Behind every climate leader, there is a set of motivations and driving forces that lead an ordinary individual to an active engagement in the efforts to combat manmade global warming. Fridays For Future (FFF), the international movement both Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer helped create, has played a huge role in the construction of their respective ethos regarding environmental activism. They embodied the all-encompassing fight against climate change. It must be noted, however, that while Thunberg has been shaped as the face of climate activism as a whole, Neubauer has revealed herself as a strong advocate for the particular issue of decarbonisation of global economies by calling for an immediate transition from fossil fuel to green renewable energies. This section aims to present a more extensive view of each of their ideological outlooks by analyzing what are their key areas of focus as climate leaders and why those issues are more important to each of them.
Greta Thunberg’s Stake
Greta Thunberg has become notorious for the blunt-speaking manner of her speeches, which presents a clear picture of her attitude towards the climate issue. Her activism is based on street protests and public speeches in order to pressure government representatives and multilateral bodies to create new and ambitious policies to tackle the climate crisis and its potential consequences. The goals she wants to accomplish with her activism are in line with the ones stated in the Paris Agreement signed in the framework of the UN Climate Change Conference of 2015, but she calls for a more progressive approach to ensure that the objectives agreed upon at the summit are properly carried out. Similar to the demands of the FFF movement, Thunberg seeks keeping global temperature rise below 1.5ºC when compared to pre-industrial levels, to ensure climate justice for everyone, and to listen to the best science available to achieve the previously two mentioned goals.
From the moment she started her strikes, Thunberg has made her campaign for the climate the main focus of her life, and she has become a leader for those who share her concerns regarding the climate crisis. In spite of that fact, and probably because of it, she has not presented herself as a defender of any particular key issue on efforts to combat manmade global warming. From the beginning, her focus is to raise her voice in defense of the climate.
Thunberg started her activism at a domestic level, in front of the Riksdag in the streets of Sweden’s capital, to demand more action to be taken by the Swedish government to tackle the climate issue. She did not advocate for the implementation of any specific policy or measure, her demand was a general cry for help, as her popular cardboard sign read (“School Strike for the Climate”). Her strike went viral because of Thunberg´s use of social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, to share her actions in Stockholm. These efforts sparked what became known as Fridays For Future, a global movement to increase pressure on national governments and international bodies and raise public awareness about global warming. The creation of FFF culminated with the Summer Meeting that took place in Lausanne back in 2019, in which the demands of the movement were formally specified. Still, no specific policies to tackle global warming were presented by the leaders of the movement at the end of the summit.
The lack of a determined set of policy proposals can be understood on account of the fact that Thunberg is an activist, not a policymaker, and therefore has no active role in the process of creating legislation. This situation constitutes a challenge for her, since it hinders her intentions of increasing the pressure on the individuals responsible for guidelines that will allow her demands to be accomplished. However, it is not the only obstacle Thunberg has faced since her rise as an environmental activist. From the moment she became a mainstream climate icon, denigrating comments have been made by senior individuals in the media and the international political sphere, ranging from her age to her particular medical condition.
First and foremost, the dominant backlash she has received since her first strike lies on her youth. Because she started her journey as an activist at the early age of 15, she did not — and still does not — possess any prior knowledge about legislation or the policymaking process. Therefore, political leaders from multiple countries have criticized her actions and have attempted to diminish her image to that of a mere child, and consequently, the reliability of her requests.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has labeled her a pirralha (brat) when asked about Thunberg´s speeches and public protests; Vladimir Putin, Russia´s president, has alleged that “no kind and sincere girl” could have proper knowledge of complex global affairs, such as global warming and international legislation. Putin even implied Thunberg is being manipulated on the way she is conducting her activism. Statements like the latter one have led to the spread of conspiracy theories concerning herself as well as third parties like her parents, who have been accused of secretly masterminding their daughter’s rise to fame, or fellow activist Luisa Neubauer, who was accused of being Thunberg’s handler inside the FFF movement.
Another of Thunberg’s features that have been used to attack her persona has been her medical diagnosis, which has shaped the way she conducts her activism. After it became known that she had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Asperger syndrome and selective mutism, the media opposed to her discourse made use of this fact to ridicule Thunberg, and to present her as an mentally-ill person that should not be listened to in an effort to undermine her authority in efforts to combat manmade global warming.
Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt wrote that he had never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru. Former US President Donald J. Trump tweeted that “Greta [Thunberg] must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!” He ended the tweet saying that she should “chill”, in light of the UN Climate Change Conference, where Thunberg had given a passionate speech for immediate action to tackle global warming before “time runs out”.
Albeit remarks that seek to invalidate her voice, Thunberg´s stand to fight for the climate and the future of the planet remains unwavered. She does not take a particular focus because she expresses that the global warming issue should be tackled from all angles. Her stake encompasses the whole climate issue, and that is the reason why she has risen as a global climate leader.
Luisa Neubauer’s Stake
Luisa Neubauer shared with Thunberg the environmental demands that were established as the ones common to all individuals involved in the FFF movement. However, Neubauer´s ideological outlook had one main driving point that influenced her activism since the beginning of her journey as a climate activist: the decarbonisation of global economies through a progressive transition to renewable green energies from a fossil-based system, in accordance with the goals set in the Paris Agreement 2015. Her demands have focused on the domestic and regional level, with the politicians of her country Germany alongside the senior officials of the European Union being the main recipients of her demands. Even though her activism has mainly focus on street striking and public speeches because of her role as the German face of FFF, she has also undertaken a more formal manner of protesting through the signing of documents advocating for stronger action to be taken on efforts to combat man made global warming on the part of politicians of countries all over the world, alongside the legal suing of official bodies on account of alleged violation of environmental rights.
The actions she has taken are an attempt to increase the pressure on politicians and policymakers with the goal of pushing for more new legislation regarding global warming based on new sources of green energy. Since she is an activist, she is not actively involved in the decision making process of new policies, and therefore all her actions must strive to influence the individuals in charge. Yet, that is not always the case. The proposal made by the European Commission to classify gas and nuclear energies as green and the subsequent passing of said bill, in spite of the many efforts undertaken by Neubauer and fellow activists against the taxonomy legislation, is the most recent example of the limited impact environmental activists truly have at the legislative level the challenges faced by environmental activists. For Neubauer, as an anti-nuclear advocate, the new european taxonomy constitutes a step back of special relevance in the pathway towards economies being fuelled by green renewables.
Despite the lack of the necessary influence to impact the crafting of legislation is a challenge faced by all environmental activists, the ones involved in FFF, as Neubauer herself, encounter more belittlement due to their youth. People in the political sphere and in the media criticized the aggressive tone of the activists, arguing that they are not aware of the complexity of the process of policymaking and the implementation times of new legislation. Neubauer has been accused of radicalism in the way she conducts her activism, being accused of wanting to blow a pipeline by senior officials, which has led to further activity against her actions in social media platforms. The aim of these comments is to diminish the effect Neubauer could have as a climate activist, just like Thunberg.
Albeit the different personalities of Thunberg and Neubauer, they both face a common set of challenges because of the features they share: young european climate activists calling out legislators on their inaction to appropriately tackle the climate crisis. Senior officials have disregarded the efforts made to influence the policymaking process because of their role as activists, arguing that they do not possess any knowledge on the crafting and implementation of legislation. In addition to their claims, the youth of the activists is another fact used to reinforce the belief that their opinions should not be taken into account at the high political sphere, pretenses that have been repeated by media outlets from several countries to taunt and play down the part played by the activists with their street strikes and public speeches. Their demands have created a chasm between them and parts of the general public. Modern lifestyles have a profound correlation to the increasing severity of global warming. Yet many sectors of the population are hostile to criticisms of their lifestyle that are handed down from two young girls- for the activists, their age and gender both present as obstacles to the perceived seriousness and weight of their critiques.
Regarding the FFF strikes, another challenge has emerged due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The imposition of lockdowns and social distancing measures in the majority of countries, alongside the closure of the international borders, made it impossible to continue protesting as it had been done up to that point. The organizers of the movement, among whom both Thunberg and Neubauer can be found, created a new form of online activism, based on strikes and discussions being conducted entirely online, so as to not lose the momentum that had been built regarding the demands of climate activists. Nonetheless, the effect produced by these steps, although maintaining the relevance of the climate issue, did not produce the same response on citizens as the street strikes had. Also concerning Covid-19, the consequences of the measures taken to reduce the potential damage the pandemic could produce force governments to put on hold certain environmental policies, due to the global economic and sanitary situation that appeared as an aftermath of the pandemic. The need to solve the global economy moved down the global warming issue in the list of priorities of national governments.
The “Stake” explains the reasons behind Thunberg´s indistinctive focus on any specific issue within the climate debate, while also analyzing Neubauer´s particular position on decarbonisation and the green economies. Additionally, it analyses the effect certain difficulties have presented in their path, from denigrating remarks to outside events like the Covid-19 pandemic.