Greta Thunberg: five things you may not know about her

Environmental activist calls for demonstrators to maintain ‘massive public pressure’ on politicians

Greta Thunberg at protest outside London offices of Standard Chartered bank on 29 October
Leon Neal/Getty Images
(Image credit: Greta Thunberg at protest outside London offices of Standard Chartered bank on 29 October)

Greta Thunberg has defended protests by environmental activists who have blocked busy UK roads, arguing that “sometimes you need to anger people” to make a difference.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show from Glasgow, where she is attending UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26), the Swedish activist said that tactics used by groups including Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion were sometimes necessary and effective, “as long as no one gets hurt”.

Noting that her own protest, which developed into the global School Strike for Climate, “would never have become so big if there wasn’t friction”, she added: “We need to reach a critical mass with people who are demanding change and right now, it's more efficient to do that from the streets than from the inside.”

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Asked whether she would consider running for office, she replied: “Not yet.” She vowed to instead continue to work to put “massive public pressure” on politicians to ensure they took meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions.

Photos posted on social media show the teenage climate activist being mobbed by supporters as she arrived at the UN conference on Saturday. Here are five facts you may not know about her.

1. Parental concern

Thunberg is now a household name in countries worldwide. But her father, Svante Thunberg, “initially opposed his daughter’s decision to be on the ‘front line’ of the battle against climate change”, said the BBC.

The concerned parent – an actor and descendant of the scientist who created a model of the greenhouse effect – told the broadcaster’s Radio 4 programme Today in December 2019 that he was “not supportive” of his daughter skipping school and that he was concerned about the “hate” she faced.

He also said that his daughter struggled with depression for “three or four years” before she began her strike, explaining that “she stopped talking, she stopped going to school”.

It was the “ultimate nightmare for a parent” when she began refusing to eat, he added.

2. Unusual name

With a thespian father and former Eurovision Song Contest participant mother, opera singer Malena Ernman, it is perhaps unsurprising that the world-famous climate activist has a slightly unusual name.

Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg shares her second name with the adventuring creation of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Herge.

3. Nobel prize disappointments

Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for three consecutive years, but has yet to be handed the award by what The Washington Post described as the “highly secretive” committee.

She was nominated by three deputies of the Norwegian parliament in 2019, and then by two Swedish lawmakers last year. And after being passed over twice, Thunberg was a bookies’ favourite to win this year. In the run-up to the announcement in October of the winner, Reuters noted that Thunberg – who turns 19 in January – would be the “second-youngest winner in history by a few months, after Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai”, if she bagged the prize.

The award instead went to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. Following Thunberg’s 2019 disappointment, Henrik Urdal, head of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, told The Washington Post that she had not won because there “isn’t scientific consensus that there is a linear relationship between climate change – or resource scarcity, more broadly – and armed conflict”.

4. Trump trolling

The outspoken campaigner made an enemy for life in December 2019 when she mocked then president Donald Trump on his favourite social media platform.

Trump had tweeted that Thunberg needed to work on her “anger management problem” and to “go to an old-fashioned movie with a friend”. In response, she changed her Twitter bio to say: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.”

She struck another blow in her battle with Trump in November 2020, after he tweeted “STOP THE COUNT!” as postal ballots began to swing the US election in Joe Biden’s favour. Thunberg replied: “Donald must work on his Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Donald, Chill!”

She has used similar tactics during spats with other world leaders, including Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

“Greta's been saying Indians have died because they were defending the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said in late 2019, after Thunberg highlighted the plight of of his country’s indigenous people. He added that it was “amazing how much space the press gives this kind of pirralha” – the Portuguese word for brat. She subsequently changed her Twitter bio “to contain only the Portuguese slur”, as The Independent reported at the time.

The cheeky response came weeks after Thunberg had added “a kind but poorly informed teenager” to her bio, after Russia’s Vladimir Putin used the phrase to describe her during a press conference.

5. Rickrolling

As well as mocking a string of world leaders, Thunberg playfully turned the trolling on her own supporters last month when she “Rickrolled” them during a conference.

Appearing at the Climate Live concert in Stockholm, she sang and danced to Rick Astley’s 1980s hit Never Gonna Give You Up, replicating the popular internet prank of sending people a link to the song disguised as a link to something else.

Astley later told Metro that he thought her live-streamed homage to his music was “funny”, adding: “She gets a lot of media attention that sometimes isn’t healthy for her.

“When she first broke onto the scene and made some of the statements she made, I think a lot of people because she was really young were behind her but people have been pretty cruel to her plenty of times.

“I’ve got a daughter who’s 29 and I’ve lived through things where the internet can be a really cruel and horrible place sometimes, so it just made me giggle seeing her laughing so much.”

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