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Greta Thunberg was selectively dumb before she rose to fame, films show

  • Greta Thunberg, a teenage activist from Sweden, is the face of the youth climate movement.
  • A new documentary reveals that Thunberg did not speak to anyone outside his family for three years before she rose to the world stage.
  • Since 2018 Thunberg has addressed the UN, the US Congress and the United Kingdom Parliament and met countless powerful world leaders.
  • Thunberg has Asperger’s syndrome, like her partly credit for her hard-line activist nature.
  • Visit the Business Insider website for more stories.

Greta Thunberg, one of the world̵

7;s most prominent climate activists, has spoken at UN summits and addressed parliaments in Britain, France and other countries. She has met Barack Obama and the Pope.

But a new documentary called “I’m Greta” reveals that Thunberg did not speak to anyone outside his family for three years.

“They call it selective mutism,” Thunberg’s father, Svalte, said in the November 13 Hulu movie. “She didn’t talk to anyone but me, my wife and her little sister for maybe three years.”

Thunberg has Asperger’s syndrome, which she calls her “superpower.” Young children with Aspergers can develop selective mutism and only talk to people they are familiar with, just like their families, but not strangers.

“I don’t like talking to people or socializing,” Thunberg says in the documentary, adding, “sometimes I keep quiet for hours just because I can’t talk.”

‘I was ill. I almost starved to death ‘

Greta Thunberg Katowice Poland

Thunberg and her father, Svante, at a press conference during the COP24 summit in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.

Janek Skarzynski / Getty Images

Since 2018, Thunberg has become the face of a youth climate movement that is more than 4 million strong. She started the movement “Fridays For Future” – or School Strike for Climate, as it is written in Swedish on her now famous sign. In March 2019, Thunberg led more than 1 million students worldwide to walk out of Friday classes to protest passivity on climate change.

Then in September of that year, she led a worldwide climate strike involving 4 million people in 161 countries – the largest protest against climate change in history.

Thunberg had been thinking about climate change – and the lack of action to curb it – for 8 years. Three years later, she says, she became depressed by the seemingly impossible task of saving the planet.

“We saw a movie at school. There were hungry polar bears, floods, hurricanes and droughts,” Thunberg says in the documentary. “And the researchers said we did not have much time left to change our behavior.”

That was when anxiety and illness began.

“I stopped eating. I stopped talking. I was sick. I almost starved to death,” she says.

Thunberg’s father said she stayed home from school for a year during that time.

From there, it took “many years” for her to start feeling better, she says in the film. Her desire to fight for climate action played a role in her recovery.

“I felt like why should I give up when there were an infinite number of things you could do to make a difference,” she says.

A voice for the youth movement

greta thunberg

Thunberg began his youth climate strike movement in Stockholm, Sweden in 2018.

Anders Hellberg

The origin of Thunberg’s activism career came in May 2018, when she won an essay competition on climate change for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

In December of the same year, Thunberg was invited to speak at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland.

It was the beginning of a career that spoke publicly.

greta thunberg os kongres

Thunberg speaks during a hearing in front of the US House of Representatives, on September 18, 2019.

Alastair Pike / Getty Images

One of her most famous speeches was a passionate call for action at the UN climate summit in September 2019, a few days after the global climate strike.

Thunberg chastised world leaders with tears in his eyes: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said.

Time Magazine named Thunberg Person of the Year in 2019.

‘It feels like I speak a completely different language’

Thunberg says in the documentary that despite the many invitations she has received to address politicians, her frustration has increased as world leaders still do not listen to her.

“I honestly do not understand why I’m invited,” she says, adding, “it feels like all they want is to be highlighted to make it look like they care, as if they do something.”

greta thunberg

Thunberg speaks at the UN climate summit in New York on September 23, 2019.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

During a meeting highlighted in the documentary, Thunberg spoke to members of the European Economic and Social Committee about the need to limit carbon emissions. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, spoke after Thunberg, but he did not address the science she had put out. Instead, he hovered the possibility of regulating toilet flushing across Europe.

“It feels like I’m speaking a completely different language, or like the microphone is not even turned on,” Thunberg says in the film. “Sometimes when they’re just sitting there talking, I wonder what would happen if I just got up now and screamed.”

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