Greta Thunberg Changed The Climate Debate…. And You Can Too!

Veganuary’s Kieron Casey looks at how, after Greta Thunberg, the next person who can influence the climate debate is you!

Greta Thunberg Placard
Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash


One of the most powerful voices on the planet right now belongs to a 16-year-old vegan environmentalist. When Greta Thunberg began protesting inaction on climate change, she did so alone. But when she speaks now, the world listens.

She must hope what the world does next is act.

Greta Thunberg shot to prominence when she skipped school to begin a solitary protest outside of Swedish parliament in August 2018. Depressed by the Swedish government’s catatonic response to a snowballing climate breakdown, Thunberg took it upon herself to amplify the voices of scientists who have been warning us for decades about a rapidly approaching and urgent crisis. Human activity has already wiped out 60% of the earth’s animal population in the last four decades, and the situation is only going to get worse in the coming years for the animals, for the planet and for us too unless significant action is taken.

The young activist has managed to substantially raise the profile of the environmental situation and the coordinated inertia which surrounds it in a very short period of time. Crucially, she is no longer alone.

When Thunberg asks people to join her on protests now, they do: a school strike in May 2019 saw an approximate 1.4 million students from 112 countries across the planet join in, asking politicians to act immediately to avoid catastrophe. She also has the ear of decision-makers across the globe – during her Easter break alone, Thunberg spoke at the European Parliament, the Italian Senate, the Vatican and the UK’s Houses of Parliament to politicians and figureheads keen to hear her perspective. She has been vocal, and blunt, in her demands for global action against a system which is wrecking our Earth.


Yet, not everyone wants to hear what she has to say.

Whilst Thunberg was able to convince her own family to adopt a vegan diet and to abandon plane-flight, the activist has received stinging criticism from many people who just want her to shut up and go away.

Alan Grant, in an article for the Huffington Post titled “Why They’re Really Scared of Greta Thunberg” writes that the Swedish teenager:

(frightens) the life out of a particular middle-aged and middle-class establishment type of person… and that the reaction to her is driven by the fear of knowing that losing their place to her and those like her (in political conversation) is inevitable.

It is true that, whenever anybody fights for justice and to upturn the status quo, they will receive an incredible amount of abuse. Yet, in the case of Thunberg, the vitriol and the anger directed at a schoolgirl trying to combat the worst effects of climate change is truly startling.

Quillette writer Helen Dale posted on Twitter that she hoped that the autistic Thunberg would “have a meltdown on national telly” so that “we’ll never hear from her again.” Whilst Spiked Online’s Brendan O’Neill branded the Swedish teenager a “weirdo”, before criticising her monotone voice.

Attacks on Thunberg’s speech are particularly telling, but not in the way the authors may think. They are afraid of her voice, and how she uses it, and they understand that nothing is more powerful that an idea whose time has come. They cannot attack the content of Thunberg’s message, so they attack the messenger. It is a sign they know they are losing the debate.

We’ve seen the way in which Greta Thunberg has changed the dialogue – through dogged determination and a stoic commitment to doing what is right; through asking herself how she can change the world and asking others to join her. But what can we each take from her story?

"Save our planet" sign at protest
Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Perhaps the most important thing we should understand is that, as individuals, we can make changes and these changes can help shape what happens in the years to come. When over a million young people gather around the world to spread her message, Greta Thunberg has shown what the actions of just one person can blossom into. It is exciting, it is inspiring, and it is beautiful.

We should demand of our politicians, of our thought leaders, and of our figure-heads systemic change. We won’t accept the future that is laid out ahead of us; “business as usual” simply will not do. A mass extinction is not an inevitability, it is not immutable, and we can, collectively, seek out a new path.

Yet, at the same time we should ask, like Greta did, what each of us can do as individuals. Switching to a vegan diet may seem like a small thing, but if there are enough different people doing this one small thing, we don’t have to sit back and watch as the world changes for the worse. Climate change isn’t inevitable; we can fight back, starting with what we put on our plates.

Anybody who tells you that one person can’t make a difference is doing so because they don’t want change. If we stand up to them, we will find that we are not alone. There are millions of us, spanning every continent, who want a different future. We can do it as individuals, and we can do it together!

Greta Thunberg began alone, a 15-year-old school-girl uncertain if her pleas would fall on deaf ears, and yet she made the world listen. Together, perhaps we can make the world act?

If you speak up now, you never know who will listen, and you never know who they will tell. Through our actions, and our words, we can decide our future. Let’s.

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