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Mainichi Q&A with teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is seen outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, on May 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Kosuke Hatta)

STOCKHOLM -- The following is the text of an interview by the Mainichi Shimbun's Kosuke Hatta with 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who has become the face of school walkouts worldwide to pressure governments to combat greenhouse gas emissions. It has been edited for length and clarity.

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Mainichi: Japan is still relying on coal-fired plants for more than 30% of its total electricity. It is also about to build more new coal-fired plants that any other nation, and is looking to export the plants overseas. What is your view of this?

Greta Thunberg: Of course it's horrible. I wouldn't have expected anything better because it's just like everywhere else. No one is doing basically anything. They say that they are doing things and yet they're expanding coal mines, coal power plants or airports or things like that. So something big needs to happen. We're still on the wrong path. We need to change direction.

M: Japan will host the Group of 20 summit in late June. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants to play a leadership role on combating climate change at the summit. What do you say to him?

GT: Basically every world leader is like that. They say, "We are going to make this better," or "We are going to do everything we can and we're going to be the leading country." And yet they expand coal power plants and so on. They say one thing and then do another complete opposite thing. That is very dangerous because it's very misleading. We need to realize the full consequences of the climate crisis and we need to realize what has to be done, how much the emissions need to be reduced, and so on.

M: What is read climate change leadership?

GT: I think you have to practice what you preach. In Sweden, we say, "We are so good with combating climate change and we are so environmentally friendly," and so on. But Sweden has one of the world's top 10 ecological footprints per capita, according to WWF (Word Wildlife Fund). It's complete opposite of what we say. So I think leadership is to lead by example.

M: Regarding the global school strike on March 15 this year, there were only about 200 participants in Japan. That's relatively small compared to the numbers in European countries. So do you have any message to Japan's youth?

GT: I have the same message for them as I do for everyone else, because this is a global problem and we all have a responsibility to do something. As young people, our future is being taking away from us and I think we should get angry, and transform that anger into action. We must help keep the older generations accountable for what they have done and keep doing to us. And we need to realize what is actually at stake.

M: I believe Japanese students are concerned for their future, but are hesitant to walk out of school. So do you have an alternative to striking?

GT: There are many, many things you can do. You don't have to do a school strike. For instance, you can march, you can create organizations, you can create petitions. Vote if you can, and try to put pressure on business leaders and politicians so that they will do something. Also, there are many changes you can make in your everyday life.

M: What kind of concrete climate action is needed on the individual level?

GT: There are many scientific studies on what are the most efficient ways you can make changes. I don't have the education to speak out about that myself. But I think that as an individual, the most important thing you can do right now is to read about the climate crisis and try to understand what it actually means, because then you understand what you can do yourself. And also to spread that information, talk to people about it, and to put pressure on people in power. We need to go through democracy, put pressure on corporations and states.

M: You have described yourself as an invisible girl. Has that changed?

GT: Not in school but here, definitely yes. I never used to speak and I don't think people were interested in hearing my opinion. Now I am speaking to the whole world and to everyone. Privately I'm still very shy. I never make small talk or just talk because I want to. I do it because I have to.

I've been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, which makes me think a bit differently. I don't like socializing and I have special interests which I get very focused on. And so I was able to really focus on this issue and to read for hours and hours because I had an interest in it, and that wouldn't have been possible if I'd been "normal."

M: A few people have said there must be someone behind your campaign. How do you react to them?

GT: It's pretty sad that people spend their time trying to make up rumors and spreading hate. I can't really do anything about it, and I knew that when I started. I think that these rumors show that this movement is actually having an impact, and some people feel threatened by this. So it's also a good thing.

M: Are you optimistic for the future?

GT: I get asked that sometimes, and I don't really know how to answer that because I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I'm a realist. I think if we make the changes required, then yes, we should be hopeful, but if we don't, then no. We need to earn that hope. The science says it is still possible to stay below a 1.5-degree (Celsius) global temperature rise. So we should take that opportunity to actually do something.

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