Courtesy of Gittan Frejhagen
Late last summer, one 15-year-old Swedish girl accidentally started a revolution. Frustrated with her government, she began skipping school on Fridays to sit outside the Swedish parliament, protesting the inaction around the current climate crisis. She held up a now-famous sign that translates to, “School strike for climate.” That teenager, of course, was Greta Thunberg.
In a short year, Thunberg has inspired worldwide action—not to mention memes and Halloween costumes. The teenager who used to sit outside the parliament by herself was joined by millions of people this past September, who all protested in support of the Global Climate Strike.
Included in those millions was one unexpected group of protestors: Greta’s Gamlingar, or “Greta’s Oldies” in English, a group of elderly Swedish activists who’ve all been inspired by Thunberg. Their leader? Gittan Frejhagen, a 76-year-old woman who used to work in programming and information technology, but now only does work that she thinks is “important” and “fun.”
Frejhagen remembers first seeing footage of Thunberg in September 2018 and thinking that even though she was so young and quiet, her impact was clear. “I thought she was amazing,” she says.
But it wasn’t until she was sitting with a friend on the way to Gotland, Sweden’s largest island and Frejhagen’s home, when she had the idea for Greta’s Oldies. The two were talking about the consequences ahead if the world were to warm by 2 degrees and how climate change could create millions of climate migrants by 2050. It was then that they saw a group of children, as young as four years old, in a small playhouse next to them. “All of a sudden we realized that these children would be about 35 years old by 2050,” she explained. “They would be on their way to finding their career, forming a family… Then it felt like we had to do something. We were to walk in Greta Thunberg’s footsteps.”
The group, which clocked in at 50 people during their first week, now meets on Fridays at noon outside a local grocery store, standing with their logo safety pinned to their clothes. Frejhagen says the movement has taken off; there are now 15 Greta’s Oldies groups all over Sweden, and Frejhagen estimates that about 20 to 30 people attend each location’s Friday meeting, all ranging in age from 65 to 90. “Quite a lot are very young and healthy and energetic,” she says. “Quite a lot are not so energetic, but they come.”
On the day of the Global Climate Strike, in lieu of a strenuous march, her group huddled together at the library in south Gotland, where they created an educational exhibit about climate change and honored six people for being “Climate Inspirers.” They also discussed what they can do to help the climate, including buying local vegetables and organizing a carpool app in their neighborhood since many people live far away from the ferry and buses aren’t reliable.
“It’s been inspirational for me to walk in [Greta’s] footsteps, to do something to support her and all the children and young people that work for the climate all over the world,” she says. “It’s a fantastic thought that you could really do something to help them. And in Sweden, I think Greta’s platform has given old people a possibility to talk among themselves, to engage, to be heard. I think she has given us the inspiration to do this.”
In her own life, Frejhagen has started filling her car with biodiesel fuel, which is made from reused oils like vegetable oil or recycled restaurant grease. (It’s reported to be biodegradable, non-toxic, and produces less air pollutants and less greenhouse gas emissions than typical diesel fuel.) She also buys clothing at secondhand shops—partly because she prefers the clothes there—and rarely eats meat.
As for the future of Greta’s Oldies? “The goal is to continue until the global temperature stops rising,” she explains. “Until then, we will not stop.”