Climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25
Six months ago, a then-unknown Greta Thunberg camped outside Sweden’s parliament next to a hand-written sign that read ‘Skolstrejk för Klimatet’ (School strike for the climate).
She skipped school every Friday to sit on the steps of the Riksdag and soon became a global success following her first TED talk – which now has more than a million views.
The 16-year-old climate crusader has already been immersed in her specialist subject for seven years.
Last year Greta described herself as having been ‘diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism, saying ‘I only speak when I have something important to say’.
She added: ‘I see the world a bit differently, from another perspective… I can do the same thing for hours.’
She comes from an eminent family. Her mother is the beautiful blonde Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman who was the country’s entry in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.
Her father is actor Svante Thunberg, who was named after a distant relative, Svante Arrhenius, a Nobel-prize-winning scientist who in 1896 first calculated the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions.
Greta holds a placard next to students at a ‘strike for climate’ in Davos on January 25
Greta explained that she first learned about climate change in school, aged nine.
‘They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,’ she said in one interview. But she was baffled and frustrated by what she saw as a lack of action.
‘If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else,’ she said. ‘But this wasn’t happening.’
She started researching climate change herself, giving up other extra-curricular activities along the way – and became a vegan, stopped buying anything that was not essential and refused to fly anywhere.
By 2016 she had convinced her mother to give up flying, and the family cut out all meat and dairy. They installed solar batteries, started growing their own vegetables, went vegan and cycled everywhere, keeping an electric car for emergencies.
In August last year, her private personal protest went public when she walked out of school and plonked herself outside the Riksdag, handing out leaflets saying ‘I’m doing this because you adulting are sh**ing on my future’.
Her demands were simple — that politicians reduced carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015.
In November 2018, still aged just 15 and dressed in a blue hoodie and hair in long plaits she gave her first TED talk, which has now been viewed more than a million times.
Some have questioned whether her rise to global fame has been as accidental as it appears, but Greta and her family have hit back hard at anmy suggestion of media manipulation.
PR consultant Ingmar Rentzhog’s We Don’t Have Time climate change PR agency used Greta’s image to gain funds for his firm, according to Climate Change Dispatch.
But the publication said the teenager’s family deny being aware that she would be used in this way, and the family have since cut ties with Mr Rentzhog’s organisation.
Her school strike coincided with the launch of a book about climate change written by her mother, according to Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche, but Greta denied that the book launch had anything to do with her.
Greta’s mother is Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman. She is seen performing during the Eurovision grand final in Moscow on May 16, 2009
Greta delivered a stern rebuke to attendees of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland in December 2018, accusing them of leaving the burden of climate change with future generations.
‘I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day,’ she told them.
And she told business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January ‘our house is on fire!’, after piously camping in the snow in temperatures of -18C rather than accepting luxury accommodation.
She arrived at the out-of-the-way location after a 32-hour train journey, eschewing the jet planes used by most attendees.
On February 15 and again on March 15 school students around the world, inspired by her example, played truant from school in a ‘strike’ to protest climate change.
In the UK last month, thousands of placard-waving youngsters ditched their lessons and flocked to London’s Parliament Square to try to grab the attention of MPs.
Students in Canterbury, in Kent, join the schools strike in March – including one boy in school uniform who appears to have walked straight out of school
They chanted ‘this is what democracy looks like’ while primary school children, who were at the protest with their parents and holding handmade placards, shouted ‘climate change, boo!’
The walkouts took place in more than 100 UK towns and cities, including Kent, Edinburgh and Bristol, as part of a global day of action inspired by Greta.
In response to the protests in March, United Nations climate change chief Patricia Espinosa said: ‘What we’re seeing is a clear message from youth throughout the world that nations must significantly increase their efforts to address climate change.
‘Given the urgency the world faces, it’s vital nations come up with more ambitious plans both this year and in 2020 as stated in the Paris Agreement.
‘This is how we will not only reach our collective climate goals, but how we will build a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future for all people.’
While recognising the importance of climate change in response to the first UK strike, Downing Street said the disruption increased teachers’ workloads and wasted lesson time, and Education Secretary Damian Hinds said missing class was not the answer.
The children’s demands for urgent action to treat climate change as a global emergency come in the wake of a UN report last year which warned that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which climate impacts become increasingly severe, requires unprecedented action.
That includes cutting global carbon dioxide emissions by almost half within 12 years, and to zero by mid-century.