teens

Before Greta Thunberg's famous school strike, her mum was the only celebrity in the family.

When Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, sat outside her country’s parliament in a three-week ‘school strike for the climate’ in 2018, her parents, Svante Thunberg and Malena Ernman, watched on.

They didn’t protest alongside her, as a handful of others did. They simply stood back and allowed their 15-year-old, who had previously sunk into a crippling depression over the climate crisis, to channel her concerns.

“She is supposed to be in school; we cannot support her action,” Svante told The Guardian at the time. “But we respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest and be happy.”

Video by Sky

In the year since, Greta has become one of the world’s most recognisable climate change activists, the voice of a generation angered by our inaction and fearful of their future.

Just this week, she called out world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit in an impassioned 495-word speech that echoed around the world. And days earlier, several million people took to the streets in a global climate strike inspired by Greta’s own just 13 months ago.

Her influence is being called ‘The Greta Effect’.

And it began in her own home.

Greta Thunberg’s parents.

Greta first learned about climate change at the age of eight. She couldn’t fathom why no one seemed to be doing anything meaningful to combat it, and fears about her future wouldn’t leave her mind. She became depressed, wouldn’t go to school, barely spoke or ate.

She shared her concerns with her parents.

“They just told me everything will be alright. That didn’t help, of course, but it was good to talk. And then I kept on going, talking about this all the time and showing my parents pictures, graphs and films, articles and reports,” she told The Guardian in March. “And, after a while, they started listening to what I actually said. That’s when I kind of realised I could make a difference.”

Greta's father, Svante Thunberg. Image: Getty.
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Though many of Greta's critics have suggested she's a puppet for her parents, Greta's father, a producer and actor who's had small roles on Swedish television, maintains that she's the one running the show. From educating them about the climate, to encouraging them to adopt a vegan diet.

“Greta forced us to change our lives,” Svante said. “I didn’t have a clue about the climate. We started looking into it, reading all the books – she has read them, too.”

Greta's powers of persuasion even saw her mother reshape her entire career.

Malena was a well-known opera singer in Sweden and even competed in the 2009 Eurovision song contest (she came 21st), but she later chose to abandon the art because of the ecological impact of aviation travel. She simply couldn't reconcile what she'd learned about climate change with her regular work-related flights around Europe.

Malena Ernman performing in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Image: Getty.

During a recent interview on The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah asked if she sometimes felt "bad" that her mother couldn't perform in the way she used to.

"I don't care, honestly, about how she performs. She's doing musicals now. So she had to change career, but it wasn't that big," Greta said. "[The planet is the most important thing]. For all of us, I think it should be."

The book: Scenes from the Thunberg family home.

In 2018, Svante and Malena co-wrote a biography about Malena (the only celebrity in their household at the time), called Scener ur hjärtat (Scenes from the Heart).

Released shortly after Greta's school strike, it told of Malena's tours around Europe, her family life and the struggles they faced when Greta suddenly stopped eating and speaking in the fifth grade, her suffering triggered by that of the planet.

Malena also details coming to terms with her daughters' diagnoses: Greta with Asperger's Syndrome, and her youngest, Beata, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Something she soon appreciated are not her girls' handicap, but their "superpower".

In the forward to the German edition of the book, Malena wrote, "a lot has changed both for Greta and for our family," adding that on some days, "it almost seems like a dream."

She plans to write a follow-up soon.

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