Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, front right, is applauded by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and cheered by his wife Joan Phillip as she addresses a student-led climate change rally after participating in a march, in Vancouver, on Friday October 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Thunberg ‘a bit surprised’ to be Time ‘Person of the Year’

‘I could never have imagined anything like that happening,’ she said in a phone interview

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg said she was surprised and honoured Wednesday to learn she had been named Time’s youngest “Person of the Year,” saying the accolade deserved to be shared by others in the global movement she helped inspire.

The 16-year-old Swede has become the face of a new generation of activists, drawing large crowds with her appearances at protests and conferences over the past year and a half. Some have welcomed her activism, including her speeches challenging world leaders to do more to stop global warming. But others have criticized her sometimes combative tone.

“For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year,” the media franchise said on its website.

Leaving a U.N. climate conference in Madrid, Thunberg told The Associated Press she was “a bit surprised” at the recognition.

“I could never have imagined anything like that happening,” she said in a phone interview.

“I’m of course, very grateful for that, very honoured,” Thunberg said, but added that “it should be everyone in the Fridays for Future movement because what we have done, we have done together.”

Thunberg said she was hopeful that the message being pushed by her and other activists — that governments need to drastically increase their efforts to combat climate change — is finally getting through.

But she insisted that the media should also pay attention to other activists, particularly indigenous people who she said “are hit hardest by the climate and environmental crisis,” and to the science around global warming.

“That is what I am trying to do, to use my platform to do,” she said.

READ MORE: 1898 Yukon gold rush photo featuring Greta Thunberg look-alike sends internet into tailspin

Thunberg said the movement, which has staged repeated worldwide protests attended by hundreds of thousands of people, had managed to spread awareness about the need to urgently reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and help those already affected by climate change.

“To get in a sense of urgency in the conversation that is very needed right now to be able to move forward,” she said. “That, I think, is our biggest success.”

Asked whether she thought world leaders were beginning to respond to this message, Thunberg said: “They say they listen and they say they understand, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.”

“If they really would listen and understand then I think they need to prove that by translating that into action,” she added.

She said the experience of the past 15 months, going from solo-protester outside the Swedish parliament to speaking in front of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, had changed her.

“I think life is much more meaningful now that I have something to do that has an impact,” she said.

Thunberg has tried to preserve some privacy despite the relentless interest she’s received from media and adoring fans in recent months.

She was mobbed on her arrival in Madrid last week and the attention paid to her appearances at the climate conference has far outstripped that of other events, save for Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford.

“I would like to be left alone,” Thunberg said when asked about her plans for the next days. She will later travel home to Sweden, to spend Christmas with her family and dogs, she added.

“After that, I have no school to return to until August because I’ve taken a gap year,” she said.

“I will probably continue a bit like now, travel around. And if I get invitations to come. And just try everything I can,” she added.

Earlier Wednesday, Thunberg addressed negotiators at the U.N.’s annual climate talks, warning that “almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”

Last year’s Time winners included slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot to death; Philippine journalist Maria Ressa; and two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

Frank Jordans, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Donated donuts dropped off at Mission hospital

Mission Health Care Auxiliary Society and Tim Hortons team up

Abbotsford citizens rally for struggling young family with donations amid pandemic

Expecting mother reached out online for help, community response brought her to tears

VIDEO: Dog missing in Aldergrove since winter sees his family again for the first time

Aldergrove helped find Buster, says dad, who has now witnessed ‘the power of social media’

VIDEO: Surprise drive-by birthday held for Abbotsford teenager’s 13th

Friends wave from vehicles to adhere to social distancing

Inmate dies at Mission Institution

Richard Jackson was serving an indeterminate sentence for second-degree murder

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

COVID-19: Fraser Valley crafters are busy sewing cotton masks for health-care workers and others

One Chilliwack woman has made 125 masks so far, and is still going strong

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

Call before you dig into spring projects during isolation: BC 1 Call

BC 1 Call gives free checks for utilities in the area of a desired outdoor project

Most Read