Greta Thunberg is receiving her new name. She gets out of her plastic chair, stands up on the floor of the sports hall. The spiritual leader Arvol Looking Horse is standing at the podium behind her. He says her name, gives a sign to the musicians. The celebration begins, with traditional songs and drums.
More than 500 children have gathered at Standing Rock Community School in South Dakota to hear Greta Thunberg and her activist colleague Tokata Iron Eyes in a conversation about the climate crisis. Most of the people here are indigenous people - Sioux from the tribes of Lakota, Dakota, Nakota. This place is known for the protests in 2016, against the planned Dakota Access Paipeline. The fear of a devastating leak made thousands of people get involved during a big portion of that year. They lost. The pipeline has been built.
– These places are on the frontline. These people are the ones who are the most affected, but also the ones who are leading the struggle against the climate crisis and the ecological crisis. They still have a connection to nature which a lot of us have lost. They have knowledge about how to get out of this crisis, Greta Thunberg says after the ceremony.
– I think it was unfortunate that the media chose to write about the fact that Kim Kardashian was honoring me. Instead of writing that these people are suffering. But, you know. The media makes strange choices sometimes.
Former Sioux leader Jay Taken Alive was the person who spontaneously suggested that Greta Thunberg should be honored with a Lakota name. ”You are awakening the world,” he said. The name:
”Mahpiya Etahan hi wi.”
The woman who came from the heavens.
A year ago Roger Turesson and I did our first interview with Greta Thunberg. We sat on the cold and grey stone paving on Mynttorget in front of the Swedish Parliament. Just a few weeks earlier she had held her first ever speech about the climate. In front of a couple of hundred people in Rålambshovsparken in Stockholm, Greta Thunberg said that the school strike she had started three weeks earlier would continue every Friday, until Sweden’s climate policy was in line with the Paris agreement.
Was she nervous?
– Situations that other people find stressful, I don’t think are stressful. I can easily keep my calm, she said then.
When we meet on the prairie two weeks have passed since she spoke in front of world leaders at the UN headquarters in New York. Now we are sitting in an electric car that she has borrowed from former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What were you feeling during your speech in the UN?
– I wasn’t nervous before the speech. The only thing I was thinking was that it was big, that I should focus. But it wasn’t a big deal. Then I came in and met some world leaders who wanted selfies.
Who were they?
– Merkel, among others. She started to talk a bit and obviously asked if it was ok to use the picture in social media.
– And then I went on stage, I listened when the other people spoke. And then when I started speaking it suddenly became very emotional. I think that is when I understood that this was a very important speech.
How did you prepare the speech?
– I started to think about the content of the speech around midsummer. That the message should be ”How dare you?”. To blame and shame the rulers. Then I did what I always do, I postponed thinking about it. So I started writing it a few days before the speech.
Do you get help to correct the facts?
– Yes, when the speech is almost finished I send it to one or several scientists, who varies. It can be an expert in a certain field for example. And then in a few hours they usually give me an answer. As comments in the document, ”you should add this” or things like that. And if there are inaccuracies or things that can be misunderstood I change them.
If Greta Thunberg had been an artist we would have said that she got her definite international breakthrough during those five minutes in the room which usually houses the UN General Council. With sorrow in her voice she locked her eyes on the Heads of State and Government who had flown in to be there. ”How dare you?” She delivered facts from the UN climate panel IPCC. ”The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5C degrees.”
She continued with her fact checked numbers, told the world leaders that the 50 percent chance is based on the IPCC report - and that it excludes factors like climate justice. And that the scenario assumes that there is technology to catch a vast amount of carbon dioxide from the air. Technology that barely exists today.
”So a 50 percent risk is just not acceptable to us, we who have to live with the consequences,” she said.
She was hailed. She was mocked. And she gained 3 million new followers on Instagram during the following week.
It’s fair to point out that the journey Greta Thuberg has undertaken is not just one from an unknown 15-year-old to one of the world’s most influential people. When she was 11 years old she suffered a severe depression. She didn’t speak to anyone outside her closest family, she couldn’t go to school. She stopped eating. After two months doctors at the child- and youth psychiatry ward observed that Greta would soon have to be placed in hospital for malnutrition. That became the turning point, the start of her long way back.
This summer Greta Thunberg told DN:
– I was so unhappy somehow. Nothing was happening. If I managed to walk out of the door to the grocery store that was something I would write in my diary and be proud of.
What did you think when you read the diary later?
– I thought that even if you disregard the activism and the fame, the life that I am living now is something I could only dream of a year or two ago.
From her place in the front seat of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s electric car the Nobel prize nominated Greta Thunberg looks like she is doing good. The dark impacts of her success are mostly noticeable at home, in Stockholm.
– The one who suffer is my sister. She is 13 years old and she has been subjected to systematic bullying, threats and harassment.
Who is harassing her?
– The people who write threats and hate to me do it to the whole family, even to her. The difference between me and the people who are left at home is that I am always traveling, inaccessible. People don’t know where I am staying, where I sleep at night, where I am. I have no daily life. But for my sister at home, who tries to have a daily life... She is much more reachable.
What do you do when the threats come?
– We report everything to the police.
How does that affect you?
– It’s awful. People ask how they can help me, but the people who really need help don’t get any, they get bullied and hated. And for my sister who is the one who is mostly affected there is no support whatsoever, instead she is being constantly discouraged.
What support should there be?
– Friends coming over, asking how she is doing. Being there. I get nice offers from people who want to help all the time. And the best way to help me at the moment is supporting my sister. Not because she is my sister, but because she is a wonderful and strong person. She is my best friend.
A few days into her sail over the Atlantic this summer Greta Thunberg started singing Swedish children’s songs that she had forgotten that she knew.
Maja’s alphabet songs, from A to Ö. The first thing she googled after going ashore was the song about the letter ”U”, the only one she still couldn’t remember.
It took 15 days for Greta Thunberg and her father Svante Thunberg to cross the Atlantic together with two crewmen and a cinematographer. The sail boat had solar panels, water power. A motor for security reasone, but it was never used. On the sails there was an obvious message - printed in bold white letters: ”Unite behind the science.”
– The trip was… it was like reliving life from the beginning. I started to remember all these songs and remembering new things from my childhood. It’s hard to describe the experience.
She slept twelve, sometimes fourteen, hours every night in a bunk. She was never seasick. She could sit quietly for long periods of time, looking out at sea.
– I had planned to write speeches, to plan things that were going to happen when we got here. But I couldn’t. My mind was just blank. It took a while to come back after we arrived.
At the arrival to New York the five Atlantic travelers were met by seventeen boats with different colored sails - the UN had sent them as a welcoming committee. Every boat represented each of the global sustainability goals.
Was it a scientific mission that she was on? In that case to a country with a politically polarized population - where the faith in science and its results is faltering. Most people (86 percent according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center) are very or to a large part confident that scientists are acting for the public good. But only six out of ten Americans want scientists to play an active role in the political debate concerning scientific topics.
The people who stand furthest away from Greta Thunberg’s view of the world are older, Republican voters. Many of them think political measures concerning the climate are meaningless or even harmful. Only around a quarter of the Republicans ”believe” that global warming is due to human activity.
At the same time almost 60 percent of the population in the US see the effects of climate change in their local area, for example by an increase in forest fires, draughts, floods and storms.
– Hello, how are you? I’ve seen you on the news!
The man in the white cowboy hat is standing inside a shop at a petrol station. Greta Thunberg has left the electrical car charging, he stops her. The prairie state of South Dakota has not elected a Democrat governor since the 1970's, the neighbouring state of North Dakota not since 1984. Since 1968 both the states' inhabitants have voted for Republican presidential candidates.
– I support you, says the man in the hat.
Greta Thunberg nods, and thanks him. She smiles. The Swedish 16-year-old is used to this. Not just to being stopped, posing for selfies, writing autographs. Also to being treated with respect.
– It’s always a positive chock somehow. It always makes me happy, because it means that this is so mainstream. That it has worked. Wherever I go, at every charging station, people recognize me. Many of them say that they live in places that are hurt and threatened. That they can see the harm that has been done to the environment and that they value that I tell it like it is.
Don’t people ever come up and say anything negative?
– No. Never. It happened a few times during day 1,2 and 3 of the strike in Stockholm. Before I became famous. Then people would come up and scream that I should listen to ”real science”. Or they would say I should be in school. But then that stopped.
– And that just goes to show how few people think like that. They sit and hide behind a screen or a letter. They would never come out and say that to me because they are not directing it at me, they are writing to create an opinion. To make science into a political question.
During the year that photographer Roger Turesson and I have been following Greta Thunberg, almost everything has changed.
She has gone from a lonely, almost withdrawn 15-year-old with no voting rights - to an esteemed, extremely wellspoken young woman with power that is hard to oversee.
The world has gone from having often quiet media outlets, non-existent debates and parliamentary and presidential elections with no mention of the climate. To green elections and millions of people taking the streets of the world, with a common agenda.
But one thing stays the same, exactly like it did a year ago: What Greta Thunberg is saying.
Again and again, the same message. Listen to the scientists, listen to the scientists. Listen to the scientists!
– Either we listen and stand behind science or we don’t. Either we stand behind the IPCC and the Paris agreement or we don’t. You can't stand behind the aspects of science that you like. Either we avoid setting off chain reactions beyond human control or we don’t, she says when we have taken our seats in the electric car.
In a way it’s easy to tell that the Americans’ view on research is different from the view in Sweden, according to Greta Thunberg. But at the same time the same phenomena can be seen there as here.
– It’s just stronger there. You can see it more clearly. More people say things like ”I don’t agree with Greta about everything”. Agree about what? They are making this into a political question but I never talk about politics, I am only saying that we need to listen to science. That we need to care about the future.
– I haven’t made a political standpoint at any time. I have never stood behind a political party or a political opinion.
You did talk about economic growth in the UN. Was that an opinion?
– People always say that they don’t agree with my view on growth. I have never said that we can’t have economic growth. I have just said that instead of focusing on economic growth and talking about money, we should talk about human lives and ecosystems.
The day after the election in the US 2016, Greta Thunberg sat at home in her sweat pants all day watching the news.
– I will never forget when my dad woke me up. He said ”It snowed a lot last night so you can't go to school. And by the way, Trump won”.
What was your first thought?
– I felt ”Wow, it’s happened”. But I didn’t let it out.
Did you want Donald Trump to win the election?
– I wanted people to wake up. I thought that if he is elected, that had to make people wake up.
Since Donald Trump was inaugurated in 2017 decision after decision has dissolved regulations concerning the climate area. Michael Burger is the director of the Sabin Center at Columbia University that routinely maps out the actions of the administration.
– I would say that there is a systematic and extensive effort to change course on every climate measure that the Obama-administration implemented. There is a full-scale war against all the measures that are being taken to reduce climate change.
What kind of regulations are being changed?
– Everything. From the emissions from power plants to energy efficiency in light bulbs to extraction of fossil fuels, says Michael Burger.
How would you describe the president’s view of the science behind the climate crisis?
– He is a climate denier. He denies science. He says it’s a bluff. He doesn’t believe in it and he thinks that what he believes is important.
It's the last drive of the working week in the electrical car, we are on our way to Denver - and Greta Thunberg's sixtieth Friday strike. In the window of a souvenir shop an array of t-shirts are hanging. They have pictures of president Trump on them, and on one he is riding a motorbike. The printed message says: ”Welcome to America. Speak English or get the hell out of here!”
What is your view of Donald Trump today?
– The climate movement would definitely not be as strong as it is today if Hillary Clinton would have won. There are so many social tipping points that contribute to a slow awakening. I might be wrong, but I believe that we will look back on the election of him as a turning point.
Translation from Swedish to English: Evelyn Jones
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