Sweden: Flygskam and Greta-mania

One year changes everything. A year ago, hardly anyone had heard of Greta Thunberg, now the sixteen-year-old is on the cover of Time, talks to the UN and the EU and leaves Arnold Schwarzenegger feeling starstruck. The one-person school strike that she started last August now gathers over a million people in more than a 100 countries; many of them countries with little tradition of citizen protests and engagement. 

Ms Thunberg does not applaud or approve of half-way measures; climate change is real and reducing emissions drastically is urgently needed. “I don’t want you to feel hope, I want you to panic” she says, in stark contrast to other leading climate thinkers who believe we should coax and encourage change, step by step. In her strict version of climate activism, Greta certainly walks the talk. She does not fly, eats vegan and has not accepted a single company endorsement since she does not believe that consumerism is the way forward. And it has inspired a whole world; in France national news now talk about “flygskam” without even translating the Swedish word for “fly shame”, and in Sweden domestic aviation is down by almost ten percent which many attributes to Greta. 

Greta embodies a new wave of citizen’s demands; if it is not sustainable, I am not part of it. When discussing this Generation Greta-approach, companies often point out that these young, bright and often female activists are exactly those they want to recruit – and if they are not seen as in line with the climate requirements, Generation Greta won’t hand in their cv’s. 

In Sweden, Greta has been criticized by conservative thought leaders, who point out that she is only a child. Her answer is “don’t listen to me, listen to science”, quoting the IPCC reports that point out the need for immediate and drastic emissions reductions across the board. 

Is Greta a flash in the pan? She herself believes so, soon the media frenzy will be over. But by then millions are ready to carry on with her – and the scientists’ – demands for reducing emissions, here and now.

Mattias Goldmann
CEO, Think Tank Fores with the 2030-secretariat