Nation & World

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg becomes Time's youngest Person of the Year

Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg rallies with local activists in downtown Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019.
Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg rallies with local activists in downtown Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. The student-led movement has resulted in the Iowa City school board and the City of Iowa City each passing a climate resolution. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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At 16, Greta Thunberg has mobilized people around the world with calls to confront climate change and condemnations of leaders’ inaction.

“How dare you,” the Swedish teenager told an assembly of the powerful at a United Nations gathering this fall, after telling them she should be “back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you have come to us young people for hope.”

She’s rejected accolades for her activism, saying awards are not what her environmental movement needs. But on Wednesday, the teen who has vowed “change is coming” picked up another acknowledgment of her work’s impact: She is Time magazine’s Person of the Year, its youngest ever.

“She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement,” Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said as he announced the pick on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday morning.

Thunberg represents a broader trend of young people pushing for change, Felsenthal said, pointing to another finalist for this year’s distinction, the Hong Kong protesters who have spent months in the streets calling for democratic reform.

Three people at the center of the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump — including the president himself — were also in the running for Person of the Year.

The five finalists include Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the anonymous American official whose whistleblower complaint helped set the impeachment inquiry in motion.

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Time’s announcement comes a day after House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump, who has called the process a “sham.”

Pelosi has been at the forefront of the Democrat-led inquiry, saying lawmakers have “no choice but to act” amid evidence Trump abused his office to pressure a foreign leader to undermine a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump and his supporters accuse their opponents of working to overturn the 2016 election and distracting from other issues that Americans care about.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Pelosi and other Democratic leaders over the impeachment inquiry. He has also railed against the whistleblower.

Last year, Time’s Person of the Year was “the Guardians” of the truth, four individuals and one group — all journalists — who helped expose “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world. Among them: Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

“The Guardians” also included the staff of the Capital Gazette, whose Maryland newsroom was attacked by a gunman; Maria Ressa, chief executive of the Rappler news website who has been made a legal target for the outlet’s coverage of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte; and journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were jailed in Myanmar for nearly a year for their work exposing the mass killings of Rohingya Muslims.

Time has chosen a “Person of the Year” since 1927; the distinction originally was called “Man of the Year.”

The title is not necessarily a positive award but rather one that recognizes “the man, woman, group or concept that has had the most influence on the world during the previous 12 months.” For instance, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was named Time’s “Man of the Year” in 1938.

In 2017, the magazine recognized “The Silence Breakers,” the women (and some men) who came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault and helped force a nationwide reckoning. Among them were Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, the actresses whose stunning accusations against movie executive Harvey Weinstein helped lead to his downfall; and activist Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, along with the Hollywood star who amplified it on social media, Alyssa Milano.

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The 2018 selection of “the Guardians” marked the second year in a row Time named a group of people, rather than one single person, for the honor.

Trump has had an on-again, off-again love affair with Time, often angling for the honors it hands out and criticizing the magazine as irrelevant when he feels snubbed.

The president told a reporter last year he could not imagine anyone but himself being named 2018 Person of the Year. Ultimately, the magazine selected the journalists.

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The Washington Post’s Alex Horton, Amy B Wang, Lindsey Bever, Abby Ohlheiser and Eli Rosenberg contributed to this report.

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