Greta Thunberg named Time magazine's 2019 Person of the Year

The shortlist included Hong Kong protesters and politicians.

December 11, 2019, 8:59 AM

Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine's 2019 Person of the Year. She is youngest figure to receive the distinction in its 92-year history.

"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 at the announcement on Wednesday. "She embodies youth activism."

The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist has become an iconic face in the fight to save the planet from climate change. Last year, she began spending her Fridays protesting by herself outside the Swedish parliament, and that effort grew to her leading a host of student-led climate strikes involving millions of people all around the world.

Thunberg sailed on a solar-powered boat from England to New York this fall for a United Nations climate summit instead of flying, emphasizing it's less harmful to the environment. She then drew worldwide attention for her fiery speech at the U.N., where she accused world leaders of stealing her dreams and childhood with their inaction on climate change.

"Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!" she asked at the U.N. in September. "The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say -- we will never forgive you."

Thunberg, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in March, has vowed the marches will continue until world leaders give serious attention to protecting the environment for future generations.

"Her rise in influence has been really extraordinary," Felsenthal said Wednesday. "She was a solo protester with a hand-painted sign 14 months ago. She's now led millions of people around the world, 150 countries, to act on behalf of the planet, and she's really been a key driver this year taking this issue from backstage to center."

Felsenthal added that Thunberg "represents a broader generational shift in the culture that we're seeing from the campuses of Hong Kong to the protests in Chile to Parkland, Florida, where the students marched against gun violence, where young people are demanding change urgently."

Thunberg has been very vocal about her diagnosis of Asperger's, a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty with social and communication skills, and has compared it to a superpower, as she believes it's helped her stay focused on her goals.

As Time announced its distinction, Thunberg was attending U.N. climate talks at the COP25 conference in Madrid.

PHOTO:Greta Thunberg, climate activist attends 7th Brussels youth climate march on Feb. 21, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.
Greta Thunberg, climate activist attends 7th Brussels youth climate march on Feb. 21, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.
Maja Hitij/Getty Images, FILE

Instead of runner-ups, Time announced winners of four additional categories for 2019.

It named the World Cup-winning U.S. National Women's Soccer Team as Athlete of the Year, Grammy-nominated artists Lizzo as Entertainer of the Year, Disney CEO Bob Iger as Businessperson of the Year and recognized "Public Servants" as the "Guardians of the Year" -- including the anonymous intelligence community whistleblower and "all of the career public servants who took great professional risks in pursuit of the truth."

Known as "Man of the Year" or "Woman of the Year" until 1999, the annual issue of Time magazine profiles a person or group, idea or object, that "most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse," former Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson wrote in the 1998 issue. Though the outlet runs an online poll for People's Choice, the final decision is made by editors.

The other finalists for the magazine's annual title this year were President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the whistleblower and the Hong Kong protesters.

The top 10 contenders included Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, U.S. Women's National Team Captain Megan Rapinoe, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and Trump's personal lawyer.

Time's 2018 Person of the Year was "The Guardians" -- journalists who have faced persecution, arrest or murder for their reporting -- including Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa and the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland.

Time's first Man of the Year was aviator Charles Lindbergh following his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.

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