Greta Thunberg says she ‘needs a rest’ as she heads home to Sweden after year of global climate activism

Joe Sommerlad
Greta Thunberg attends a Fridays For Future strike in Turin, Italy, on 13 December 2019: Getty

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg has said she needs a rest, after spending the year traversing the globe by sea, road and rail to wake up world leaders and the public to the threat of global warming.

After being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year – and attacked on Twitter by jealous US president Donald Trump – the 16-year-old Swede joined thousands of students in the northren Italian city of Turin on Friday to pressure the country’s government into cutting carbon emissions.

Thunberg, who refuses to fly, arrived in Turin by train from Madrid after attending the UN climate summit in the Spanish capital. Those talks were originally intended to take place in Chile, only to be relocated following the outbreak of protests in Santiago.

The teenager spent much of the autumn campaigning in the US, memorably haranguing heads of state at the UN headquarters in September for their complacency and inaction over the environmental crisis.

But now Thunberg is heading home for the festive season – and a well-deserved break.

“I will be home for Christmas and then I will take a holiday break because you need to take rest,” she told reporters in Turin. “Otherwise you cannot do this all the time.”

The activist hardly appeared fatigued in Italy as she addressed a rally in one of Italy’s main industrial and polluting regions, the home of the Fiat auto company.

“It is not fair that the older generation are handing over the responsibility to solve this crisis to us young people who have not started this crisis. It’s not fair that we have to do all this,” she told the youthful crowd.

“The adults are behaving as if there is no tomorrow but there is a tomorrow, it is the tomorrow where our young people will live and we have to fight for that tomorrow. We can no longer take that tomorrow for granted.

“What we decide to do or not to do in this decade we will have to live with for the rest of our lives. And our children and our grandchildren will also have to live with it,” she continued.

“The year is almost over. We must make sure that 2020 is the year of action, is the year when we bend the global emissions curve.

“We are going to put pressure on those in power, we are going to make sure that they will act and they will take responsibility.”

When she was 15, Thunberg would skip school on Fridays to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament. Her campaign to curb carbon pollution gave rise to a grassroots movement called Fridays for Future that quickly went global, inspiring millions of people to take action.

“We are very excited to have Greta protesting side-by-side with us,” said fellow activist Elena Costa, 22, from Turin. “We want to explain our goals to everyone and invite everyone to come Friday after Friday, every single week.”

While the young activist remains an icon to her peers, she continues to face criticism from other quarters.

President Trump’s patronising broadside earlier this week saw the 73-year-old telling her she “must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!”.

It was not the first time the president had derided Thunberg on social media, prompting some to accuse him of hypocrisy after he and his wife Melania Trump reacted with indignation when a Stanford Law professor joked about their teenage son Barron’s name during the ongoing House impeachment inquiry. Melania Trump later set up an anti-bullying initiative for online communications.

Defending Mr Trump’s tweets, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “It is no secret that the president and first lady often communicate differently – as most married couples do. Their son is not an activist who travels the globe giving speeches. He is a 13-year-old who wants and deserves privacy.”

Thunberg was also mocked this week by Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who called her a “pirralha” (“brat”) after she warned the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest face a threat to their lives from those engaged in illegal deforestation.

She found a valuable defender in former US first lady Michelle Obama, however, who tweeted words of encouragement from Vietnam: “Don’t let anyone dim your light. Like the girls I’ve met in Vietnam and all over the world, you have so much to offer us all. Ignore the doubters and know that millions of people are cheering you on.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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