As Women’s History Month winds down and following the release of a new report from the United Nations group on climate change, it felt like a good time to pick up my copy of Greta Thunberg’s “No One Is Too Small to Make A Difference.”
The work, first published in 2019, is a compilation of 16 essays given by Thunberg, a climate activist from Sweden, to groups such as the UN, the World Economic Forum and the European Parliament when she was between 15 and 16 years old. After reading the work in one night, I feel confident saying that the pocket-sized publication packs a punch.
Thunberg rose to fame in 2018 after she launched a “strike for the climate,” as part of which she sat outside of the Swedish Parliament instead of going to school. The resulting movement mobilized millions of people around the world and earned Thunberg the Prix Liberté award, as well as a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I, like many others, remember Thunberg’s fiery speech at the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit in New York City in 2019. Contrasted against a royal blue backdrop and clad in a hot pink tunic, Thunberg berated attendees for “look(ing) away” in the face of 30 years’ worth of science on climate change.
“Your generation is failing us,” Thuberg told the assembly. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.”
It’s clear across the essays featured in “No One Is Too Small to Make A Difference” that passionate prose is a hallmark of Thunberg’s speaking style. As compelling as the style was, the level of repetition between speeches in the collection meant some of the power wore off.
Because the speeches were all delivered consecutively over the course of such a short amount of time, there is a lot of commonality between the message, which Thunberg was delivering to different audiences.
For Thunberg fans who want a historical document they can use to quickly reference specific speeches from the early years of her career, “No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference” is undoubtedly a great addition to their library.
For someone such as myself, who was more interested in catching up on the call to action that mobilized youth around the world, I was looking for a little more variety. I suspect that, in 10 years or so, a similar volume of work from Thunberg would contain that variety.
And still, the message Thunberg delivers over the course of the book’s roughly 100 pages is important. There are multiple references to a 2018 report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left in order to have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.
During a speech in September 2019, Thunberg said that figure was already down to 350 gigatons, suggesting that the figure would drop to zero within the next 8.5 years.
The IPCC, which operates under the United Nations, published its latest report this month that found, among other things, “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” If annual CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2030 stay, on average, the same level as 2019, the emission would exhaust the world’s remaining carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
“Limiting human-caused global warming requires net zero CO2 emissions,” a summary of that report, published on March 19, says. “ … Projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C (50%).”
As recently as last week, Thunberg shared on Instagram a picture of herself and five others holding signs with phrases like “this is a crisis” while standing outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. I’ve come to associate Thunberg with her well-loved “Skolstrejk för klimatet” banner, which pops up reliably on my feed, and plan to continue following her work for climate justice.
The first edition of “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference” was published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2019.
Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of the Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens.