 2019 had made him feel “really uncomfortable” because it held up a “mirror” to his generation.

But not all politicians have been as complimentary. Russian President Vladimir Putin described her as a “kind but poorly informed teenager”, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro notably called her a “brat” in 2019.

Activities during the pandemic

When covid19 pandemic hit the world, Greta was at the center of organising public strikes on climate change issues. But Covid lockdowns put an end to the boisterous Fridays For Future school strikes. Then, she turned to use zoom conversations and workshops to share her movement’s programs and plans. As Thunberg noted recently, through those zoom workshops she was thoroughly informed on difficulties other climate activists, particularly Asian and African countries’ climate activists faced.

Apart from participating in zoom conversations, Thunberg also vigorously worked on covid19 vaccination programs during the pandemic. She threw herself into the fight for vaccine equality. At one point, she threatened to boycott the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow unless countries could attend on an equal basis. As a result, the U.K. government responded to the demands of developing countries by rolling out a vaccine program for delegates and Thunberg attended the conference.

Anyway, while the meeting progressed, she came outside of the COP26 meeting and spoke to a crowd outside in November 2021. There, she said climate change was being fueled by a system based on “the idea that some people are worth more than others.” It’s “naive,” she added, to think the problem could be fixed using the same old methods and not addressing the “root cause.” COP26 was a “failure,” she said, and returned to school in Sweden before it was even halfway through, as reported by Karl Mathiesen.

In this way, there are many aspects in Thunberg’s life that are worthwhile to discuss. Definitely, she has inspired a whole younger generation in the world to pursue their dreams, particularly in terms of environmental protection. As broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough mentioned, things Thunberg achieved are things many others have failed to do. So, as he correctly said, she deserves to say, “You have aroused the world. I’m very grateful to you.”