Time Magazine cover

Margaret Valenti discusses the announcement of Greta Thunberg as Time’s Person of the Year and debates the ethics surrounding her position as a Gen-Z activist and what she can gain and loose in her battle to face the global Climate Crisis.

Gen-Z activism reached new heights when on Wednesday climate activist Greta Thunberg (Tune-berg) became Time’s Person of the Year, the youngest person ever and only the fifth female in the titles ninety plus year history. She has become the face of a movement that gained strength from the most unlikely supporters – young people from around the globe walking out of schools and demanding action to preserve the future of humanity and the plants and animals of Earth. She spoke at the United Nations and called out multiple global and political leaders for their inaction and inability to bring about the changes necessary to save the planet. While many praise Ms. Thunberg for her accomplishments and the difference she makes around the world, there are still many aspects of Gen-Z activism that put her at a disadvantage.

First, many acknowledge that Greta should not need to be in the position she is to begin with. It is unfair to ask a sixteen-year-old girl to lead an entire movement when adults, the ones who usually have the power to change things, should take more action to combat the Climate Crisis. Often, a spotlight on such a young person proves to be detrimental to their overall mental health. Ms. Thunberg receives death threats, like the young gun control activists from Parkland high school. Yet, for a generation raised on novels and subsequent movie or TV series about young activists and rebels (The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments and other series by Cassandra Clare, Percy Jackson and other series by Rick Riordan, and so many more), it seems fitting that it is now younger millennials and Gen-Z activists who take center stage on issues the United States and other countries around the world face. What are young people supposed to do when they see the threat to our planet and their future increasing daily?

It is still important to point out that adults need to be more vocal and to take more action on the Climate Crisis than they have, and it is also true that adults rarely listen to kids; exemplified by the now famous video of Donald Trump passing by Greta at a UN conference as if she did not exist. 

The importance of hearing all the voices

Many in government or positions of authority view young activists as uninformed or ignorant by making demands when they simply do not understand the full impact and complex ramifications of what they ask for. Though not all adults ignore young activists. Obama invited Ms. Thunberg to talk to him when she was in the U.S. Still, while this is not a call-out post, there are many organizations, leaders, and people in the U.S. and around the world who refuse to acknowledge or do anything, even the bare minimum, about the Climate Crisis when it is the most important issue of the era. 

People also acknowledge that while Ms. Thunberg uses her platform to raise awareness for an extremely critical issue, it is also true that she has this platform because she is a young, white female. There are many other activists around the world, young indigenous activists and young activists of color, who are trying to spread the word and fight the fight against climate change. Many activists based in the U.S. do not get the same level of name recognition or coverage that Ms. Thunberg garners.

 The climate change issue affects every community on Earth, and it is important to hear all these voices. Often, it is the unheard, not listened to communities where the Climate Crisis will affect the most people. Ms. Thunberg does have a voice, the world hears her community, and she has the power to use her platform to lift others and let everyone hear their voices as well. It is a good thing that she has the platform she does because she is using it properly and gaining support and recognition through her words and actions, which can only help others to do the same. 

The actions of Ms. Thunberg are both harrowing and inspiring to anyone no matter what generation they may be from. She sails across the Atlantic to prove her point, leads school walkouts across the globe, speaks bluntly to diplomats and leaders, and makes demands of those much older than herself – not showing disrespect but desperation for her cause. 

Despite the arguments against her platform, however valid they may be, she rises above it all to be the face of the climate change movement. The real Katniss Everdeen of the era, braid and all, whether she asked to be or not. 

Still, it is important to recognize why the world needs Ms. Thunberg in the first place, why is it that what the world needs more than ever is a sixteen-year-old white girl from Sweden. People argue that she is too young, highlight her autism to try to discredit her, or argue she is simply a marketing tool, as is often the case when people try to suppress a voice they do not want to hear. 

It is not about whether people want to hear her voice or not, it is why they need to hear her voice. Not only does she uplift others along with her platform, she is able to reach millions of people all over the world, leading the largest global movement the world has ever seen. 

No matter how many statistics people cite or studies they refer to, the Climate Crisis will keep growing as long as the world keeps spinning and humanity keeps doing things that are detrimental to the global environment. Pictures and videos of plastic islands, of fires, of melting glaciers, of emaciated polar bears and sea horses caught in nets or carrying plastic straws in their curly tails, of the lungs of a beached whale filled with plastic products, of a plastic straw pulled out of a sea turtle’s bloody nose, and more are not going to solve this crisis either. Half of the money put into the restoration of Notre Dame could begin the process of removing plastic from the oceans around the world, and still no one wants to pay up to solve the Climate Crisis.

The one person who could change that, regardless of the ethics behind or the reason she stands in her position now, is Greta Thunberg. While there are many other young activists who deserve recognition this year, from the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to the protesters in Iran to the gun control activists in the U.S. and so many more across the globe, Greta Thunberg singled herself out as she is fighting for the survival of everything on the planet. Whether we want her to be here or not, she is now, and she is necessary. She is the face of the Climate Crisis and she is not going away until the planet is safe for all those who live here. Cheers to Greta Thunberg!

Margaret Valenti

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.