A 10-year-old climate activist with Asperger’s inspired by Greta Thunberg ‘radicalized’ his own mom

Inspired by the work of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, Zayne Cowie has been protesting outside of City Hall in downtown New York City to demand governments take action around climate change.

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Inspired by the work of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, Zayne Cowie has been protesting outside of City Hall in downtown New York City to demand governments take action around climate change.
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Eve Mosher

  • Zayne Cowie, 10, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last year, and felt isolated by the label.
  • When he learned that climate activist Greta Thunberg had the same condition, he felt he could identify with her.
  • Inspired by her work, Zayne started protesting every Friday at City Hall in New York City to demand action.
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For more than a decade, Eve Mosher, a New York City-based artist, focused her creative work and interactive public projects to raising awareness around pressing environmental issues. The mother of two felt satisfied in knowing that she was doing her part to make a difference.

That was until her 10-year-old son made her feel that she wasn’t doing enough.

“He radicalized me,” Mosher told Insider in a phone interview on Friday from Battery Park in downtown New York, where Mosher and her family joined in on the largest global climate strike in history.

Read more: How 16-year-old Greta Thunberg became the face of climate-change activism

Mosher’s son, Zayne Cowie, is part of a growing international community of young people who are increasingly concerned about the fate of the planet, their own safety living on it, and the people residing in places that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Galvanized by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who gave an arresting speech at the United Nations’ first-ever Climate Action Summit on Monday evening, kids like Zayne are rallying their parents, and other adults in their lives, to step up and take these issues more seriously.

“He’s afraid he’s going to die in some miserable way because of climate change,” Mosher said of her son.

Zayne was inspired by 16 year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg

For Zayne and his family, it all started a year ago when the Brooklyn boy was in the process of getting a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. It’s a condition that falls under the spectrum of Autism disorders, and is typically characterized by difficulties with social situations, stimulating environments, and other issues.

At the time, Zayne felt isolated by the new label and wanted to find other children like him.

16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at UN headquarters in New York, on September 23, 2019. Zayne Cowie, 10, was moved by her work and decided to emulate her mission.

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16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at UN headquarters in New York, on September 23, 2019. Zayne Cowie, 10, was moved by her work and decided to emulate her mission.
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Reuters/Lucas Jackson

That’s when Mosher started introducing her son to the activism work of Thunberg, who also has Asperger’s and has said her condition is her “superpower.”

Zayne continued to read up on Thunberg’s weekly protests outside of the Swedish Parliament and her “Fridays for Future” movement, which encourages students to skip school to demand that their governments take action on climate change.

Around that same time last fall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire report, saying the goals nations had set to combat climate change were inadequate.

During one of their talks about climate change, Zayne turned to his mother and said: “We have to do something now.”

Zayne protests every Friday at City Hall in New York City

In 2018, Zayne started protesting outside of City Hall in downtown Manhattan every Friday. Zayne is homeschooled, but scheduled his protests to coincide with an educational program he attends during regular school hours.

The more Mosher accompanied Zayne on his protests, in rainstorms, snowstorms, and even during the polar vortex – when Zayne wore nearly every piece of warm clothing he owns – the more Mosher said she felt her own work was falling short.

“Me, being there with him made me realize that this is much more urgent,” she said. “It was time to get way more serious about this – to start looking at actual self-sacrifice as a way to make things happen.”

Zayne has protested in every type of inclement weather, including rain storms, snow storms and even during the polar vortex. When his mom asks if he want to protest, he'll often say:

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Zayne has protested in every type of inclement weather, including rain storms, snow storms and even during the polar vortex. When his mom asks if he want to protest, he’ll often say: “No, I don’t want to. But, I have to.”
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Eve Mosher

That’s when Mosher got involved with Extinction Rebellion, a group that urges governments to take action on environmental issues through nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. The group has a list of demands, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

In the short time he’s been protesting, Zayne’s work has also nabbed the attention of influential local leaders. When voting on a resolution to declare a climate emergency last year, councilmember Brad Lander publicly acknowledged Zayne’s activism work.

Zayne inspired his mom to take her own activism work to the next level

While the days he protests are long and tiring, Zayne told his mother that meeting other children from around the world, including Thunberg, who are speaking out in the same way he is, has invigorated him.

Zayne met Thunberg for the first time last week in Washington, D.C. at an Amnesty International event. The pair bonded over the unique, and shared, challenges they face when they’re in environments that are “loud and people want to be in your face,” Mosher said.

The following day, Zayne used his body to shield Thunberg on Capitol Hill from swarming photographers. Zayne told his mother he did it because the photographers were focused on Thunberg throughout the event, and weren’t paying attention to other equally vocal young activists who were speaking.

Mosher said she’s proud of her son, but worries that he could potentially burn out or get disappointed if he doesn’t see the results from his work soon.

Every week, Mosher asks Zayne if he would like to strike, and never pressures him to continue.

“No, I don’t want to,” he often tells his mother. “But I have to.”

Read more:

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Greta Thunberg and others file legal complaint against 5 countries

Greta Thunberg gives tearful speech at UN Climate Action Summit