Greta Thunberg is the 16-year-old girl from Sweden who made international headlines when she walked out of school to protest climate change in fall of 2018. The first day, she walked out by herself. Then other students joined her. Now she’s started an international movement, and she’s far from finished.
But Greta isn’t a typical 16-year-old—at least not neurotypical.
In her TEDx talk, she describes becoming ill and depressed at the age of eleven. She stopped talking and eating and lost 22 pounds. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and selective mutism. She explains, “that basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”
Greta told The New Yorker that being on the spectrum helps her to stay focused on climate change and climate policy. Her interest in climate change began when she was nine. Adults told her that she should turn off the lights and save water to reduce climate change. But if humans could really change the climate, Greta thought, why wasn’t everyone talking about it?
She began extensively researching climate change and climate policy, and she’s been hooked on the topic for six years. She no longer eats meat or flies on airplanes, and she’s convinced her family to get onboard. Greta’s family installed solar panels on their home, started riding their bikes everywhere possible, and her mother gave up an international opera career in order to avoid flying.
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But Greta is determined to convince more than just her family. She began protesting climate change on the steps of Sweden’s parliamentary building prior to the country’s November election. Now that the election has passed, she protests only on Fridays, and she’s encouraging students around the world to walk out on Fridays to demand action against climate change. On Twitter she uses the hashtags #climatestrike and #FridaysForFuture.
She was recently invited to speak at a United Nations climate summit in Poland. In her hard-hitting speech, she told world leaders they were “not mature” enough to talk realistically about climate change. “But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate and the living planet,” she said.
In her TEDx talk, Greta says that her autism helps her see the world in black and white, and she says, “There are no gray areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t. We have to change.”
Greta’s mission is helping raise awareness both about climate change and about the power of neurodiversity when it comes to politics. “I think in many ways we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange—especially when it comes to the sustainability crisis,” she says.