Swedish teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg on Wednesday was named TIME magazine's 2019 Person of the Year for her role in sparking a global youth-led movement that has brought millions into the streets to pressure governments to act on the climate crisis.
TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal told NBC's "Today" that Thunberg, at just 16 years old, came "from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement."
"I think what she has done, her rise in influence, has been really extraordinary," said Felsenthal.
Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said Thunberg "symbolizes the agony, the frustration, the desperation, the anger—at some level, the hope—of many young people who won't even be of age to vote by the time their futures are doomed."
As TIME's Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes, and Justin Worland wrote in a feature piece on Thunberg on Wednesday:
Thunberg began a global movement by skipping school: starting in August 2018, she spent her days camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read Skolstrejk för klimatet: "School Strike for Climate."
In the 16 months since, she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the president of the United States, and inspired four million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history. Her image has been celebrated in murals and Halloween costumes, and her name has been attached to everything from bike shares to beetles. Margaret Atwood compared her to Joan of Arc. After noticing a hundredfold increase in its usage, lexicographers at Collins Dictionary named Thunberg's pioneering idea, climate strike, the word of the year.
Thunberg, the youngest-ever recipient of TIME's Person of the Year honor, has been publicly dismissive of awards for climate action. In an October Instagram post explaining why she would be rejecting the Nordic Council's 2019 Environmental Award, Thunberg said "the climate movement does not need any more awards."
"What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science," Thunberg added.
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— Jamie Henn (@Agent350) December 11, 2019
The TIME honor came as Thunberg is in Madrid, Spain for COP 25. During a speech at the climate conference Wednesday, Thunberg said there is "hope" in the fight against the planetary emergency.
"But it does not come from the governments or corporations," Thunberg said. "It comes from the people. The people who have been unaware but are now starting to wake up. And once we become aware, we change. People can change, people are ready for change.... Every great change throughout history has come from the people."