Greta Thunberg in Stockholm in March of this year. Liv Oeian/ STOCKH

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg just might be the hero you’ve been seeking – at least she is for Maine singer-songwriter Anni Clark, who recently wrote a touching song in honor of the 16-year-old’s work as a climate change activist.

Thunberg first became aware of climate change when she was 8 years old. Three years later she fell into a depression so severe it rendered her unable to talk and barely able to eat. During a Tedx Talk in Stockholm in December, she said she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism.

“That basically means I only speak when I think it is necessary,” she said. “Now is one of those moments.”

During the rest of the talk, Thunberg repeatedly underscored that “no one is acting like we were in a crisis … What we do or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.”

On Aug. 20, 2018, Thunberg had had enough. She skipped school and sat outside the Swedish parliament holding a sign that read Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate). She went back every day for three weeks until the Swedish general elections, then continued her school strike every Friday, starting an international movement of students doing the same. On March 15, more than 1.5 million students around the world participated, including hundreds here in Maine. Two days earlier, Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Maine students took part last March in a global strike on the lack of action on climate change. The students gathered outside City Hall in Portland, among other places. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Last week, Thunberg arrived in New York City after completing a 15-day voyage aboard the Malizia II, a zero emissions yacht that leaves no carbon footprint. She’ll be part of a strike outside the United Nations and will speak at the United Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. Her plans also include attending a climate conference in Chile in December. (For up-to-the-minute updates on Thunberg, follow her on Twitter.)

I’ve listened to Clark’s song, “I’m With You, Greta,” about 20 times, and it still fills me with honest-to-goodness hope as I keep my tears in check. It also makes me mighty proud that the song was written and recorded by a Mainer.

The piano-based tune includes some gentle acoustic guitar, bass, percussion and backing vocals, with the lyrics:
“I’m with you, Greta, we got to do better. The temperature’s rising and the oceans are, too. Climate deniers are fueling the fires, but you’re calling them out so I’m standing with you, Greta.”

Last winter Clark had to cancel eight weeks of shows to recover from a broken bone in her hand. During that down time she read an article about Thunberg in Rolling Stone magazine, then watched the Tedx Talk. “I was so inspired by her story that I had to write a song for her, about her and because of her,” said Clark. By July the song was recorded and the video followed in August.

Anni Clark.  Photo by Rhonda Farnham

Clark, born in Portland, raised in Yarmouth and a longtime resident of Old Orchard Beach, started writing songs when she was 5 years old and picked up her first guitar in junior high. It was an electric one her brother bought her with Green Stamps. She released her debut album, “Maine-ly Original,” in 1985. Her other full-length albums are “Letting Go,” “A Light For Liza” and “Big Water,” and she also has a couple of live albums and a compilation.

While in college, Clark discovered Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album. “I realized that what she was writing about was what I was journaling about: life, love, hope, heartbreak and confusion,” said Clark in an email sent while she was out of proper cell phone range at Moosehead Lake. Mitchell remains her biggest influence; her others include Bonnie Raitt, Rickie Lee Jones and Shawn Colvin.

In 2004, things shifted for Clark. “It became apparent to me that the business of music was starting to outweigh the joy of the music. The cost of touring was rising while my income was flatlining.” For a dozen years, Clark worked with behaviorally challenged students in the Saco School District and played shows on weekends, during school vacations and the summer. In 2016 she returned to life as a full-time musician, and regularly performs local and regional shows, along with daytime shows at senior living facilities and veterans’ homes. “It’s a good life. I never stopped writing … ever,” said Clark.

As for “I’m With You, Greta,” Clark said she hopes Thunberg gets to hear it. “It would mean the world to me if she found a welcoming support here in the U.S. via my song and the video,” she said. Clark’s goal is to add her voice to Thunberg’s and others from around the globe that have joined her in calling for immediate action on climate change.

“I am 50 years older than Greta, and frankly, embarrassed that she is calling out the ‘grownups on this planet’ who have had 30 years of pep talks but have still not acted to make concrete change to lower carbon emissions. I am not a scientist but I do believe in the science,” said Clark, who piled on the praise for Thunberg by saying that not only is her message important, her strength of character shines so brightly.

Clark pointed one more thing out, and it’s perfect. If you rearrange the letters of Greta you can spell ‘great.’ That pretty much says it all.

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