What can students learn from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg?
Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg (centre) has bravely stood her ground to get politicians to do more for climate change. Source: Shutterstock

You may have heard her name being mentioned in the media, or seen videos or her speaking to the press doing the rounds on social media. She’s generating a buzz around climate change in an attempt to get the issue the necessary action it deserves.

This formidable force is Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has skipped school to sit outside the Swedish parliament to get politicians to act on the climate crisis.

Her Twitter profile humbly reads: “16 year old climate activist with Asperger”, and Thunberg’s brave stand has already inspired thousands of youths in various countries to follow her lead.    

If you haven’t already felt galvanised by Thunberg, here are six lessons we can draw from this inspiring lass.

We must care about climate change

In her translated article that was widely shared on social media, Thunberg wrote: “The first time I heard about global warming, I thought: that can’t be right, no way there is something serious enough to threaten our very existence.”

Watching Swedish party leaders arguing on TV about how it “made no sense” to curb Sweden’s emissions as the country was already a “role model” to other countries, she argued that: “Sweden is not a role model. The people of Sweden yearly emits 11 tonnes of CO2 per capita. We’re on eighth place in the world according to WWF. We’re the ones who need help.”

Meanwhile, speaking to CNN, she notes that she avoids flying and eating meat, in addition to avoiding buying new things unless necessary, teaching us that we need to be more environmentally-conscious and make changes to our lives to save the planet.

Which brings us to the next lesson.

Practice what you preach

Apart from advising what can be done to protect the environment and criticising politicians for not doing more to fight climate change, Thunberg also practices what she preaches, actively doing her part to make environmentally-conscious choices.

She wrote: “The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. Yet everyone believes that we can solve the crisis without effort, without sacrifice.”

It’s clear that knowing what we need to do versus actually doing it are two different things, but through avoiding becoming a walking contradiction, Thunberg demonstrates that she holds herself to high standards, too.

Determination can get you far

Thunberg felt strongly enough about climate change to take action, instead of merely complaining about it.

From going on a school strike outside the Swedish parliament to speaking at Davos, her continued effort and perseverance has brought her to where she is today and helped climate change gain more prominence.

Her fight has also helped other students become aware of the issue, encouraging them to call on those in power to do more to combat it. Thunberg has already inspired strikes in other countries, including the ‘Youth Strike 4 Climate’ in the UK. However, it’s worth noting that there are criticisms over students skipping school to protest their governments’ supposed inaction on climate change as children are legally required to attend school.

In a Facebook post, she wrote: “When I told my parents about my plans (of organising a school strike) they weren’t very fond of it. They did not support the idea of school striking and they said that if I were to do this I would have to do it completely by myself and with no support from them.

“On the 20 of August I sat down outside the Swedish Parliament. I handed out fliers with a long list of facts about the climate crisis and explanations on why I was striking. The first thing I did was to post on Twitter and Instagram what I was doing and it soon went viral.”

Build your communication skills – it’s important

Thunberg has spoken at the World Economic Forum 2019 in Davos, Switzerland (making headlines along the way for travelling by train instead of flying in) and has even given her own TED Talk.

She notes during her TEDxStockholm talk that she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and selective mutism, which “basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary – now is one of those moments”, when she was 11, but she still demonstrates the ability to captivate an audience with her words, which she often doesn’t mince.

“…I write my own speeches. But since I know that what I say is going to reach many, many people I often ask for input. I also have a few scientists that I frequently ask for help on how to express certain complicated matters. I want everything to be absolutely correct so that I don’t spread incorrect facts, or things that can be misunderstood,” she said on Facebook.

Being able to articulate your thoughts through writing or speech can help others understand your message with ease and quickly spread your message. It’s also a crucial skill in the workplace and one that can also help you develop your personal and professional working relationships, something of which students should take note.

Don’t let your disabilities stop you from doing what you love

According to the National Autistic Society, Asperger syndrome is a form of autism that cannot be cured; people with Asperger syndrome see, hear and feel the world differently to others.

Despite her diagnosis, Thunberg hasn’t let it stop her from speaking about climate change.

“Some people mock me for my diagnosis. But Asperger is not a disease, it’s a gift. People also say that since I have Asperger I couldn’t possibly have put myself in this position. But that’s exactly why I did this. Because if I would have been ‘normal’ and social I would have organised myself in an organisation, or started an organisation by myself,” she said on Facebook.

“But since I am not that good at socialising, I did this instead. I was so frustrated that nothing was being done about the climate crisis and I felt like I had to do something, anything. And sometimes NOT doing things – like just sitting down outside the parliament – speaks much louder than doing things. Just like a whisper sometimes is louder than shouting.”

Stand up to your critics

Being in the spotlight has undoubtedly put her in a position that subjects her to criticism, but this serves as a lesson for everyone that we need to stand up to our critics for a cause we deeply value.

As explained by Thunberg on Facebook: “Many people love to spread rumours saying that I have people ‘behind me’ or that I’m being ‘paid’ or ‘used’ to do what I’m doing. But there is no one ‘behind’ me except for myself. My parents were as far from climate activists as possible before I made them aware of the situation.

“I am not part of any organisation. I sometimes support and cooperate with several NGOs that work with the climate and environment. But I am absolutely independent and I only represent myself. And I do what I do completely for free, I have not received any money or any promise of future payments in any form at all. And nor has anyone linked to me or my family done so.”

In doing so, she demonstrates grace and tact in handling her critics, something we can all learn from.

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

How to help your university transform into a Green campus

The environment is collapsing – can higher education save it?