Why do we think Greta is great?
Greta Thunberg shot to prominence in 2018/19 when she started a ‘school strike for climate’ outside the Swedish parliament. Her solitary vigil created a global wave of viral climate action that has built into a number of organisations and lobbying groups.
Her direct and uncompromising style has won her both acclaim and criticism; what cannot be denied is her impact. As such, she is the epitome of authentic: her actions are purpose, not status-driven, her purpose is whole-system in view, not piecemeal, and the systemic transformations she advocates are for the betterment of all, not for herself or her interest group. She speaks powerfully, simply, and clearly – and not without emotion, which is also new and transformative to international speaking norms, especially at the UN.
Her rejection of the corporate extraction model has also won her admiration: in 2020 she was awarded the influential €1m Gulbenkian rights prize, which she promptly donated in its entirety to environmental groups. In authenticity terms, this is certainly putting your money where your mouth is, demonstrating that what she values is a safe and sustainable planet, over money.
As a leader Ms Thunberg has achieved millions of followers, but her rapid elevation also carries risk: those without her reach or impact shower her with adulation and hero-status, or target her for destruction, such is her potential threat. As time goes on it will be fascinating to see how her increasing impact can create long-lasting new momentum, pressure, and lasting change.