When 16-year-old Greta Thunberg began skipping school in favor of sitting outside Swedish parliament in Stockholm last August, she was alone in her defiance. In the coming days, other people joined her protest — and that August 2018 strike would soon grow to become the worldwide Fridays For Future movement that has shut down city streets, mobilized millions of people to make their voices heard, and continues to hold world leaders accountable to treat the climate crisis like the emergency that it is. She has met with presidents, prime ministers, celebrities — even the pope. But Greta knows she is not alone, which puts her immediately at odds with her newest accolade: She’s Time‘s 2019 Person of the Year.
“I share this great honour with everyone in the #FridaysForFuture movement and climate activists everywhere,” she wrote on Twitter. The magazine unveiled the distinction on Wednesday (December 11), in a profile that followed her across the Atlantic on a boat called La Vagabonde, and then to Madrid, Spain, prior to her speech at the United Nations climate summit.
Of the movement she has helped turn into a global conversation, Greta told the magazine, “We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow. That is all we are saying.”
While Greta speaks in the first-person about her personal life — including why learning about the crisis at age 11 first triggered her depression and later inspired her to act — she often refers to a “we” that symbolizes other young people putting in the work to move the needle towards a more equitable future for communities who are already being affected by the climate crisis and environmental racism, and who often do not receive the same amount of media attention.
12-year-old Mari Copeny has been advocating for her hometown of Flint, Michigan, ever since a governmental decision to switch the water supply rendered water undrinkable and potentially lethal for residents. 18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is an Indigenous activist and artist, and serves as the Youth Director for Earth Guardians. Xiye Bastida is a 17-year-old Indigenous Mexican and member of the Otomi-Toltec nation, and now mobilizes other young people in New York City. Zero Hour founder Jamie Margolin, 14-year-old Earth Uprising founder Alexandria Villaseñor, 19-year-old Indigenous Brazilian Artemisa Xakriabá, Future Coalition founder Katie Eder, Ugandan Fridays for Future leader Hilda Nakabuye, and Indian activist Aaghaz Ahmad are just a handful of young people dedicated to preserving the environment here and now, so that future generations stand a fighting chance.
“This is not about me striking,” Greta told Time. “This is now us striking from school.”
The collective clarity is also inspiring other groups to rally around the ways the climate crisis affects and informs their own central issues. A Future of Humanity study from Amnesty International found that 41 percent of people aged 18-25 cite the earth’s warming as the most pressing issue facing the world right now. Sixty-three percent of respondents said their countries’ leaders should take citizens’ health and wellbeing more seriously than economic growth. Given that climate change greatly affects economic inequality, and is already wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of marginalized communities, and that 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global carbon emissions, it’s understandable that activists would push their governments to prioritize the environment over a short-term economic win.
“We can’t let these problems continue on for future generations to take care of,” 19-year-old Jaclyn Corin, a founder of March For Our Lives, told Time. “Adults didn’t take care of these problems, so we have to take care of them, and not be like older generations in their complacency.”
Greta has previously turned down environmental awards; in October, she declined a prize from the Nordic Council looking to honor her work with Fridays For Future. “The climate movement does not need any more awards,” she wrote on Instagram. “What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science.”