At precisely 11am today, thousands of children from schools in more than 60 towns and cities across Britain will get up from their desks, pick up their bags and march out of their classrooms.
Not because they’re bored, or playing truant, or want an early start to half-term or even just fancy a breather from fractions and French lessons.
No, these kids, many as young as nine, will be taking part in a mass protest over climate change — a warm-up for a global school strike on March 15.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg attend a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland
Greta’s mother is Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman. She is seen performing during the Eurovision grand final in Moscow on May 16
A good number of them have been inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old pig-tailed Swedish schoolgirl who has been obsessively researching climate change for seven years and who, since last summer, has been skipping school every Friday to sit on the steps of the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, with a home-made sign that reads ‘Skolstrejk för Klimatet’ (School strike for the climate).
She grows her own vegetables, refuses air travel and luxury hotels — even if the only option is a 32-hour train journey and a tent — and with her round face and simple clothes, looks even younger than she is.
Greta also struck the fear of God into attendees at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland in December 2018, accusing them of leaving the burden of climate change with future generations.
‘I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day,’ she told them firmly in her clear, calm, barely accented English.
She gave business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month both barrels, too — ‘our house is on fire!’ she said, and looked IMF Chairwoman Christine Lagarde very hard in the eye as they shook hands.
How brilliant! Regardless of what you think about climate change, for once we have a proper role model who practises what she preaches with dedication and courage.
And, of course, had every child that’s going ‘on strike’ today, as part of the so-called ‘Fridays for Future’ movement, been inspired and mobilised by Greta, then teachers, heads, parents and politicians alike would probably be more relaxed about them bunking off school to join her protest.
But sadly, Greta’s campaign has been hijacked by a band of opportunistic militant anti-Tory career activists who are co-ordinating the walkouts and drumming up support among children on social media in an effort to further their own hard-line agenda, not just on green issues, but also promoting civil disobedience.
Greta Thunberg was born on 3 January 2003. Her father is actor Svante Thunberg, – here with her sister Beata. She is pictured with her other family members
They include in their hoary ranks Roger Hallam, 52, founder of Extinction Rebellion, whose roadblocks bought parts of London to a standstill in November; Janine O’Keeffe, an academic who specialises in ’empowerment struggles’; Jake Woodier, a former vegan cafe owner; and Robert Possnett, a 57-year-old ex-paratrooper and fanatical Remainer.
Little wonder Education Secretary Damian Hinds said yesterday that skipping school ‘won’t do a thing to help the environment’, while teaching leaders say parents will face £60 fines if their children walk out.
So what inspired the girl who’s sparked such a remarkable situation?
When Greta was 11, she became depressed and stopped talking and eating.
In December, she described herself as having been ‘diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism — ‘I only speak when I have something important to say’ — and insists her autism helps her concentrate. ‘I see the world a bit differently, from another perspective… I can do the same thing for hours.’ She comes from an eminent family.
Her mother is the beautiful blonde Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman who was the country’s entry in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.
Her father is actor Svante Thunberg, who was named after a distant relative, Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist who in 1896 first calculated the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions.
(While much of his work has stood the test of time, he did predict that it would take another 2,000 years for us to reach today’s levels of warming.)
Greta’s own crusade began when she was nine years old and learned about climate change at school in Sweden — a nation which prides itself on its progressive approach to climate control.
‘They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,’ she said in one interview.
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old pig-tailed Swedish schoolgirl, has been obsessively researching climate change for seven years
But she couldn’t get her head around the fact that there were potential solutions available, but no action. ‘If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else,’ she said. ‘But this wasn’t happening.’
So she started researching climate change herself, and found she couldn’t stop. She became a vegan, stopped buying anything that was not essential and refused to fly anywhere.
Her research was so time-consuming she was forced to give up her hobbies — theatre, singing, dancing, music, horse-riding — but she didn’t care.
‘You have to see the bigger perspective,’ she insisted.
Then she began working on her parents. ‘Some people claim my parents have brainwashed me, but it was the opposite: I brainwashed my parents,’ she said. They quickly fell into line.
By 2016, her mother had given up flying — putting an end to her international performing career. The family gave up meat and dairy because of what they regard as the damaging environmental effects of raising animals, installed solar batteries, started growing their own vegetables, went vegan and cycled everywhere, keeping an electric car for emergencies.
But Greta was only just starting.In August last year, her private personal protest went public when she walked out of school and plonked herself outside the Riksdag. Her demands were simple — that politicians reduced carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015.
(Her protest chimed with a country struck by heatwaves and wildfires in the hottest summer since records began 262 years before.) And her homemade leaflets, handed out in the shadow of the Riksdag, were to the point: ‘I’m doing this because you adults are sh****ng on my future,’ they read. She was moved on several times by police, and was reprimanded at home by her parents.
But she sat there, alone, for three weeks during school hours, school books in her lap, until after the Swedish general election on September 9, and has been there pretty much every Friday since, in rain, sleet, snow and hail.
In November 2018, still aged just 15 and dressed in a blue hoodie and hair in long plaits she gave her first TED talk (the series of talks given by eminent speakers online for a global audience). It has had nearly a million views.
Soon her word was spreading across the world.
Tens of thousands of Belgian children have played truant from school to march on the streets of Brussels, Namur, Leuven and Liege, inspired by Greta’s simple message. At the World Economic Forum convention in Davos last month, she camped in the snow in temperatures of -18C rather than accept luxury hotel accommodation — and that after enduring a 32-hour train journey with her long-suffering dad.
‘I want to practise what I preach,’ she said, in one simple sentence shaming her fellow Davos eco-campaigners, who descended on the Swiss resort in more than 1,500 private jets and helicopters.
Students gather to demand the government take action on climate change at Martin Place on November 30 last year
Greta holds a placard next to students during a ‘strike for climate’ held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum
And despite looking more like Pippi Longstocking than a global climate activist, she wasn’t remotely fazed either by her fellow panellists (who included Bono, primatologist Jane Goodall and singer Will.i.am), or her audience of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people.
‘Someone is to blame,’ she said. ‘Some people. Some companies, some decision-makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money,’ she said. ‘And I think many of you here today belong to that group.’
Unlike so many politically motivated campaigners, Greta has never wavered.
‘I am doing this because nobody else is doing anything; it is my moral responsibility to do what I can,’ she said.
Today, of course, she is no longer protesting alone, sitting bravely in the snow, clasping that damp banner to her chest.
No wonder so many kids were inspired by her. And no wonder school strikes have also been held in Germany, Switzerland, Australia and even Uganda.
But what a shame that her cause has been embraced, piggybacked, hijacked even, by a worrying number of militant activists in this country, desperate to politicise her campaign for their own selfish ends.