Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Is Time’s ‘Person Of The Year”

An interesting albeit dubious selection for Person of the Year.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thornburg, who has gained worldwide attention for her appearances at climate change conferences and protests, has been named Time Magazine’s Person Of The Year, becoming the youngest person to receive such a distinction:

Greta Thunberg has rejected accolades for her activism, saying awards are not what the environmental movement needs.

But on Wednesday, the Swedish 16-year-old, who has mobilized millions of people to fight climate change and condemned leaders’ inaction, picked up another honor that acknowledges her impact.

Thunberg is Time’s Person of the Year — the magazine’s youngest ever.

“She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement,” Time Editor in Chief Edward Felsenthal said on NBC’s “Today” show.

Thunberg represents a broader phenomenon of young people pushing for change, Felsenthal said, pointing to the Parkland, Fla., high school students who became a leading voice on gun control as well as another finalist for 2019 Person of the Year, the Hong Kong protesters who have spent months in the streets urging democratic reform.

Time’s other finalists were three people at the center of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump: the president himself, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint helped set the impeachment inquiry in motion.

Thunberg — who scolded a United Nations assembly of the powerful in the fall, declaring “How dare you” — was named Person of the Year while she was giving another speech at a U.N. climate summit in Madrid.
This time, she did not reject the accolade, but shared credit with “climate activists everywhere.”

Time’s Person of the Year distinction is not necessarily a positive award. Rather, it is one that recognizes “the man, woman, group or concept that has had the most influence on the world during the previous 12 months.” Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, for instance, was named Time’s Man of the Year in 1938.

Felsenthal wrote that Time’s choice of Thunberg “says as much about the moment as it does about her,” describing the Person of the Year tradition as springing from a historical lens that emphasizes people at the top of major organizations and “at home in the corridors of power.”

“But in this moment when so many traditional institutions seem to be failing us, amid staggering inequality and social upheaval and political paralysis, we are seeing new kinds of influence take hold,” he said.

He marveled on “Today” at Thunberg’s rapid rise from little-known “solo protester” to beacon of change in the past year. She spent last summer sitting alone outside the Swedish parliament with a handmade sign declaring her “school strike for climate.”

That isolated action grew into a movement as Thunberg inspired students around the world to leave their classes in massive demonstrations. And she electrified young and old with her viral words for leaders at this year’s U.N. summit.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here,” she said. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you have come to us young people for hope. ”

(…)

Thunberg has been successful in pushing climate change up the global agenda, Felsenthal said Wednesday. “She’s taken this issue from backstage to center,” he said.

This year, there were no runners-up for Person of the Year selected from the four other finalists. Instead, Time highlighted people as influential in their fields.

Entertainer of the year went to singer and cultural force Lizzo. An athletic honor went to the U.S. women’s soccer team, with Felsenthal highlighting star Megan Rapinoe, who is known for activism as well as her prowess on the field. Disney chief executive Bob Iger was recognized as the businessperson of the year with nods to his company’s box office success and work launching streaming service Disney Plus. And a “Guardians of the Year” title recognized the “public servants” who have played a role in impeachment proceedings against Trump.

You can read Time’s Cover Story about their selection at the link, and here’s the video TIme released along with the selection:

Personally, I would have selected someone such as the President or Speaker Nancy Pelosi for this distinction. From the start of the year, both of them have had a significant impact on the course of events both here in the United States and around the world. Alternatively, I would have chosen the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint set off the chain of events led to what will no doubt be the third impeachment of a President in American history. Given the fact that the Person of the Year cover story typically includes an interview and/or profile, that would have obviously been a difficult choice given the fact that this person’s identity remains a secret but there is no question that their actions have had an impact not just on events in 2019 but they are also likely to reverberate into 2020 with the upcoming Senate Impeachment Trial and, beyond that, the 2020 elections. Of course, Time Magazine is an international publication so its not necessarily surprising that they would pick someone who had at least some international impact (although much of the same can be said about Trump, Pelosi, and the whistleblower as well.)

As for the selection of Thunberg, I suppose I can understand the choice. Her speeches, while largely substance-free and ridden with emotion rather than a thoughtful discussion of the realities involved in combatting or minimizing the damage from climate change, have certainly caught the attention of people. Personally, while I am certainly not a climate change denier, I’ve found her appeals to be somewhat annoying and rather unnecessary except perhaps as a rallying cry for people who think the only thing they need to do solve a complex problem like climate change and a reliance on fossil fuels that, like it or not, is likely going to continue for at least as long as it takes Greta herself to reach my age. Specifically, even when I agree with what she’s saying I find the scolding attitude she takes in her speeches to be off-putting and counterproductive if the goal is to convince doubts that there is a need for action. Additionally, from the interviews I have seen she seems to have little idea about the realities of what can realistically be accomplished to reach the goals that she is advocating for and also seems to reject the idea that there will have to be compromises along the way. Finally, while I am sure her passion for the issue of climate change is real, it seems clear to me that she is in at least some respects being used by adults eager to push an agenda of their own, who can respond to any criticism of her by attacking anyone who questions her of “attacking a child.”

In any case, to the extent anyone still cares about who the editors of Time consider the “Person Of The Year,” I suppose that this will draw some attention to the issue of climate change. In the end, though, I can’t help but think they could have accomplished the same thing with a cover story about, well, climate change.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Global Climate Change, Science & Technology, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Time named Trump POTY. And since this is going to rustle conservative jimmies. Is it now a rag or has it always been EXCEPT that one time with Trump?

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement

    Emphasis, mine. This is absolutely true.
    I was in Europe when she landed in NYC. She was everywhere on TV…I mean, everywhere.
    You have to understand that; one – there is no bigger threat to our world than climate change, and two – that our reference point on the environment is wildly skewed by American propaganda channels. America is the only place in the world that doesn’t care about this ongoing calamity. American Republicans are the only people in the world that claim it doesn’t exist.
    Yes…there are valid claims for a bunch of other people. But there is no doubt that she is the biggest voice on the biggest issue and that she is leading a worldwide movement.

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  3. drj says:

    @Doug:

    As for the selection of Thunberg, I suppose I can understand the choice. Her speeches, while largely substance-free and ridden with emotion rather than a thoughtful discussion of the realities involved in combatting or minimizing the damage from climate change

    Thunberg: “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists.”

    But it’s not like we are doing that either.

    Also, we have been having these “thoughtful discussion of the realities involved in combatting or minimizing the damage from climate change” for decades now. And we have pretty much NOTHING to show for it.

    Really, there is zero reason to diss Thunberg. She’s doing what she can as a teenager (with remarkable success, btw) to address a global crisis, while explicitly acknowledging that we should listen to the actual specialists instead of her

    It’s pretty sad that it takes a teenager to make something happen. But even so, she did way, way more to address this crisis than any “serious” politician you ever voted for.

    So I really wouldn’t be too rash with accusations like “substance-free” and “ridden with emotion.” It is utterly unfair.

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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    Personally, I would have selected someone such as the President or Speaker Nancy Pelosi for this distinction.

    We need to establish an OTB ??? of the year.
    Keeping in mind that in 1982 Time named The Computer as Machine of the Year and in 1988 named The Endangered Earth as Planet of the Year nominations should not be limited to animate beings.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I admire Ms. Thunberg greatly. But Person of the Year should have been the Hong Kong demonstrators, IMO.

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  6. Hal_10000 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Absolutely agree.

  7. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    We need to establish an OTB ??? of the year.

    I nominate the Whistle-blower, for reasons that I assume to be self-evident to most who post here.

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  8. Michael Cain says:

    You either believe that climate change is an existential threat to civilization in the not-so-distant future, or you don’t. If you believe, Ms. Thunberg is an excellent choice. Certainly she brought more attention to the problem than, say, Gov. Inslee was able to. If you believe that there’s time, so we can worry about immigration and health care and voting rights and other things first, then the choice is harder. I’d be inclined to recognize Nancy Pelosi for the way she’s managed the House.

    The latest NOAA Arctic Report Card came out this week. All signs point to CO2 releases from thawing permafrost having reached positive feedback territory.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    In the end, Pelosi, Trump, the Whistleblower and the entire impeachment will amount to nothing.

    I would add another candidate — Putin. The man who has bent this administration to his will, and turned the Republicans from Russia Hawks into some kind of little dumpling that Russians eat for breakfast.

    Hong Kong is an issue on a small island off the coast of China that will likely be resolved with a brutal crackdown and a whole lot of tut-tutting. If protests spread to the mainland next year, there’s a possibility, but otherwise this is likely to be failed social movement #34,712.

    Greta Thunberg is a fine choice. The power an individual person can have to focus world leaders attention on the climate crisis is amazing. She is amazing.

    It will likely all result in nothing, but at least there’s an individual that we can point to, and see what they did. (Hong Kong protestors have failed to find an individual that has captured the world’s attention).

    Her speeches, while largely substance-free and ridden with emotion rather than a thoughtful discussion of the realities involved in combatting or minimizing the damage from climate change, have certainly caught the attention of people.

    Graphs from scientists have done nothing, so I welcome an appeal to raw emotion because the graphs worked on me and I’m scared shitless, but I’m also not most people.

    Facts also show Democrats are better for the economy and the deficit. Facts show the President is a criminal. Facts show a lot of things. Facts are useless if you aren’t open to them.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    I find the scolding attitude she takes in her speeches to be off-putting and counterproductive if the goal is to convince doubts that there is a need for action.

    Maybe her goal is to get people who list climate change as one concern among many to get off their asses, do what they know they have to, and start treating it as the top concern.

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  11. Teve says:
  12. LB1901 says:

    imho, Peloton wife is a better POTY; particularly when tipsy.

  13. LB1901 says:
  14. Nickel Front says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @Michael Reynolds:

    But Person of the Year should have been the Hong Kong demonstrators, IMO.

    Good lord.

    That may be the first rational comment I’ve seen from you.

    Hong Kong protesters >>>> Greta or Pelosi or Eric Ciamarella.

    Another option could have been the Iranian protestors, who have been getting killed in the streets by that regime.

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  15. DougNOTlibertarian says:

    Nixon was not impeached (he resigned). This article says “Alternatively, I would have chosen the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint set off the chain of events led to what will no doubt be the third impeachment of a President in American history.”

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  16. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Well, Time tends to choose people that are (preferably) representing a larger trend or, at least, those having a fresh international impact.

    Trump is essentially old news and, internationally seen, by now a sideshow. We ignore him and hope he goes away soon. Pelosi is not even a sideshow.

    The protests in Hong Kong and Iran are commendable but strictly local and not part of a larger trend. Venezuela, Brazil, Syria and perhaps Brexit and Notre Dame all were relevant topics but lacked a clear central figure.

    Going by international impact and symbolic importance this was certainly the best, if not the only, choice.

  17. @Michael Reynolds:

    Yes that would have been an excellent choice

  18. @DougNOTlibertarian:

    There have been two impeachments before this. The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868, which ended in acquittal in the Senate. The second is Bill Clinton in 1998, which led to acquittal in the Senate.

    Trump’s anticipated impeachment would be the third.

  19. Guarneri says:

    Is Time now reserving person of the year for victims of child abuse?

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  20. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Greta may be a kid, but she makes the Republicans shit in their pants.
    Little Donnie can’t stop tweeting about her.
    And then the kid turns it around and makes him the fool.

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  21. drj says:

    @Guarneri:

    Kid tells the truth about something that Guarnari doesn’t want to hear about and suddenly it’s “child abuse.”

    But the fact of the matter that it’s not Thunberg who is in an abusive cult; it’s you.

    Must hurt, no, that a 16 year-old girl is smarter than you?

    I guess that’s what’s behind all the right-wing rage.

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  22. Teve says:

    @realdonaldtrump

    So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!

    If you really want to hate humanity, go to the right wing sites right now and see what they’re saying about Greta.

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  23. drj says:

    @Teve:

    If you really want to hate humanity, go to the right wing sites right now and see what they’re saying about Greta.

    It includes anal rape. That’s the kind of scum we’re dealing with.

    Because the silly, ignorant woman-child wouldn’t shut up when the Rational Real Men ™ were talking.

    There are actual, living and breathing people who unironically claim that Thunberg is being brainwashed and abused; and want to remedy that situation by raping her.

    I kid you not.

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  24. KM says:

    The Hong Kong protesters are a good choice but in the end, it must be acknowledged they’re only fighting for themselves. They quite understandably don’t want to live under China’s thumb and are fighting back to preserve their way of life. They’re not fighting for mankind, social improvement or even survival – they’re trying to keep status quo. We want them to succeed because freedom is always preferable but they’ve been unable to coalesce into anything stable or definitive. They’re hanging in there through sheer numbers but that can’t last forever. Hong Kong will still exist even if they fail – it will just be a different version of it. Failure to successfully counter climate change means it won’t matter if the protesters succeed when the city is flooded out or destroyed by increasingly damaging storms – they’ll have to flee to mainland China and guess what will happen then?

    Perhaps instead of Greta, they should have said “Climate change activists” and still used her picture as an example. She also represents the coming generations not putting up with the BS of older generations who frankly will not have to live with the consequences of their poor decisions. If you subscribe to the Strauss–Howe generational theory, she’s from a “Hero” generation same as the Greatest Generation – a group that grows up to fight to the good fight that others left for too long. When you are growing up with the knowledge that your elders are deliberately ruining your future and openly mock you for trying to challenge that, you’re going to get a generation that’s not going to accept your “wisdom” or your leadership. They’re going to elbow you out of the was as soon as possible to get something done.

    Perhaps that’s why Boomers dislike post-Millenial activists so much – they remind them of their parents in ways they can’t articulate. They see traits in these kids that they don’t have but uncomfortably remind them of their judgmental parents. Why are you living in such excess when it’s causing problems? Why aren’t you *doing* something when you can stop this right now? You have the power but do nothing – don’t be surprised when someone that *will* comes for it.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    Perhaps that’s why Boomers dislike post-Millenial activists so much

    Actually my beef is that they’re unoriginal: Generation Gap 2.0. That plus they make more enemies than they do friends.

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  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Nickel Front:
    @Guarneri:
    Once you’re OK with lies, corruption and treason, I imagine you’re both good with threats to rape a child, and a president who encourages that kind of thuggishness.

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  27. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Once you’re OK with lies, corruption and treason

    But, her emails…

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “Because the silly, ignorant woman-child wouldn’t shut up when the Rational Real Men ™ were talking.”

    Is it really because of that, or because of what she said when she spoke:

    “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean…Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”

  29. Mikey says:

    @Teve:

    If you really want to hate humanity, go to the right wing sites right now and see what they’re saying about Greta.

    But when a professor testifying before Congress makes a lame pun that includes Barron Trump, all the right-wing twits go apeshit about the INEXCUSABLE! ATTACK! on a CHILD!!

    Fuck them and their shallow, duplicitous hypocrisy.

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  30. Teve says:

    @Mikey: a friend of mine got her Twitter account suspended an hour ago. Her crime? Tomi Lehren said some dumb shit about Greta, and my friend called Tomi a bimbo.

    Poor Tomi musta needed a Trigger Warning.

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  31. Lounsbury says:

    @drj: I rather agree with Doug and in fact it is not unfair.

    And I am an actual investment manager for proper green things, investing hundreds of millions of euro in RE. Doug is entirely right, she’s annoying, not particuarly useful except to appeal to the scold side of the Faithful.

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Once you’re OK with lies, corruption and treason, I imagine you’re both good with threats to rape a child, and a president who encourages that kind of thuggishness.

    OK, Boomer.

  33. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Yeah but the same could be said of any inter-generation spat. Boomers vs Millenials ain’t nothing new, nor was Greatest Gen vs Boomers aka those damn hippies. The ancient Greeks bitched about how soft and spoiled their kids were and it reads like an op-ed today. Boomers also like to piss off The Man and didn’t exactly decide to place nice with authorities when they wanted something to change.

    Think of it this way: they’re not unoriginal, they’re carrying on the time-honored tradition of calling out the old man. If it seems repetitive, it’s better to ask why the same complaints need to be voiced to a generation that bitched that own parents out for. From Family Guy: “The sixties brought the hippie breed, and decades later things have changed indeed. We lost the values but we kept the weed!” Don’t blame the kids for having to redo work with backsliders

  34. 95 South says:

    @Mikey: Don’t attack kids at all. But Barron’s not trying to lead a movement.

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  35. Gustopher says:

    @95 South: No one attacked Barron, you moron.

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  36. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: Downvotes? Really? Are we not up to the ironic “OK, Boomer” yet? “OK, Boomer, tell us again that it’s wrong to threaten to rape a child…“

  37. gVOR08 says:

    Register me as a vote for Greta. She may or may not end up making all that much difference as an individual, but she’s a great poster child for an issue that is, no metaphor, no exaggeration, an existential threat.

  38. Dennis says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: America is now 32% natural gas and c02 levels back to 1990 levels .
    We are rapidly going to batteries and wind and solar -Check our power co.
    Most people just don’t know what they are talking about

  39. Dennis says:

    @drj: Educate yourself ,America is the leader in c02 reduction that are back to 1990 levels .
    Ahuge 14% jump in Nat gas at power stations .

  40. Dennis says:

    @KM: Have you looked at power stations across America -we r leader in reduced c02 back to 1990 levels with nat gas and batteries.

  41. Rise says:

    @Gustopher: moron plenty of people attacked Barron saying he was autistic, slow, plenty of attacks, and he’s not going around with an angry tone like this kid is. Most of us agree a tion needs to be taken on pollution, climate change etc. But this little brat is extremely annoying. Also, most of us parents or grand parents dont usually take our advice from an inexperienced 16 year old….just saying1

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