Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old climate change activist from Sweden, has made a profound impact across the globe. In 2019, she became TIME Magazine’s youngest ever Person of the Year. She has spoken at UN conferences and met several world leaders, and a documentary—I Am Greta—came out in the U.S. last month (Hulu, November 2020) detailing her experiences as a young climate change activist. In her documentary, Greta often points out the importance of steering clear of meat and dairy. Unlike many climate change activists, Greta has not ignored the importance of eating sustainably.
Early in the film, Greta discusses her and her family’s transition from a not-so-eco-friendly lifestyle to one that is quite the opposite.
My family lived a very high-consuming lifestyle. We bought lots of things, we ate meat… Mom and Dad were just like everyone else. They didn’t understand how bad things were. They said that everything would be fine… But that was exactly what made me so afraid. That people seemed to think we were making progress.
Despite the way she and her family used to live—that is, much like most people—Greta has succeeded in turning this around. She has demonstrated how people’s attitudes and lifestyles can change for the better, even if they have lived a certain way for their entire lives. Contrary to rumors that Greta is just her parents’ puppet, throughout the film she asserts that she was actually the driving force behind her family’s lifestyle changes. By being knowledgeable about issues and educating others, Greta shows it truly is possible to change people’s minds, starting with her own family.
I have stopped flying, stopped eating meat and dairy, and stopped buying new things… Just small changes.
Greta’s adoption of a plant-based diet demonstrates just how vital not consuming animal products is to salvaging what’s left of our earth. It recognizes the close connection between climate change and consumerism, particularly when it comes to consuming excess amounts of animal products. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, around 14.5 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to animal agriculture. So, it is no wonder the eco-friendly icon steers clear of animal products. Unlike many activists (namely, those of older generations), Greta refuses to be hypocritical — that is, consuming animal products while simultaneously standing up against climate change. She consistently points out the ways in which prior generations have failed younger ones and calls them out on their hypocrisy and tendency to say one thing and do another.
In the film, Greta attends the UN Climate Change conference to serve as a voice for younger generations. While there, she pointed out how few vegan options there were at the event and how much it appalled her to see so many leaders in the fight against climate change consuming animal products.
The only vegan option was rice or bulgur. I can’t believe they’d serve meat and dairy at an event like this. Everyone’s taking … there were no hamburgers left.
Greta’s observations about the eating choices of the leaders at the UN conference demonstrate just how little animal agriculture is brought up in the global discussion around climate change. People tend to forget that climate change is related to issues outside of using reusable water bottles and recycling cardboard. Activists talk about deforestation, for example, yet will often leave out the fact that the majority of deforestation results from animal agriculture. According to the Yale School of the Environment Global Forest Atlas, “Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates.”
If the solution to our climate crisis was about changing tea bags for loose-leaf tea and eating vegetarian once a week, then it wouldn’t be a crisis.
Climate change is a real existential issue that requires real answers, and sometimes those answers take more commitment than people like to admit. While recycling, turning off the shower, and biking instead of driving are great ways to combat climate change, it is imperative that we aim to eat sustainably as well. The future of our planet depends on it, and Greta does not hold her punches when saying how much is at stake:
People are suffering.
People are dying.
Entire ecosystems are collapsing
and all you can talk about is money and
fairy tales of eternal economic growth.
How dare you?
For more than 30 years,
the science has been crystal clear.
How dare you
continue to look away?
And come here,
saying that you are doing enough?
When the politics and solutions
needed are still nowhere in sight.
You are failing us!
But the young people are
starting to understand your betrayal.
The eyes of all future
generations are upon you.
And if you choose to fail us,
I say that we will never forgive you.
The world is waking up.
And change is coming,
whether you like it or not.
I greatly encourage anyone and everyone to watch I Am Greta. Greta serves as an inspiration to many environmental activists across the globe and highlights the importance of following a vegan lifestyle to fight climate change. Hopefully, her image as an environmental activist who emphasizes the importance of eating sustainably will encourage others across the globe to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle by consuming fewer animal products—or, even better, being like Greta and going vegan.