At 15 years old, Greta Thunberg realised that our planet is very literally dying, and decided to do something about it. In August of 2018, the Swedish teenager skipped school one Friday and held a solo climate protest outside Sweden's parliament building. She did the same thing every Friday after that, until people started taking notice, not only in her home country, but across Europe.
Her simple action snowballed, and before long she had inspired the worldwide youth-led movement Fridays for Future, which has seen hundreds of thousands of students around the world skipping school one Friday every month, and taking to the streets to demand their respective governments do something about saving the planet.
Though it's an international movement, each country has followed its own path, with leaders establishing local, student-focused climate protest groups. But one common thread is that these movements have mostly been led by young women. There's Greta in Sweden, and 23-year-old Luisa Neubauer, the face of the protests in Germany, which have spread to over 180 towns and cities. In Belgium – where the number of people protesting has jumped from 7,000 to 35,000 – Anuna De Wever, 17, is the spokesperson of her country's Youth for Climate movement. And in the UK, 17-year-old Anna Taylor co-founded the Student Climate Network, a group that has been responsible for coordinating the main protests.
For VICE's new documentary, Make the World Greta Again, we followed Greta and other leaders of the student movement as they organised the biggest climate strike in history – a global demonstration that saw 1.6 million students turn out in more than 125 countries.
We learned how these young women have coordinated their efforts from separate countries, and how they’ve dealt with patronising politicians who seem to care more about empty classrooms than the continued warming of the planet and the many problems that will cause. We also saw how these smart women, who have been thrust into the public eye, have had to put up with a load of shit. "Of course I receive tons of hate," Greta told us. "There are people who spend all their time trying to spread rumours and lies, and leave out information. They are treating Luisa very badly, making up rumours about her, and I think that’s absurd."
"No one can prepare you for all the hate you receive," Luisa told us. "Someone uploaded each photo on my Instagram account to Twitter and calculated my apparent C02 footprint because I've flown on planes in the past, and a lot of it was wrong. It makes you feel a bit naked, because you know people are trying to find stuff about you that’s not true, but you have no way to interfere."
In response, Luisa has developed several ways of pushing the abuse aside so she can focus on the issue at hand. "One important thing that I quickly learned is that some people categorically don’t like me – whatever I say, they hate it," she explained. "They accuse me of doing this just to get Twitter followers. I've accepted that there’s no way I can get to them, so it’s a lot easier for me to [focus] on dealing with other things."
The abuse these young women have received goes a lot further than just trolling. "I get a lot of online death threats, and people saying they are going to rape me and stuff – it’s really bad," Anuna told us. "It's so sad people are trying to find something to hate on because they don't want to open their eyes to what we’re actually doing."
Despite all the hate, Greta, Anuna and Luisa are all staying remarkably positive. "It's a good sign that people see us as a threat," Greta said. "I think it's a sign that something is happening in the debate."