Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who became the voice of conscience for a generation facing the climate change emergency, was announced on Wednesday as Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year.
The magazine cover has a picture of Thunberg with the subtitle “The Power of Youth”.
The magazine’s list of nominees included many world leaders and notable figures, including US President Donald Trump for the third year in a row, and Duchess of Essex Meghan Markle.
Time also had a readers’ poll which asked voters to pick who they thought had the most impact in 2019, with Hong Kong’s protesters coming in first choice among 27 million votes.
Thunberg, 16, first hit the headlines for her solo strike against global warming outside Sweden’s parliament last year.
“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow. That is all we are saying,” Thunberg told Time.
Time magazine interviewed Thunberg aboard the sailing boat that took her from the United States to Europe after a hectic 11-week North American trip to several US cities and Canada.
“The politics of climate action are as entrenched and complex as the phenomenon itself, and Thunberg has no magic solution,” Time wrote in the interview.
“But she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change,” it said. “She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not.”
Thunberg has taken her straightforward message – “listen to the scientists” – to global decision-makers, accusing them of inaction.
The Swedish activist was in Madrid as the award was announced, at a UN climate forum tasked with saving the world from runaway global warming.
In a speech peppered with scientific facts about global warming, the teenager told negotiators on Wednesday that they had to stop looking for loopholes for their countries’ actions and face up to the ambition that was needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.
“The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR,” said Thunberg, whose honour was announced later on Wednesday.
“Finding holistic solutions is what [this meeting] should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition,” she added.
About 40 climate activists, including indigenous people from several continents, briefly joined Thunberg after her speech on the conference’s main stage, holding hands and demanding “Climate Justice!” through slogans and songs.
Former US vice-president Al Gore, a longtime environmentalist, said the magazine made a “brilliant choice”.
“Greta embodies the moral authority of the youth activist movement demanding that we act immediately to solve the climate crisis. She is an inspiration to me and to people across the world,” Gore said.
Time’s readers’ poll included other climate strikers around the world in second place, US actor Keanu Reeves in third place, followed by K-pop superstars BTS. Thunberg herself came in fifth place.
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