Since 1927, TIME Magazine has selected a Person of the Year. It’s challenging work, having to make a decision as to who best represents the news of the year. But it’s something Time have managed to do consistently. In 2017, the winners of the title were a collection, The Silence Breakers, noted as those who broke the silence on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Their actions proved instrumental to affecting change, and in doing so signifies that Person of the Year isn’t confined to news headlines alone, but often has an impact far wider – extending to public consciousness and society at large as they shine a light on pressing issues. And for 2019, none could be more deserving of the title than Greta Thunberg.
At just 16-years-old, the Swedish student has become the face of a movement of young people protesting inaction on climate change. While we’ve long known about the impact of global warming on the environment, even before Al Gore shocked us with An Inconvenient Truth, few have brought the issue to the forefront of public discourse quite like Thunberg. As Teen Vogue described, her activism has “given voice to an entire generation’s existential fear and energised a worldwide movement demanding everything necessary and possible to save our planet.”
Since she first protested outside Swedish parliament in 2018, Thunberg has now inspired millions to participate in climate strikes, not just in Sweden but also around the world. She has orchestrated a global movement and set an agenda for politicians to follow should they wish to sustain the popular vote. Because, as Thunberg has articulated with great clarity, there is only one planet Earth and should we fail to take action on climate change now, there will be no future.
Speaking about the announcement of Thunberg as Person of the Year, TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said in an interview with Today, “Her rise in influence has been really extraordinary. She was a solo protestor with a hand painted sign 14 months ago. She’s now led millions of people around the world, 150 countries, to act on behalf of the planet, and she’s really been a key driver this year taking this issue from backstage to centre.”
It’s been a monumental year for Thunberg. Speaking earlier this year at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, she said with great emotion: “You have stolen my dreams, my childhood with your empty words. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.
“You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”
Thanks to Thunberg’s impassioned speech and unwavering dedication to finding a solution to the crisis of climate change, more and more people are seeking to get involved – from citizens to leaders of innovation and global tech companies. During the world climate strike events in September, several tech giants promised to devote more resources to sustainability, even blacking out portions of their websites in “green out” digital strikes. This was followed by Google committing $US150 million to renewable energy projects.
Alongside the accolade bestowed on Thunberg by TIME, the young activist has also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and is even getting her own mural in San Francisco.
Hilary Clinton congratulated Thunberg on the coveted title, saying in a post to Instagram: “I am grateful to Greta for all she’s done to raise awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis and for her willingness to tell hard, motivating truths.”
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Congratulations to @GretaThunberg for being named @TIME's Person of the Year. I am grateful to Greta for all she's done to raise awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis and for her willingness to tell hard, motivating truths. As she said today at the annual United Nations climate summit: “The changes required are still nowhere in sight. The politics needed does not exist today, despite what you hear from world leaders. I still believe the biggest danger is not inaction. The real danger is when politicians and CEOs make it look like real action is happening, when in fact, almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”She's right. We all know what's at stake, and now it's up to all of us to organize in our towns, states, and countries for policy change to save our world. #gutsywomen
2019 has been a year in which the disastrous effects of climate change have been felt around the world. From the thousands of people facing dislocation and homelessness due to rising sea levels and food shortages, to the catastrophic bush fires and toxic air quality closer to home. Thunberg has warned us of the implications for years, but finally we are sitting up to listen.