WHEN GRETA THUNBERG STEPPED ONBOARD THE MALIZIA II—a 60-foot racing yacht owned by the royal family of Monaco—it had been less than a year since she first walked out of school as an unknown, awkward, nearly friendless 15-year-old making a lonely protest outside the Swedish Parliament against her country’s absolute indifference to the climate crisis, which she saw in uncannily black-and-white terms. She painted her now-iconic sign in those colors, which she carried across the Atlantic on the two-week carbon-free journey she documented periodically on social media. Black capital letters on white: skolstrejk för klimatet (or “School Strike for Climate”).
By the time she stepped off the yacht in New York on August 28, two weeks after she’d set sail from Plymouth, England, wobbly-legged from the weeks at sea as she walked to address a crowd of many hundreds, she had become something even more unusual than an adolescent protester or even a generational icon. She was the Joan of Arc of climate change, commanding a global army of teenage activists numbering in the millions and waging a rhetorical war against her elders through the unapologetic use of generational shame.
The comparison might seem hyperbolic and may come to look even more strained than that, depending on what the futu