The 16-year-old from Stockholm rose to global prominence this year with her impassioned pleas for governments to take far-reaching action to avert climate catastrophe.
Time on Wednesday named the young climate activist Greta Thunberg as its person of the year, in a nod to the next generation’s surging prominence in worldwide efforts to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
It was an irony, perhaps, that the designation, announced on television and online, is a ritual marketing stunt that is one of the last vestiges of an era when weekly print magazines were a major force in the news cycle.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump, the Ukraine whistle-blower and the Hong Kong protesters were all on the shortlist for this year’s selection, according to the anchors of the “Today” show.
“I could never have imagined anything like that happening,” Ms. Thunberg told The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding that she was “surprised” by the news.
Although Ms. Thunberg said she was “grateful” for it, she said the honor should be shared with others taking action against climate change.
“It should be everyone in the Fridays for Future movement because what we have done, we have done together,” she said.
The activist’s rise started in August 2018, when she skipped school to protest climate change outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, where she grew up. Since then, she has become an international fixture, speaking before the United Nations and meeting with numerous heads of state as well as the pope.
Beyond that, Ms. Thunberg, 16, became a leading face of a movement that has inspired millions of other children in at least 100 countries to argue passionately for action against climate change.
Ms. Thunberg is also known for expressing her anger and dismay with adults who are not, shall we say, on the same page.
“Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,’” Ms. Thunberg said in January at the World Economic Forum. “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
After the announcement, some of those adults used social media to question whether there were more important public figures this year.
“No matter your political leaning, whether you love her or hate her, whether you’re for Trump or against him,” Ms. Pelosi “has had a much bigger impact,” Jake Sherman, a senior writer at Politico, said on Twitter.
The Hong Kong protesters won Time’s 2019 person of the year in a reader poll, the publication announced on Wednesday, adding that more than 27 million votes were cast.
Ms. Thunberg’s actions have also spoken loudly. She started Fridays for Future, in which thousands of children partake in local or global strikes.
In September, she arrived in New York after a 15-day sail across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht ahead of her speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. She set sail again in November for Spain for the 25th United Nations Climate Change conference.
“I decided to sail to highlight the fact that you can’t live sustainably in today’s society,” Ms. Thunberg told The Times by phone before leaving the country. “You have to go to the extreme.”
The annual Time designation dates back to the 1920s, and some selections have proven controversial in past years.
Edward Felsenthal, the magazine’s editor in chief, said Ms. Thunberg was the youngest individual ever named Time’s person of the year in the franchise’s 92-year history. He praised her for “sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders” and for “showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads.”
In 2018, the title went to Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists. It was a nod to the spread of misinformation in the United States and across the globe by leaders who want to stop critical independent journalism. Mr. Trump, who is a follower of the person of the year honor, said last year before the annual announcement that he couldn’t “imagine anybody else other than Trump” as the top pick. By Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump had not weighed in on Twitter about this year’s choice.
The previous year, the title went to “the silence breakers,” women who bravely stepped forward to accuse powerful men of sexual harassment and assault that resulted in a global movement.