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Who will save the planet?

Episode 220201 / 01 Feb 2022

Images: Getty / BBC

Introduction

Passion for a cause and persistence can help a lone voice turn into a loud international chorus. Teenager Greta Thunberg has become a symbol in the fight for concrete action against climate change.

In the fourth part of our series on leadership, we ask: How could a single-minded 15 year old take her message around the world? 

TRANSCRIPT

Presenter
One teenager walked out of school and made the world take climate change seriously.

Another wants the world to have all the facts on climate change.

Sophia Kianni
I'm disappointed because we are not only mourning the loss of our planet, but also the destruction of our futures.

Presenter
We will show you why they are leaders in efforts to save the planet, and how you can be too.

Greta Thunberg is arguably the world's most famous campaigner on climate change. At fifteen, she stopped going to school and instead sat outside the Swedish Parliament demanding politicians reduce carbon emissions. Her strike caught on: millions of people around the world began protesting for more action to tackle climate change. Greta has travelled by boat, rail and bus to many parts of the world to raise awareness.

Greta Thunberg
If we don't realise that it is an emergency, we won't be able to do anything about it and humans are social animals: we look... we look to the people around us and we look to our leaders for... for guidance and if they are not treating it as a crisis and they are not behaving as if this was a crisis, we won't understand that it is a crisis and then we will just continue like before.

Presenter
She has spoken at many global climate change events and shamed world leaders into action. She famously spoke at the United Nations, telling leaders they had stolen her dreams and her childhood with their empty words. So, what can you learn from this teenager who woke the world up to the climate change emergency?

Alison Pullen
She was very, very successful in disrupting the status quo, because her message was very simple and she was able to deliver it in very direct ways in the... face of a lot of criticism. So, she was very resilient. She was able to be incredibly disruptive in... in the face of world leaders.

Presenter
Greta Thunberg had a simple message and a direct way of delivering it, both of which had a big impact.

Alison Pullen
She was other-directed and collaborative. She was democratic. All she wanted was to raise awareness and when people joined her, she wanted to be collaborative, whether it was with politicians, scientists, or... or schoolchildren.

Presenter
Greta is collaborative: she is willing to work with others who believe the climate is in crisis. What other qualities does she show?

Alison Pullen
Knowledge is... is power and she had facts that she was able to communicate in... in very direct ways. So, she was able to raise the status of science, where at the time politicians and world leaders were downplaying the role of... of facts from... from scientists.

Presenter
Greta knows the facts on climate change, which gives her message authority. This has put her in stark contrast to some world leaders.

Alison Pullen
What Greta Thunberg has shown us, time and time again, is how ineffective and how... how world leaders have been irresponsible with... with climate action. So, I guess the simple question is if... if schoolchildren can show world leaders what the issues are, what could world leaders with those world resources do, if they truly wanted to?

Presenter
Greta highlights how ineffective other leaders and many adults have been. So, if you want to be like Greta?

Alison Pullen
My advice is to... to be persistent, to continue to think about how to keep that clear message, to work through the barriers that you will face on... on that journey and to mobilise and to grow your message and your movement with... with like-minded people across... across differences.

Presenter
You should be persistent. This quality will help you to carry on even in the face of challenges and criticism.

Meet Sophia Kianni, another teen fighting climate change:

Sophia Kianni
And like many of you here today, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed because we are not only mourning the loss of our planet, but also the destruction of our future.

Presenter
In 2020, Sophia set up Climate Cardinals, a thousands-strong group of volunteer translators trying to make the latest research on climate change available in as many languages as possible.

Sophia Kianni
I started Climate Cardinals because it really stemmed from an experience that I had in Middle School, when I took a two-month trip to Iran, which is my parents' home country. While I was there, I realised that my relatives knew very little about climate change and that's there was almost no information available in Farsi, which is their native language. And so, I worked to translate information to Farsi to teach my relatives about climate change and I wanted Climate Cardinals to continue the work that I was doing on a larger scale, which is why we use student volunteers to translate climate information into over 100 languages.

Presenter
From her own experience, Sophia had identified the need for climate change facts to be available in different languages. So, how did she get started?

Sophia Kianni
First, I started with the basics: coming up with the name, a logo, branding, then finding a website. Then we also took legal steps necessary to become an official non-profit and then, finally, we launched using social media, primarily TikTok, to reach hundreds of thousands of students and recruiting thousands of them to sign up to volunteer with us.

Presenter
Sophia began with the basics, which included completing legal paperwork. What else has she learnt about leadership?

Sophia Kianni
I think that I've learned a lot as a leader throughout this process. I'm the executive director of Climate Cardinals, so I oversee our fifteen directors and hundreds of different students on our teams, as well as our translation branch. And so, I think it's definitely been an experience for me, learning – how do I manage large groups of people? But how do I also give them the autonomy to do things on their own? How do I learn to trust people and know that they know what they're doing – that I don't need to micro-manage others? And so, I think that I've learned that leadership is a process of continual learning and it's not so much about leading others, as 'leaning' with others in order to get work done.

Presenter
Leadership involves trusting your team and collaborating with others. Why are young people leading on climate change?

Sophia Kianni
I think that young people play a very crucial role in getting people mobilised, out onto the streets, and really playing a role in furthering climate-change education. I think we, as young people, have become very adept at using social media and our platforms to spread these messages, as well as having very difficult conversations with people older than us, like our parents and our relatives, in order to make sure that they're informed when it comes to voting and making sure that we're getting climate-progressive candidates to office.

Presenter
Young people, who are adept at social media, are good at getting the message out. So, how do you become a leader on climate change?

Sophia Kianni
The biggest advice I would give to other young people, who are interested in getting involved in the climate space, is put yourself out there: reach out to people that you're inspired by. I started out by just DM-ing random climate activists on Instagram and sending them emails, and just asking how I could work with them – how I could contribute to the work that they were doing. And that's how, initially, I got involved in Fridays For Future, Extinction Rebellion, Zero Hour – a number of different climate organisations.

Presenter
So, reach out: collaborate, work with others and make contact. This is key.

So, what have we learnt about becoming a leader? You need a clear, direct and simple message. Social media can help get your message out. It's also really important to collaborate with others.

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