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How Greta Thunberg’s Unique Qualities Are Galvanizing the Climate Movement

Zoe Weil is a blogger for Psychology Today (PT), and twice a month we share her blog posts here. Enjoy!

I have been teaching young people about climate change for 32 years. In 1987, I taught week-long summer courses to middle school students at the University of Pennsylvania. One of those courses was on environmental issues, and another was on animal issues. Many of the young people in those classes became activists. Two started a Philadelphia-wide group called SPARE (Students Protecting Animals’ Rights and the Environment). They conducted protests, organized educational and letter-writing campaigns, lobbied legislators, and won awards.

I was activated, too. I realized after those week-long courses that I’d found my life’s work as a humane educator – someone who teaches about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection, and who educates others to be solutionaries for a just, sustainable, and peaceful world.

In 1989, I started a humane education program at a non-profit organization and began visiting schools, offering classroom presentations, assembly programs, mentoring for student clubs, and afterschool courses. By the time I left that job in 1996 to co-found the Institute for Humane Education and prepare teachers to be humane educators, my program was reaching 10,000 students a year.

Many of those young people were deeply passionate and dedicated. They had good ideas, spoke out, launched creative campaigns, and became changemakers. In terms of commitment, intelligence, and motivation they were not much different from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who has catalyzed the largest movement to date to address the climate crisis.

psychology today