Meaningful change rarely happens without the galvanizing force of influential individuals, and in 2019, the earth’s existential crisis found one in Greta Thunberg. Marshaling “Fridays for Future” protests throughout Europe; thundering, “How dare you!” at the world’s most powerful leaders in her viral U.N. speech; leading some 7 million climate strikers across the world in September and tens of thousands more in Madrid in early December, Thunberg has become the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet—and the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Hong Kong to the halls of Congress in Washington.
As Isabella Prata, the mother of two climate strikers in São Paulo, puts it, “Greta is an image of all of this generation.”
Thunberg demands action, and though far too many key measures are still moving in the wrong direction, there are nascent signs that action is coming. Corporate commitments to sustainable growth and net-zero emissions are on the rise. More than 60 countries have pledged to have a net carbon footprint of zero by 2050. American primary voters, especially in states beset by wildfires and flooding, are suddenly giving presidential candidates an earful on climate change. In Austria’s September elections, the Green Party more than tripled its support at the expense of the Social Democrats, a development a leader of the Social Democrats attributed to Thunberg—just before he resigned. Even as China burns half the world’s coal, it too is changing. It’s now home to roughly 45% of the electric cars and 99% of the electric buses in the world.