Most climate scientists will be quick to say that 2019 was the year that Greta Thunberg truly became a force to be reckoned with.
The 16-year-old Swedish activist staged solo “Fridays for Future” school strikes that triggered a global phenomenon drawing millions of people into the streets to protest climate inaction. The teen has since become the face of that newly energized climate movement and was recently named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
“She represents the best of humanity,” said Benjamin Houlton, a professor of global environmental studies at the University of California, Davis. “She frightens those in power right now because she has a very clear message and she’ll continue to be an important crusader.”
But while Thunberg’s influence soared and climate change permeated the cultural psyche, it was also a year in which the strong public engagement and the changing rhetoric surrounding climate change were not matched by aggressive policies to tackle global warming.
“We’re completely divided everywhere,” said Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “One side is getting very loud and demanding change, but the other side is saying climate change isn’t happening or isn’t man-made or is too complicated to change. That is like looking at a world of slavery and saying it’s too complicated to change. I think there’s a pretty clear right side of history and wrong side of history.”