Interview with Greta Thunberg: "It's a good sign that they hate me"
School strike for the climate: The 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is the icon of a new youth movement. In the SPIEGEL interview, the Swede reveals why she has to dodge in order to be heard - and who is behind the action.
And then she comes. The children's face of the international climate protection movement, the new hate object of the climate change deniers, role model for thousands of young people in Australia, Belgium, or Germany, skip school, even for their sake.
Friday, eight o'clock in the morning, Greta Thunberg trudges across the bridge in front of the Reichstag in Stockholm, through the snow of the previous day. She is wearing pink ski pants and has pulled two woolen hats over her braids. She looks younger than 16, much younger.
She is only 1.53 meters tall: a tender person. And then the huge shield in her arm. "Skolstrejk för Klimatet", "School strike for the climate." Every Friday Greta misses the school to stand here in front of the Reichstag, for hours, in the sun, rain or in the Scandinavian cold. She does not yell slogans, she does not dance, does not sing. She is just there. She and her shield. This Friday about 100 young, middle-aged and elderly climate activists are there. All around camera crews from different countries. Because also elsewhere in the world, students for climate protection are taking to the streets, inspired by Greta.
SPIEGEL met Greta Thunberg during her strike. Later, on Friday afternoon, when it was already snowing in Stockholm, the interview took place. Out in the cold. That's what Greta wanted. And compromises are not her thing.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Greta, you are just 16 years old - and suddenly the heroine of a new international youth movement. Tens of thousands of young people in Australia, Germany or Belgium skip school in their role model to demonstrate for climate protection. And you yourself were the star of the World Economic Forum in Davos, always surrounded by cameras and microphones. What does that do to you?
Greta Thunberg: It is very exhausting. I'm not used to being the center of attention. Usually I'm the quiet girl sitting at the back. But from one day to the next, many people now want to talk to me and take selfies with me. That sometimes overwhelms me.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do not you enjoy that too?
Thunberg: I have to accept it. Every article about me and every television interview means public attention to the climate crisis. And this topic needs much more attention. It's about life or death.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you proud of your success?
Greta Thunberg: No. I have not achieved anything yet. Even if there are demonstrations around the world now, that's just a start. In truth, the politicians are not interested in us. Here in Sweden they have been negotiating for months about a new government. But the climate has played almost no role.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why?
Thunberg: Most adults are unaware of how serious the climate crisis is. They know that something is changing, but they are not sure what the consequences of climate change will be. Adults need to recognize that they risk the future of their children and generations after that if they go on like this. As long as that does not happen and we do not exert public pressure, the politicians will continue to ignore the issue.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think it's good that tens of thousands of children skip school instead of training there?
Thunberg: It is a good sign that young people blame the older generations and say: we will no longer accept that. You must stop destroying our future.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But why can not you go demonstrating in your free time?
Thunberg: Because it would bring less. You know: I can not vote, even though this is about my future. And I have to go to school. If I then tails to protest against the climate crisis, my voice is much rather heard. That's important, because this is about the biggest crisis in human history.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you accept that other people have different opinions on the climate?
Thunberg: I listen to these people. But this is a black and white theme: either our human civilization persists or not. There is no gray when it comes to our survival. We have to stop the emission of greenhouse gases. And we all have to change for that. I can not understand when people say that climate change is an existential threat - and then just go on living as they always do: fly, eat meat, drive a car. This is where my diagnosis comes in ...
SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... you were diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. People with this syndrome are often said to have a strong black and white mindset. Is not that an obstacle?
Thunberg: No, my diagnosis is a help. Otherwise I would probably just have lived on like many other people. But it is logical: either we really try to solve this crisis by all means - or not.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You see climate change threatening the survival of mankind - and throwing today's politicians before the interest. Is democracy still the right system to avert the crisis? Or do you want a kind of eco-dictatorship?
9 picturesGreta Thunberg: A student and the climate
Thunberg: Our democracy is everything we have. We can not sacrifice her. And that's why we have to act now: within our democratic system. But if we just keep going like this, terrible things could happen.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many people are already angry - on Greta Thunberg. They insult you on the Internet as "mentally disturbed", "twisted brat" - or even compare the young climate movement with the Hitler Youth.
Thunberg: Sometimes I read such posts to get to know the arguments of these people. Most have no arguments at all; they attack me because of my appearance or the diagnosis. But it is a good sign that they write about me and hate me. Because that shows that they see me as a threat.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do not you make such attacks sad?
Thunberg: I feel sorry for these people. They do not understand how serious our situation is. Of course, then it seems crazy that tens of thousands start a school strike for the climate. If you go public like me, you have to be criticized. That's why I'm not complaining about it. Even if I am still a child and it is wrong to spread nastiness about a child.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You were attacked because you ate on the train to Davos toast from a plastic wrap ....
Thunberg: We drove 32 hours by train. We had to eat something on the way, and these products are now packed in plastic. And I did not bring all the food on the table on the train.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: For a "child", as you call yourself, your speeches are amazingly polished. Their opponents claim that they are exploited by adults - and above all they are a puppet for a PR campaign by their parents who published a book shortly after their strike began. Who is behind Greta?
Thunberg: I myself am behind Greta. The school strike alone was my decision. The idea was another ...
SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... the environmental activist Bo Thorén ... ...
Thunberg: ... and then I developed the idea further. Because nobody wanted to join, I sat down alone in front of the parliament. Some people say my parents brainwashed me. But it was the other way around: I washed my parents' brains. I convinced them not to fly anymore and to stop eating meat (smiles) .
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Honestly, do you really write your speeches all by yourself?
Thunberg: I write my own speeches. But I get the help of scientists: How exactly should I say this or that? Is everything shown correctly and precisely? Then I ask for example Kevin Anderson and Glenn Peters ...
SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... two of the most respected climatologists worldwide. And your father?
Thunberg: He reads that through. And then he says: I think you should put it differently here.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Change it then?
Thunberg: Sometimes. Often not (l on 8). I can be very stubborn.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How have you yourself changed in five months since the start of their school strike? According to her parents, you had severe eating disorders for years and were depressed because of climate change.
Thunberg: The action has changed my whole life. Before, I always ate the same thing every day: bread, rice, beans, the essentials. I spoke only with my parents, my sister and my teacher; I had no social contact with others. But the strike has made sense to me. I'm going to eat everything as long as it's vegan. And I found friends here. My parents see that I am much happier. I healed myself.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you enjoy eating now?
Thunberg: I see food as a necessity. I need fuel.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think of us journalists? We both came to Stockholm to talk about you. And by plane.
Thunberg: I do not know. Journalists have the task of reporting to others. Yes, they should travel to the Arctic to write about the melting ice rather than everyone driving there. But in this case it's different. There are many journalists here in Sweden. They could do their job and report this strike here.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you afraid that nobody will tell you more about you when you get older?
Thunberg: That will happen. I know that I will not be interesting for much longer. But attention to myself is not important. It's about the climate.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And how long do you want to go on strike for the climate here?
Thunberg: I'll be sitting here in front of the Reichstag every Friday, as long as possible, until Sweden fulfills the Paris Climate Agreement. I do not know when that will happen. Maybe it will take years, maybe it will never happen. But I will always stand up for it. That's what matters.