Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is one of the most notorious and controversial activists of our time. She represents larger trends in public discourse (i.e. the discontent with the status quo, as well as the critique of political leaders and their actions and inactions). Despite her young age, Greta has a short yet rich history of public appearances and discourses, which has solidified her presence as an international activist. She has been active in the international fight against climate change since the summer of 2018 when she began protesting in her native Sweden. When the beginning of the school year began, she continued to partake in this school climate strike in front of the Swedish Parliament. Greta has become a memorable face in the fight against climate change. Environmental concerns, policies and activism are some of the main developments of the 21st century, and Greta has been at the forefront of this fight from an early age. Moreover, she has been a mobilization force at a global level.

At RAIA, we want to provide you with a comprehensive analysis of Greta as an individual from her earliest moments, and we will continue to update you on any developments so that you too, can keep track of her evolution as well as her impact on environmental policies throughout the years. Currently, Greta is a 17-year-old student and environmental activist. This piece will analyze, in accordance with the RAIA perspective, the factors in Greta’s life (i.e. health, family and cultural background) that we have identified as relevant in shaping her and her actions throughout the years. 

Diagnosis deemed Superpower

Greta’s health background is particularly relevant when understanding the famous delivery and tone that is so characteristic of her speeches. Greta has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, selective mutism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She admits that while before she felt that having Asperger’s was a limitation, now she views it as her superpower. Greta has also mentioned her diagnosis a number of times in the context of her fight against climate change: For example, in her TEDx Talk in November 2018, she stated: “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”As Greta explained to a New Yorker reporter, “It’s very common that people on the autism spectrum have a special interest…I can do the same thing for hours.” This was linked to the idea that Greta’s autism is one of the reasons why she became such a fierce activist in the first place. 

With regards to the recent COVID-19 global pandemic, it may be a curious fact that in March 2020, Greta announced that it is “extremely likely” that she had coronavirus. While she claims her symptoms were not severe, she took the opportunity to advocate for social distancing and self-isolation, urging people to stay at home and help stop the spread of the virus. 

Swedish Celebrities to International Activists

As you will see, Greta comes from a family of ‘celebrities’ (or, at least, professions in the public eye). Greta’s mother is opera singer Malena Ernman (who was Sweden’s representative in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest), and her father is actor Svante Thunberg. When Greta first became engaged in activism (she began by striking school to demand environmental action in front of the Swedish Parliament), her parents were not supportive of her missing school to protest. It is also arguable that growing up in a household where both parents were accustomed to relatively public lifestyles has had an impact on Greta’s public career. Perhaps this has influenced Greta’s lack of fear of public appearances from an early age, or maybe her parents have been able to better support her international activism due to their personal experiences in popular or famous careers. Greta’s parents were not environmental activists nor particularly active in the fight against climate change until Greta convinced them to make changes at home to lower their household carbon footprint. They began by adopting a vegan diet and giving up air travel. The fact that the family refuses to travel by plane has resulted in Greta’s mother having to give up performing internationally, so clearly the family is very committed and supportive of Greta and her ideology.

She has one younger sister, Beata Ernman Thunberg. Beata is a 14-year-old singer in Sweden. Her father Svante is her manager, and she is currently working on becoming a famous singer and performer. The increasing popularity of Greta is seeping through to Beata, whose career is also steadily on the rise. She was chosen as the face for the marketing campaign for a series of books titled “Handbook for Superheroes” written by author Elias Våhlund that focus on the subject of bullying. The series has been translated to 17 languages and has sent Beata on an international marketing tour. Since Greta’s shot to fame, Beata has appeared on a famous Swedish TV show where she openly discussed her ADHD, OCD, and experiences dealing with bullying. However, according to her mother’s autobiographical book (see below), at the age of 12, Beata was diagnosed with ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, and defiant syndrome. 

Additionally, the Thunberg family has published a number of books on climate change, but also some biographical pieces. For example, Greta, Svante, Malena, and Beata co-authored Malena’s autobiography ‘Scenes from the Heart’ (this book also covers Greta and Beata’s mental health disorders). The second book is expected to be released in 2020, and the title is ‘Our House Is On Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis’ (this time, the book will focus on Greta’s work on climate change). In the book, Malena also refers to Beata and Greta’s disorders as “superpowers,” not a handicap.