A sixteen year old's 'How dare you' has a billionaire President of the biggest economy in the world trolling her on Twitter. How mature! I have spent almost two weeks reading various opinion pieces on Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. From being called an 'alarmist' to 'that mentally ill Swedish girl', 'weird', 'brainwashed', 'a puppet' and even worse by an obscure Italian football coach who while teaching the young to play the game spends his free time writing comments full of sexual violence against minors whose views he doesn't agree with.
My interest in her developed way before she became a worldwide celebrity in February this year. I was offered an opportunity by my editor to go to Stockholm to cover the 'Green efforts' of Swedish capital Stockholm. While researching I came across a story in some European website about a 16-year-old girl striking in front of the Swedish parliament. I was intrigued by this girl who claimed she was worried about the climate change ever since she studied about it in her class. She could not ignore the threat which we the 'normal' people very easily could forget and go about our business. Not Greta. She stopped going to school and started sitting alone in front of the Swedish parliament. This young girl who has Asperger's syndrome, OCD and selective mutism can see things more clearly than most world leaders and opinion makers.
I started lining up the shoots with Stockholm city administration and informed them that I would be making attempts to seek an interview with Greta. I was neither discouraged nor encouraged by the city. After a long email correspondence, I managed to fix a 10 minute interaction with her on a Friday. It was 15th of February.
On the day of the interview I reached the protest site in front of the Swedish parliament a bit early. It was a cold day, so my cameraperson and I decided to walk to a cafe close by to get ourselves some coffee. As I was choosing my beverage, I spotted Greta in her trademark purple jacket and pig tails. She was there with a school friend taking a lunch break. I went up to her to introduce myself and say hello. Greta was visibly uncomfortable by this sudden social interaction with a talkative stranger. She avoided eye contact and didn't speak at all, not even a hello. I was left a bit flabbergasted but then it dawned on me that this is what I have been reading about; the girl doesn't function according to social norms. She is uncomfortable with attention and conversation.
I wondered how she would do a television interview if she can't even say a hello in a cafe. I was wrong. When we finally interviewed her she spoke so clearly and calmly that I was left wondering if my accent had thrown her off in our brief encounter in the cafe.
After the interview I started talking to her school friend. She confirmed that Greta is what we would call shy and an introvert. She avoids talking unless it's necessary. When she spoke during the interview, she spoke in an unperturbed manner with almost no expressions. A question on social media trolling did illicit a half smile but that was the extent of emotions I could wring out of that teenager who should be high on hormones.
Greta understands climate justice and believes that developing countries like India cannot be held to the same standards as Sweden.
Greta thinks it's time for her to speak because no one seems to be noticing that we are approaching a precipice. If we go over that edge, there is no turning back. She is trying to call out to us and the world leaders to stop. While many practical and rational minded everyday citizens might find Greta's warning of the approach of the beginning of the end of the world, a bit over the top, most people do agree with the general message - we need to stop harming the environment.
(Anjilee Istwal is a consultant with NDTV.)
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