Greta Thunberg: ‘I actually see the worth of friendship. Other than the local weather, nearly nothing else issues’


Greta Thunberg has made the final word sacrifice for the Guardian. She’s allowed us to show her right into a human oil spillage. The treacly black stuff is dripping from her hair, down her nostril, previous her cheeks on to her neck and shoulders.nostril, previous her cheeks on to her neck and shoulders.

Down, down, down it drips. By the point we communicate on Zoom, a day later, she has nearly received herself cleaned up. Has she ever been lined in oil earlier than? (It’s really a combination of non-toxic finger paint and olive oil.) “No,” she says. It is a typical Thunberg reply – brief, factual, to the purpose. She by no means likes to waste her phrases. How did it really feel? “It felt higher than I assumed it could really feel. I had a ribbon on my hair to not get my hair black, however then it spilt via the ribbon so my hair was utterly black. It was very troublesome to get off.” I counsel that she sues the Guardian. “Sure,” she says. Thunberg isn’t smiling.

We discuss very first thing on a Sunday. Take a look at Thunberg and he or she appears little modified – nonetheless elfin-like and earnest; nonetheless quoting the local weather science with fastidious politeness; and nonetheless with that curious mixture of pessimism (we’re doomed if we don’t act) and optimism (we are able to avert disaster if we do). However, as she relaxes, I start to find that this can be a very completely different Thunberg from the one she offered to the general public in 2018. Whereas she has finished a lot to alter our perspective of the world, the world has finished a lot to alter her – and, she says, for the higher. Regardless of the local weather disaster deepening by the day, Greta Thunberg has realized learn how to be glad.

Like the remainder of us she has retreated from the world over the previous yr and a half, however she has used her time to good impact – to develop up. Thunberg is now 18 years previous and campaigning as ferociously as ever, whereas dwelling in her personal condo (the place she is talking from), hanging out with mates and having enjoyable. She is popping into the form of younger girl that neither she nor her dad and mom might have ever envisaged.

At house in Stockholm, she says, she goes unnoticed. “Happily I stay in Sweden, which is superb as a result of folks aren’t keen on ‘celebrities’. Once I do get stopped, it’s principally vacationers and other people from overseas.”

Her father, Svante, speaking to me from the household house, tells a shaggy dog story concerning the time he and Greta attended a local weather exhibition within the Swedish capital. “She was the principle a part of the exhibition. There was an enormous image of her taken in North Dakota, hanging in the course of the hallway, 5 metres tall. Nobody got here as much as her. After we left, somebody got here up with an iPad. I assumed, ‘OK, perhaps somebody needs an autograph’ and the girl mentioned, ‘Excuse me, we’re doing a survey for the museum.’ That sums up how folks deal with her in Stockholm. They’re not very impressed, and I believe that’s good for her. Nobody actually provides a rattling.”

Locals might not give a rattling, however I uncover afterward that loads of different folks do – generally in a method that has threatened the security of Thunberg and her household.



I is likely to be naive as a result of I’m very younger. However naivety and childishness are generally a superb factor


Greta Thunberg shot in Stockholm in August 2021. {Photograph}: Marcus Ohlsson/Lundlund

Three years in the past Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg was an unknown 15-year-old terrified that we had been destroying the planet and livid that adults had been letting it occur. Her fury was notably directed at these with energy. She determined to take unilateral motion, and tweeted her plan. “We children most frequently don’t do what you inform us to do. We do as you do. And because you grownups don’t give a rattling about my future, I received’t both. My title is Greta and I’m in ninth grade. And I’m faculty placing for the local weather till election day.” She didn’t anticipate anybody to take discover. Thunberg had spent her brief lifetime not being seen. She was small, hardly ever spoke and described herself as “that woman within the again who by no means mentioned something”.

Thunberg spent the primary day sitting cross-legged on her personal exterior the Swedish parliament alongside an indication constituted of wooden scrap that learn “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“Faculty strike for local weather”). Though she was placing, she nonetheless handled it as a daily faculty day – she rode to the Riksdag on her bike, took out her books and studied until the top of the varsity day. The subsequent week a number of others joined her – fellow college students, lecturers and fogeys – and her marketing campaign started to draw media curiosity. In September 2018 she started a daily Friday strike, calling it Fridays for Future, encouraging different college students to affix her. By March 2019, her protest had unfold to greater than 70 nations. On 20 September 2019, 4 million folks joined a faculty strike throughout 161 nations – the biggest local weather demonstration in historical past.

Inside a yr, Thunberg had turn out to be probably the most well-known folks on Earth. Since then she has been nominated twice for the Nobel peace prize, addressed the UN and been thanked by the pope. Liberal world leaders suck as much as her to point out their folks they take the local weather disaster significantly, rightwing populist leaders mock her to point out that they don’t. November’s Cop26 local weather convention in Glasgow is because of be attended by greater than 200 nations, and shall be one of many largest gatherings of world leaders in historical past. However many individuals solely wish to hear from one individual – the autistic teenager with the pigtails.

Maybe the largest change in Thunberg is her religion in folks. When she began out, she didn’t have any. “I didn’t assume younger folks cared about local weather as a result of all of the younger folks I knew had been like, ‘Oh yeah, the local weather is vital, however I don’t wish to do something about it.’ However it turned out many younger folks world wide really care. Quite a bit! And they’re very able to do one thing about it. I’m very glad I used to be confirmed improper.”

She talks concerning the activists she has met, and the way they’ve impressed her. For the primary time in her life, she was assembly individuals who shared her ardour – or obsession. I had met one in every of her fellow Fridays for Future activists a few weeks in the past – Vanessa Nakate, Uganda’s first faculty striker. Thunberg’s face lights up after I point out her. “Vanessa is an unbelievable individual.” She attracts such power from folks like Nakate, she says, as a result of they’re taking better dangers than she has ever needed to.

“Some locations are a lot more durable to be an activist in than others. I look as much as them a lot. They provide me the hope and inspiration to hold on.” She pauses. “In fact, I is likely to be naive as a result of I’m very younger.” She pauses once more. “However I believe naivety and childishness are generally a superb factor.” The beauty of youth, she says, is you’re not blinded by realpolitik and the idea of compromise. “I do assume older folks make issues extra sophisticated than they really are.”

Is there a way of solidarity between fellow activists? “Undoubtedly. We’ve every day contact. We don’t simply marketing campaign collectively, we’re additionally mates. My greatest mates are inside the local weather motion.” I ask if she might ever be mates with a local weather denier. “Erm, yeaaaah,” she says uncertainly. “I imply in a technique we’re all local weather deniers as a result of we’re not performing as if it’s a disaster. I don’t know. It relies on the scenario.” So there’s hope on your friendship with Donald Trump? She lets out a hiccup of laughter. “Effectively, I don’t assume we’d get pleasure from one another’s firm that a lot. We’ve very completely different pursuits.” In 2019, when Thunberg was topped Time journal’s individual of the yr, Trump tweeted: “So ridiculous. Greta should work on her Anger Administration downside, then go to a superb quaint film with a buddy! Chill Greta, Chill!” Eleven months later, with Trump demanding a recount, having misplaced the election to Joe Biden, Thunberg coolly tweeted: “So ridiculous. Donald should work on his Anger Administration downside, then go to a superb quaint film with a buddy! Chill Donald, Chill!”

She remains to be interested by the query of befriending a local weather denier. The humorous factor is, she says, she was in denial herself. “Once I first heard about it, I didn’t assume it was actual as a result of if it was actual, folks would do one thing about it. It didn’t add as much as me.”

Then, aged eight, she was proven a movie of an armada of plastic assailing our oceans. She couldn’t get it out of her head. She began to examine it, and have become an increasing number of terrified. She was exceptionally vibrant, with a photographic reminiscence, however was additionally withdrawn and quiet. And she or he was turning into extra so.

On the age of 11 she fell right into a deep melancholy and stopped consuming and speaking. Why does she assume she was so sad? “One of many causes was I couldn’t wrap my head round the truth that folks didn’t appear to care about something, that everybody simply cared about themselves slightly than every thing that was occurring with the world. And being an oversensitive baby with autism, it was positively one thing I thought of rather a lot, and it made me unhappy.” Was it additionally as a result of she had been bullied in school? “Yeah, to some extent.”

I ask if she actually stopped speaking. “I spoke to my dad and mom, my sister and a bit to my instructor,” she says. Why did she cease? “I don’t know. I simply couldn’t.”



I imply in a technique we’re all local weather deniers as a result of we’re not performing as if it’s a disaster


When an eight-year-old Thunberg was proven a plastic armada within the ocean, she could not get the picture out of her head. {Photograph}: Darko Vojinović/AP

Svante tells me it was terrifying. “It was full hell; a nightmare for me and my spouse. We took on a regular basis on the earth to be along with her and type this out, and that was the most effective factor we’ve finished in our lives.”

Svante and the opera singer Malena Ernman have two kids: Greta and her sister, Beata, who’s three years youthful. When Greta was born, Malena’s profession was taking off, so Svante – who had educated as an actor – stayed at house to take care of the youngsters. By the point they began faculty, Malena was touring internationally. Svante began a manufacturing firm and taken care of her work. However when Greta fell unwell, he turned a stay-at-home dad once more, monitoring every thing she ate (“5 items of gnocchi in two hours”) and her dramatic weight reduction, and speaking her via her fears. That was when he found that a lot of it was rooted within the local weather disaster.

It amuses him when he reads that it was he and Malena who turned her right into a local weather activist. Svante says that Malena was an activist however she campaigned for refugees (and so they had refugees dwelling with them) slightly than the surroundings. The one aspiration he had for Greta again then was for her to get higher. As for himself, he knew little concerning the local weather disaster, wasn’t satisfied by what he did know and simply wished to get a pleasant massive automobile – an SUV or pick-up truck. Over time, Greta modified his thoughts.

“The best way she received us was a bit by pressure. She hijacked us. She began turning off lights. She reduce the electrical energy invoice in half.” He laughs. “She’d say, ‘Why have you ever received the lights on on this room, you’re not even in right here?’ and I’d say, ‘As a result of we stay in a rustic the place it’s darkish on a regular basis and it makes me really feel good’ and he or she’d say, ‘Why? It doesn’t make any sense.’ In fact, she was proper.”

Did he get pissed off along with her? “Oh hell, yeah. She could be very, very, very annoying. However as a result of we had been on this disaster we needed to react, so we turned conscious and started to do stuff for the surroundings, however not as a result of we wished to avoid wasting the surroundings; we did it to avoid wasting our baby.”

On the time, Beata had additionally been identified with neurodevelopmental issues, and the household was imploding. Malena and Svante wrote a guide about this era, with the Bergmanesque title Scenes from the Coronary heart. It was printed on 23 August 2018, three days after Greta’s first faculty strike. Svante says the timing couldn’t have been worse. “It was a hell of a nuisance when she determined to do the strike as a result of it left us in a tough scenario.” Why? “It was apparent everybody would say you’ve written this guide and he or she’s happening faculty strike as a PR stunt. However she had made up her thoughts she was happening strike, so we thought the one factor we might do was give each cent away. All our earnings from the guide went to charity.”

Within the guide, Malena describes how the 11-year-old Greta was “slowly disappearing into some form of darkness and, little by little, little by little, she appeared to cease functioning. She stopped enjoying the piano. She stopped laughing. She stopped speaking … She stopped consuming.” They had been, she concluded, “burned-out folks on a burned-out planet”. An up to date model of the guide was printed final yr within the UK, retitled Our Home Is on Hearth: Scenes of a Household and a Planet in Disaster, this time with contributions from the women, and the entire household credited as authors. Malena defined why she had felt compelled to write down it within the first place. “As a result of we felt like shit. I felt like shit. Svante felt like shit. The youngsters felt like shit. The planet felt like shit. Even the canine felt like shit,” she wrote. Svante says hardly anyone purchased both model of the guide as a result of they determined to not market it.

I ask Thunberg how vital her household’s help has been. “To start with they didn’t like the thought of me skipping faculty, however then they helped extra, arranging journeys. My dad even adopted me on some.” They made big sacrifices for you, I say. “Yep. They modified their life. My mum stopped flying, and by doing that she stopped her worldwide profession, and I actually admire it.”

Does she really feel responsible about stymying her mom’s profession? She appears stunned by the query. “It was her alternative. I didn’t make her do something. I simply supplied her with the data to base her resolution on.” At instances like this you’ll be able to see how unyielding she is – whereas it’s the supply of her power, you’ll be able to think about simply how powerful it might have been for her dad and mom. “In fact, you would argue one individual’s profession will not be extra vital than the local weather, however to her it was a really massive factor,” she says.

Thunberg and her mom, opera singer Malena Ernman. {Photograph}: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/PA

Thunberg was at house along with her father for a yr. By the point she was able to return to high school (initially a specialist autism faculty, then grammar faculty), she had been identified with Asperger’s, obsessive compulsive dysfunction and selective mutism. Thunberg says the analysis got here as a reduction. “Once I felt essentially the most unhappy, I didn’t know that I had autism. I simply thought, I don’t wish to be like this. The analysis was nearly solely optimistic for me. It helped me get the help I wanted and made me perceive why I used to be like this.”

She describes her autism as her superpower. I ask why. “Lots of people with autism have a particular curiosity that they’ll sit and do for an eternity with out losing interest. It’s a really helpful factor generally. Autism could be one thing that holds you again, however if you happen to get to the fitting circumstance, if you’re round the fitting folks, if you happen to get the variations that you just want and you are feeling you’ve gotten a objective, then it may be one thing you need to use for good. And I believe that I’m doing that now.” Thunberg has not simply turn out to be the world’s best-known local weather change activist, but additionally its best-known autism activist.

As she tells her story, I can’t assist considering of it as some form of parable – the woman who was ignored, or worse, by her friends who turns into the face of a worldwide motion for younger folks.

Her rhetoric is as lovely as it’s brutal. Once more, she thanks her autism for the bluntness of her language. In a thunderous speech on the UN local weather motion summit in 2019, she instructed the nice and the nice: “That is all improper. I shouldn’t be standing right here. I ought to be again at school on the opposite aspect of the ocean. But you all come to us younger folks for hope. How dare you? You will have stolen my goals and my childhood together with your empty phrases.” It was a rare sight – the schoolgirl rebuking the world’s leaders within the language of a livid guardian. And the very folks she was condemning gave her a standing ovation.

There was a daunting depth to the speech. You couldn’t assist questioning what it was taking out of Thunberg. Does she really feel she has missed out on her teenagers? “No, positively not. I don’t have an urge to get together or drink alcohol or do no matter teenagers usually do. I get pleasure from far more doing this and being a nerd!” I ask what she does to chill out. “I hearken to music, and podcasts. However I do different issues. I do embroidery like I’m doing now.” I hadn’t even seen that she was stitching away whereas chatting. Can I see what she’s making? “No, as a result of it’s a shock for someone,” she says.

Really, she says, she’s received a great deal of hobbies. “I additionally do plenty of jigsaw puzzles. The largest was 3,000 items, however that didn’t match on the desk so it was very sophisticated to complete. And I additionally spend time with my two canine [a golden retriever and black labrador] and discuss tons to mates. We’re very foolish. Perhaps folks have an concept that local weather activists are severe, however that’s not the case.” She hiccups one other giggle.

Do you actually communicate to your local weather activist mates day-after-day? “Sure, many instances a day.” Do you’ve gotten events? “Since we’re unfold all around the world it’s exhausting to try this, however we have now Zoom calls and film nights on-line and plenty of chats the place we simply spam one another.”



I didn’t have the braveness to get mates. Now I’ve many, I actually see the worth of friendship. Other than the local weather, nearly nothing else issues


Thunberg shot in Stockholm in August 2021. {Photograph}: Marcus Ohlsson/Lundlund

Wow, I say, so, actually, you’re only a bunch of jokers? Somewhat crease spreads throughout her lips. I believe she’s smiling. “Sure, we talk about crucial matters like mousse and child carrots, and bread. Typically we have now very heated discussions.” About chocolate mousse? “No!” she says, appalled. “The animals.” Do you talk about whether or not moose are at risk of extinction? “No! I don’t know if I wish to say this. We joke we’re a moose cult.” Why? “It’s a really lengthy story. After which we have now these inside jokes, just like the poem concerning the child carrot.” At this level, I’ve to confess to her that she’s misplaced me. However she’s on a roll. “It’s Henrik Ibsen. You’ll be able to Google it. We generally have discussions the place we simply write ‘babycarrot, babycarrot, babycarrot’.” (I do Google it later, and uncover it’s a supply of competition whether or not Ibsen really wrote the 11-word poem Pricey Babycarrot.)

That’s bonkers, I say. She nods, fortunately. I really like seeing her like this. It feels a privilege to be let into her non-public world, nevertheless briefly. Plenty of folks would assume you don’t have the time or the inclination to fiddle, I say. “I believe we fiddle a bit an excessive amount of. I’ll make us sound like idiots now, however that’s what we do.”

I drag her away from the world of moose and child carrots to debate Cop26. How optimistic is she that the convention can obtain something? “I’m not. Nothing has modified from earlier years actually. The leaders will say we’ll do that and we’ll do that, and we’ll put our forces collectively and obtain this, after which they’ll do nothing. Perhaps some symbolic issues and artistic accounting and issues that don’t actually have a huge impact. We will have as many Cops as we wish, however nothing actual will come out of it.”

What does she take into consideration the truth that Boris Johnson says local weather is his precedence whereas on the similar time supporting new coalmines in Cumbria and the Cambo oil fields off the coast of Shetland? “It’s hypocritical to speak about saving the local weather so long as you’re nonetheless increasing fossil gasoline infrastructure.” She says she will’t consider a single politician who has impressed her. “No person has stunned me.” What about, say, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who mentioned that the local weather disaster was a matter of “life or dying” on the June launch of her new roadmap to manage world heating? She seems sceptical. “It’s humorous that individuals imagine Jacinda Ardern and other people like which might be local weather leaders. That simply tells you ways little folks know concerning the local weather disaster.” Why? “Clearly the emissions haven’t fallen. It goes with out saying that these persons are not doing something.” In April, it was revealed that New Zealand’s greenhouse-gas emissions had elevated by 2% in 2019.

Little has been seen of Thunberg through the pandemic. In Might a brief movie conceived by her examined how folks’s land use, agricultural practices and exploitation of animals create the right circumstances for ailments to spill over from animals to people, making pandemics ever extra possible. The Friday strikes turned digital as stay activism was placed on maintain. The enforced break was obligatory, her father says. She had finished a lot and travelled to this point (twice crossing the Atlantic by boat in 2019 to attend conferences, and journeying via America and Canada to witness the affect of local weather change) that she was exhausted. “The pandemic has been a whole tragedy for everybody, after all, however being caught right here in Sweden for a yr and a half has been good for Greta,” Svante says. “She positively wanted a break after all of the insanity she’s been via.”

Nonetheless, the very last thing Thunberg herself wished was a break – the local weather wouldn’t await her and, anyway, she was on a excessive. In spite of everything these years of wrestle, she had lastly discovered her objective.

It’s astonishing how many individuals see you as some form of secular saint, I say. “No!” she says adamantly. She sounds shocked, nearly offended on the suggestion. Do you end up getting bigheaded? “No, it’s crucial to not. However I believe it’s an exaggeration saying many individuals deal with me as a saint. Extra folks deal with me like one thing very, very dangerous. There are individuals who chortle as quickly as they hear my title.” Why? “As a result of they’ve already determined what they consider me and nothing they hear will change that perspective as a result of it’s such a filter bubble. And so they simply hear faux tales about me, and individuals who mock me. So it’s two extremes.”

When folks mock you, what are they mocking? “Oh, ‘The local weather goblin is forcing you to cease consuming meat’, which I’ve by no means mentioned. They simply do it to make enjoyable of me and different local weather activists.” Does that damage you? “Noooooah,” she says sweetly. “I perceive that everyone has their very own sense of humour. Me, personally, it doesn’t damage, but when it impacts my household or different activists, then it’s a unique factor.”

And has it affected your loved ones? “Sure. If there are folks standing exterior your own home filming you thru the window after which attempting to interrupt in, after all that impacts the household. And continuously having rumours unfold about you that you just’re manipulating your baby, after all that impacts you.” Once more, she says that the rumours about herself don’t hassle her. Comparable to? “In line with some, I’m an evil, manipulative baby who takes benefit of everybody I meet. Others say I’m a helpless baby who has been exploited. Some say I’m a communist; some say I’m an excessive capitalist; some say I’m an agent for India, or Russia, or the US … ” She might go on. How is she an excessive capitalist? She shrugs. “I don’t know.”

Svante will not be so fast to shrug it off, although. She has needed to take care of greater than rumours, he says. “There have been numerous dying threats, and one man has been sentenced in courtroom in Sweden. As a guardian you’d be a idiot to not fear about that.” Does it scare him? “In fact. There are plenty of loopy folks on the market. Now, although, her being 18, she’s an grownup, she makes her personal selections; she will resolve every thing and he or she simply needs to stay like a traditional individual. Her being a public determine will not be a spot the place you essentially wish to be.”

Thunberg will not be alone in receiving threats. Local weather activists are being focused world wide. This month, the marketing campaign group World Witness revealed that greater than 220 activists who work to guard the surroundings and land rights had been murdered final yr – a document quantity.

In addition to her enemies, there are the Greta groupies to deal with. Whereas the locals let her get on along with her life in Stockholm, some worldwide followers have been extra intrusive, Svante says. “After we got here again from North America, she couldn’t keep at house as a result of folks saved exhibiting up. They travelled from numerous nations and got here knocking on the door, and that was a little bit of an issue.” It received so dangerous that he and Greta moved out of the household house into one other condo.

Just some weeks in the past, she left house completely to stay by herself. Might he think about when Greta was struggling most that at 18 she could be dwelling independently? “The primary factor I’m involved about is my kids being effectively, and the truth that Greta is now dwelling by herself, coping by herself, travelling by herself is superb,” he says.

Thunberg leads a faculty strike and sits exterior of the Swedish Parliament. {Photograph}: Michael Campanella/The Guardian

Thunberg is having fun with the brand new freedoms of grownup life. Yesterday she went on a demo that had nothing to do with local weather – a protest towards the violence in Afghanistan. She thinks she might go to college subsequent yr, however nothing has been finalised. Profession-wise she at all times tells Svante she’d like to do one thing that’s nothing to do with local weather, as a result of it could imply that the disaster has been averted. However they each realize it’s a fantasy. Within the meantime, she is again placing in the actual world, on Fridays, alongside tens of millions of others.

I sense that what she’s actually wanting ahead to is spending high quality time along with her mates at Cop26, tearing a strip off the heads of state for failing the world’s younger but once more, and chatting nonsense about moose cults and child carrots.

I ask if she was pleasant with any younger folks earlier than she turned an activist. “No,” she says baldly. Would you say till three years in the past you didn’t have any mates? “I had mates, however I didn’t have mates my very own age. I used to be a superb buddy with my instructor, and I had mates after I was youthful. Then I didn’t. So it was a wierd feeling to have at all times been the quiet individual within the again that no person actually seen, to turning into somebody numerous folks really hearken to.”

Hers is a exceptional story. Not simply the fantastical stuff – the little woman who conquered the world. However the smaller, extra private story, the one she’d likely inform us doesn’t matter – the misplaced little woman who realized learn how to belong. That is the one that actually strikes me.

When she didn’t have mates, did she need them? “I believe I did, however I didn’t have the braveness to get mates,” she says. “Now, when I’ve received many mates, I actually see the worth of friendship. Other than the local weather, nearly nothing else issues. In your life, fame and your profession don’t matter in any respect whenever you examine them with friendship.”

Thunberg says she has met like-minded folks – in each method. “Within the Fridays for Future motion, so many individuals are like me. Many have autism, and they’re very inclusive and welcoming.” She believes the explanation that so many autistic folks have turn out to be local weather activists is as a result of they can’t avert their gaze – they’ve a compulsion to inform the reality as they see it. “I do know tons of people that have been depressed, after which they’ve joined the local weather motion or Fridays for Future and have discovered a objective in life and located friendship and a group that they’re welcome in.” So the most effective factor that has come out of your activism has been friendship? “Sure,” she says. And now there isn’t any mistaking her smile. “Undoubtedly. I’m very glad now.”



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