Greta Thunberg, the soft-spoken Swedish teenager who became a global conscience for climate change and environmental activism, has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019.
The magazine announced the 16-year-old as its choice Wednesday exclusively on the "TODAY" show.
"She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement," Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal told the show, adding that Thunberg is the magazine's youngest choice ever to be named Person of the Year.
Greta Thunberg is TIME's 2019 Person of the Year.TIME
Thunberg quickly bloomed into one of the world's most notable climate change activists, sparking a collective movement to fight the issue after protesting alone outside the Swedish Parliament during school hours on Fridays when she was 15. The teen held up a now universally recognized hand-painted sign that read “skolstrejk för klimatet,” which translates to “School strike for the climate.”
Her initiative to strike galvanized students to protest against climate change throughout Europe and that momentum quickly fanned across the globe, becoming the “Fridays For Future" movement.
Her solo protest, Fensenthal noted, eventually prompted millions of people in 150 countries "to act on behalf of the planet."
He also said that Thunberg "represents a broader generational shift in the culture" — with youth standing up for what they believe in — from Hong Kong to Chile.
"Young people are demanding change, and urgently," Felsenthal said. "She embodies youth activism."
Thunberg's signature no-nonsense blunt style of speaking made her a force that could not be ignored by world leaders and she was asked to speak in front of several high-profile entities, including the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
Thunberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, first learned about climate change at 8 years old and said she became instantly concerned to the point that she plunged into depression over it.
How teen Greta Thunberg went from solitary climate change protester...
“I remember thinking that it was very strange that humans that are an animal species, among others, could be capable of changing the Earth’s climate,” she said during a 2018 Ted Talk.
She gave up eating meat and traveling via airplane, among other things, to reduce her carbon footprint.
In October, Thunberg was the recipient of another honor — an environmental award at a Stockholm ceremony held by the Nordic Council. But she declined it, explaining in an Instagram post, "The climate movement does not need any more awards."
"What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science," she wrote.
When asked what he thought Thunberg's response would be after learning that she is Time's Person of the Year, Felsenthal said, "I don't know, but I think what she has done, her rise in influence, has been really extraordinary."
The young activist sailed for just over two weeks on a zero-emission boat with her father in August to New York City.
When she appeared before Congress in September, Thunberg refused to read prepared remarks and instead submitted a 2018 United Nations global warming report to lawmakers, telling them, “I don't want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists, and I want you to unite behind the science."
One of her most notable appearances occurred at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in September when she excoriated global leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by telling them they had “stolen her dreams and childhood” with their “empty words.”
"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing," she said. "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"
The “how dare you!” sentiment reverberated universally, emboldening climate change activists while making politicians uncomfortable.
Her fiery words drew ire and sarcastic responses from several detractors, including President Donald Trump.
“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Trump commented after retweeting a video of Thunberg's speech.
Despite being a frequent target of criticism, Thunberg has trudged forward on her quest for environmental justice.
Earlier this year, Thunberg, along with 15 other young climate activists, filed a legal complaint with the United Nations against five countries under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child alleging the nations are not doing enough to combat climate change and that their inaction is affecting their right to thrive.
Her efforts also earned her a nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. While the teen lost the award to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, she remains one of the youngest nominees for the illustrious prize.
The other 2019 finalists for Time's Person of the Year were Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Donald Trump, the Hong Kong protesters, and the anonymous whistleblower whose memo on Trump's dealings with Ukraine triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Instead of doing runners-up this year, the magazine gave awards in different categories, including the U.S. women's soccer team as athlete of the year, Lizzo as entertainer of the year, and Disney CEO Bob Iger as businessperson of the year.
The magazine has selected a Person of the Year annually since the 1920s. Last year, Time chose "The Guardians and the War on Truth,” which included four journalists and one news organization who paid a hefty price, either with their lives or freedoms, to be journalists at time when the profession has been under attack on several fronts.
I always like to let divergent viewpoints -- divergent from mine -- in here.
Words of a Fisherman: Time to Let Stripers Be
Thirty-five years ago this January,
a five-year moratorium on the taking of striped bass went into effect in the state of Maryland. Other states, including Massachusetts, soon followed suit with regulations resulting in a near-total shutdown of fishing for the vaunted species across the 11 coastal states where it migrates.
There was no scientific consensus on what was causing the disastrous decline of stripers. Pollution on the Chesapeake Bay spawning grounds was surely a factor, but solving that problem would take years — and by then, it would be too late. The only realistic solution was to stop the fishing pressure from commercial and recreational anglers.
My family and I, longtime Vineyard fishermen, played an integral role in fighting for this to happen. And it worked, beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. A striped bass population estimated to contain about 4.6 million fish in 1982 would reach a historic peak of an astounding 56.7 million fish in 2004. The resurgence of the striper was hailed by Scientific American Magazine as “the best example in the world of a species that was allowed to recoup through tough management and an intelligent rebuilding plan.”
Now in a painful déjà vu, another dire crisis is occurring. Once again, the reasons are unclear. New threats have arisen, including not enough available food due to overfishing of menhaden and the aquatic environment being detrimentally affected by climate change. So, once again, all we can do immediately is drastically reduce fishing mortality.
A recent study of female spawning stock biomass revealed a sudden drop of levels deemed strong enough to sustain the species. An overfishing threshold estimated at 202 million pounds in 2017 fell to 151 million pounds this year. In the realm of the fish, that’s a lot.
In response, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission mandated an 18 per cent cut in allowable harvest quotas for 2020. This includes an addendum that will hold sports fishermen to keeping one striper per day and require the release of any fish measuring less than 28 inches and more than 35 inches.
Obviously, the Vineyard derby’s prizes for the largest stripers, daily and overall, fly in the face of the new conservation measures. This past autumn, the derby weighed in 146 striped bass, the majority being precisely those females bearing the most eggs.
It’s time to take the bass out of the derby. A precedent already exists.
Back in 1985, and for the eight years that followed, derby officials removed endangered stripers from the competition and made it a bluefish derby.
The decision did not come easily. A full-page ad in the Gazette signed by more than 50 fishermen and conservationists, including seven former derby grand prize winners, had called for this to happen a year earlier. When the derby committee and the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce were not swayed, sponsors began to withdraw their support. Saltwater Sportsman Magazine led the way, followed by three leading fishing gear manufacturers including the world’s largest rod-and-reel maker, Zebco. The town of Chilmark formally declared it could no longer in good conscience support a bass derby.
On May 23, 1985, the derby committee reversed itself. Striped bass would be dropped from the tournament, not to be included again until the fishery recovered. With that, all the sponsors moved to renew their support. The bluefish-focused event continued to thrive, and the Vineyard assumed a role as a conservation leader.
We would do well to heed the lesson of history, seeking to ensure that despite the many obstacles in its path, this most majestic of inshore creatures will continue to survive if given a chance by their primary predator. Stronger protections will no doubt need to be put in place. Recreational fishermen must realize their role in the decline and utilize less damaging circle hooks while practicing catch and release.
It makes no sense that commercial fishermen in Massachusetts still be allowed to take 15 fish a day twice a week with a 34-inch minimum size limit, when the larger females are desperately needed to keep the population afloat. The fact that the allocated catch hasn’t even been reached for the past two years should be a sign that business as usual can’t continue.
In October, the annual survey tracking reproduction success for juvenile striped bass in Maryland fell to 3.4 fish per scientific haul, well below the 66-year average of 11.6. So it’s quite likely that the current quota cutbacks called for across the Atlantic coast and in the Chesapeake Bay do not go far enough. This was the case in the mid-1980s, when it became apparent that a 55 per cent reduction in fishing pressure wasn’t going to keep the bass off the Endangered Species List.
We must prepare for another complete moratorium. Until then, it is unconscionable to keep striped bass in the Vineyard derby.
Dick Russell is the author of Striper Wars: An American Fish Story.