Greta Thunberg criticises leaders who want selfies with her to ‘look good’

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Environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg has hit out at world leaders for taking pictures with her to “look good”.

The 17-year-old became a global star thanks to her climate activism. She gave a powerful speech at the United Nations (UN) climate change summit in September 2019, in which she told world leaders:

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… how dare you!

“It makes them seem like they care”

As part of a series she’s made for Swedish radio about her campaigning, Thunberg revealed that German chancellor Angela Merkel had queued up to have a “selfie” with her at the international gathering in New York.

On the radio programme, she criticised the way high-ranking figures had behaved after her UN appearance. She said:

Presidents, prime ministers, kings and princesses came and wanted to talk to me.

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They saw me and suddenly saw the chance that they could take a photo with me for their Instagram account. Then the hashtag #savetheplanet.

It seemed as if they had forgotten for a moment to be ashamed that their generation had let future generations down.

In follow-up comments made to the BBC, Thunberg, who has more than four million Twitter followers, said she had a “dislike” for politicians who wanted to capitalise on her fame by being photographed alongside her.

Thunberg leaders
Greta Thunberg – with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – has recounted how world leaders queued up to have their picture taken with her (Ronald Zak/AP)

When asked about the situation with Merkel, Thunberg said:

To be fair, it was not only her, it was many…

And those kinds of things happen all the time. People just want to stand next to me and other climate activists.

They can post it on social media and it makes them look good, it makes them seem like they care.

When asked whether global leaders vying for picture opportunities made her feel “used”, the founder of the Schools Strike for Climate movement said:

Yes, people definitely see me sometimes as someone to stand next to, to look good, and that is something I really dislike because that’s not the sort of person I want to be.

Valuing human life

During the 25-minute interview, Thunberg said she was hopeful that the changes made by governments and people across the globe in the face of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic would help to change the perception around the action required to tackle global warming. She told the BBC:

If anything it (coronavirus) will change the way we perceive and treat crises because it shows that during a crisis you act with necessary force…

And it has also opened up the discussion around how much we value human life.

For example, people say they are ready to sacrifice the economy.

They are saying we will do what it takes because we cannot put a price on a human life.

If you introduce that logic for the climate, for instance, then that opens up many possibilities and it changes the discussion of the debate.

The advocate has previously slammed the UK’s declining carbon emissions figures as “creative accounting” and has pushed for firmer action.

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