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The environmental activist who has put sustainability in Vogue9 min read

August 17, 2021 6 min read


The environmental activist who has put sustainability in Vogue9 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

While much is said about the relationship fashion has with the environment, in a heartening amalgamation of the two, Vogue Scandinavia has the young Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg on its cover!

Let’s know more about this pathbreaker, shall we?

Greta’s Photo: Biography

In 2018, a 15-year-old Greta Thunberg took the world by storm by standing outside the Swedish Parliament imploring political leaders to take action against climate change holding a sign that read by Skolstrejk för klimatet that translates to School Strike for Climate (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Many students from all over the world followed suit and conducted these strikes to demand attention to the cause. Greta went on to deliver a speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2018 leading to more momentum for the protests. In 2019, Thunberg chose to sail to North America to cut down on the carbon emissions of air travel to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Her speech punctuated with the refrain of “How dare you?” holding world leaders responsible caught everyone’s attention. Watch it here:

Since then, Thunberg has been recognised as a changemaker all over the world. She has an honorary Fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. She was also the youngest person ever to be chosen as Time’s Person of the Year (Read: Meet Time Magazine’s the the first-ever Kid of the Year). She has also been included in Time’ 100 Most Influential People and Forbes’ The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. She has also been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace for three years in a row! And now, the young activist finds herself on the cover of the inaugural edition of Vogue Scandinavia.

And here’s her journey of becoming the icon the world associates
with environmental activism.

Thunberg’s activism began at home. She was moved to tears when she saw images of plastic floating in oceans. As she struggled to make sense of the world’s apathy, she turned to her family for support. She showed them images and graphs to convince them to turn vegan, start upcycling and give up flying. The last point impacted her mother’s career as an Opera singer but the family supported Thunberg’s conviction.

She changed us and now she is changing a great many other people. There was no hint of this in her childhood. It’s unbelievable. If this can happen, anything can happen.

Svante Thunberg (Greta’s father), The Guardian

Greta’s father Svante Thunberg was named after Svante Arrhenius, a Nobel prize-winning scientist who was the first person ever to have calculated how carbon dioxide emissions could lead to the greenhouse effect in 1896.

Greta with her parents, sister, and dogs. Image: The Guardian

In a TED talk delivered in November 2018, Thunberg shared that she first heard about global warming when she was all of eight years. She could not understand how people were capable of talking about anything else in light of the climate crisis approaching the world.

If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our existence, how could we just continue like before? Why weren’t there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal? To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal.

Greta Thunberg, TED Talk

At the age of eleven, Thunberg fell into depression. She was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and selective mutism at the age of eleven.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurodevelopment condition characterised by extreme difficulty in social interaction and nonverbal communication.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental health condition that causes repetitive thoughts or sensations (obsessions) or urges to do something in a repetitive manner (compulsions).
Selective mutism is an anxiety condition where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations.

Click on the image to hear the TED Talk.

Explaining selective mutism, she says,

That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments…

Greta Thunberg, TED Talk

She was baffled by how other people would talk about how the environmental crisis is an existential threat but would just go back to their regular lifestyles, disregarding any change that was necessary in the everyday. This pressing thought led to the school strikes that were joined in by millions of protestors from all over the world! Following a record heatwave in Northern Europe and forest fires in Sweden in 2018, Thunberg began her school strikes on August 20, 2018. On the first day, she sat alone during school hours. On the second day, she was joined in by other people. She sat in strike everyday till the next Swedish elections.

Image: The Guardian

Later, she delivered a talk before thousands of people at a climate change rally. Thunberg took her message to regular citizens, world leaders, corporate giants in one-on-one conversations and action-driven dialogue. Her candid speech has attracted many people to her cause who are driven by its urgency as against complacency at the hands of decision makers.

When you think about the future you don’t think beyond the year 2050. By then, I will, in the best case, not even have lived half of my life. What happens next? The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children or grandchildren, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe, they will ask me about you, the people who were around, back in 2018. Maybe they will ask why didn’t you do anything while there still was time to act. What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do now or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.

Greta Thunberg, TED Talk

She has faced backlash from fossil-fuel lobbyists and governmental leaders who believe she has been staged by sustainability businesses. However, Thunberg and her family continue to state that there is no commercial interest in her work.

And now the star of the environmental world, has a prestigious magazine cover to her name.

Shot by the Swedish photographer and conservationist duo Alexandrov Klum, the cover of Vogue’s inaugural Scandinavian issue shows Greta in an upcycled trenchcoat sitting next to a Icelandic horse called Gandalf in a woodland outside Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

Image: CNN

Thunberg used this opportunity to comment on how the fast fashion industry is harming the environment.

What is Fast Fashion?

Image: Giphy

Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing made available by mass-market sellers. The industry is allegedly characterised by labour exploitation and is known for environment degradation. The fashion industry produces 10% of global emissions of carbon dioxide and uses 1.5 trillion litres of water every year. 60% of our clothes are made of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and other synthetic materials that release microplastic in the oceans every time we wash them.  Fast fashion as its inexpensive (only monetarily!) encourages more buying.

Thunberg used the cover to talk about the problem of fast fashion and greenwashing– an attempt to portray eco-consciousness without making significant changes.

Image: CNN

The release of this issue of Vogue available online coincides with a climate change report released by the United Nations that has launched a Code Red for Humanity claiming that some of the negative impact caused to the environment is already irreversible.

British Vogue had another trailblazing cover-star for July. Unravel the puzzle below to know who it is.
Hint: She fought for a girl’s right to study in Pakistan.

Learn more about this shining star, here.

With excerpts from, The Guardian, The Guardian, Vogue, and CNN

(In the Spotlight is a weekly column that features people who are in the news for all the right reasons)