Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Greta Thunberg, climate change activist, wins Time Person of the Year
Going from a solitary teenage protester in front of the Swedish parliament to a global icon in little more than a year certainly merits a distinction.
- Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist, has been named Time's Person of the Year.
- The award is given to "the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse."
- Considering the magnitude of directly inspired protest movements and real-world impacts she has had, the award seems to be merited, although not everybody is pleased about this.
In August 2018, Greta Thunberg skipped school on a Friday afternoon to stand outside Swedish parliament with a sign reading Skolstrejk for Klimatet, Swedish for "School Strike for Climate."
A year later, she spoke at the recent 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the United Nations Climate Action Summit, inspired a four million–person protest, and now, she's won Time magazine's Person of the Year Award. Her meteoric rise at the age of only 16 has both earned her praise as a "Joan of Arc" and scorn as a "puppet," "mentally ill," a "little brat," and "a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future."
She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see! https://t.co/1tQG6QcVKO— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
The "Greta effect"
In part, Thunberg was awarded the Person of the Year due to the so-called "Greta Effect"; her activism has had tangible impacts on organizations and governmental policy and has resulted in a large protest movement largely composed of young people.
For example, Thunberg's refusal to fly in airplanes has resulted in a new term in Sweden: flygskam, or "flight-shame." As a result, domestic flights dropped by 8 percent from January to April of 2019 compared to a 3 percent drop for the whole of 2018. Correspondingly, rail travel saw an 8 percent bump over the last year.
Rather than fly, the activist has traveled by rail or a carbon-neutral yacht. Though the term "yacht," inspired accusations of hypocrisy, it should be noted that the seacraft had no shower or toilet, which doesn't entirely mesh with the wasteful pleasure cruises typically associated with yachts.
By August 2019, sales of children's books related to climate change had doubled, which publishers attributed to the Greta effect. While sharing the stage with Thunberg, the President of the European Commission vowed to dedicate one in every four euros of the EU budget to be dedicated toward mitigating climate change. Crediting the activities of Thunberg in part, U.S. philanthropists established the Climate Emergency Fund, committing half a million pounds (a bit more than $650,000) with tens of millions more promised to fund climate strikes like Extinction Rebellion, the school strike, and other climate-related protest movements.
A youth-led protest movement
Most importantly, however, protest movements directly motivated by Thunberg's own activism have involved young people in the millions.
Thunberg herself was inspired by the school strikes organized by teenage activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the aftermath of a school shooting at the same high school, students organized the March for our Lives in support of greater gun control.
Thunberg's own protest started out as a solitary one. "I tried to bring people with me," Thunberg told Democracy Now!, "but no one was really interested, so I had to do it alone." But another person showed up on the second day. Over time, more and more people joined her protest, until thousands were camped out in front of Sweden's Parliament.
The fact that the protest movement is mostly composed of young people is critical. "You say you love your children above all else," said Thunberg at the U.N. Climate Change Conference. "And yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes." Many of the most successful protests have been driven by young people: the Velvet Revolution, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Greensboro sit-ins, and countless others.
Extinction Rebellion climate protesters listen to Greta Thunberg speak at an April 2019 protest in London.
Ollie Millington/Getty Images
A long road ahead
Many criticize Thunberg and the climate change protest movement as being overly dramatic. However, dramatic rhetoric appears to be merited. In an article for New York Magazine, journalist David Wallace-Wells described a conversation he had with energy expert Vaclav Smil when he asked about the planet's chances of staying below the Paris Agreement's threshold of two degrees Celsius of warming.
When I put the question of two degrees to him, he literally laughed: "To make that happen, you are talking about billions and billions of tons of everything. We are mining now more than 7 billion tons of coal. So you want to lower the coal consumption by half, you have to cut down close to 4 billion tons of coal. You have to get rid of more than 2 billion tons of oil. These are transformations on a billion-ton scale globally. They cannot be done by next Monday."
Emissions are still at an all-time high, though their growth is slowing. Ultimately, only government policies will be able to reverse a trend of this magnitude. But governments respond to public opinion and protest. Given that the Person of the Year is selected based on "who most affected the news and our lives… for better or for worse," the fact that they are a teenage climate activist should be cause for celebration.
- The 'Greta effect': Can Thunberg's activism actually change policy ... ›
- Report: Atmospheric CO2 levels hit all-time high in 2017 ›
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.