Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose social media-savvy brand of eco-activism has inspired tens of thousands of students in Europe to skip classes and protest for faster action against climate change, said Monday that she plans to take her message to America the old-fashioned way: by boat.
The 16-year-old tweeted that she’ll sail across the Atlantic aboard a high-tech racing yacht, leaving Britain next month to attend United Nations climate summits in New York in September and Santiago, Chile, in December.
Thunberg told the Associated Press ahead of her announcement that she spent months trying to figure out how to travel to the United States without using planes, which she has long shunned because of their high greenhouse gas emissions.
Cruise ships are also notoriously big polluters, while sailors rarely brave the Atlantic in August because of hurricane risks.
“Taking a boat to North America is basically impossible,” she said in an interview during her weekly “Fridays for Future” protest outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. “I have had countless people helping me, trying to contact different boats.”
Thunberg plans to take a year off from school to keep raising awareness of climate change and pressuring world leaders to step up efforts to curb global warming.
Since starting her “school strikes” in August 2018, the daughter of an actor and an opera singer has appeared before policymakers at last year’s U.N. climate conference in Poland and scolded business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She also met with Pope Francis, who praised Thunberg’s efforts and encouraged her to continue campaigning.
Thunberg has arguably become the figurehead for a new generation of European eco-activists worried that they’ll suffer the fallout from their parents’ and grandparents’ unwillingness to take strong actions to combat climate change.
“In a way, I am more optimistic, because people are slowly waking up and people are becoming more aware of the situation. This whole ‘Fridays for Future’ movement is very hopeful,” she said. “But also ... one year has passed and still almost nothing has happened.”
Thunberg has spearheaded a change in the climate debate in Europe largely because she inspired so many children, said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace Germany executive director.
“She has read all the science,” Kaiser said. “That gives her a lot of credibility. She has motivated a whole generation in Europe to learn about climate change.”
Her visibility has made Thunberg a target for those who reject the overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is being driven by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, released by the burning of fossil fuels.
“I don’t care about hate and threats from climate-crisis deniers,” she said. “I just ignore them.”
Thunberg said she’s unsure how her message will be received in the United States, where there’s broad opposition to the kind of radical measures scientists say are required to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century compared with preindustrial times.
“I will just try to go on as I have before,” the young Swede said. “Just always refer to the science and we’ll just see what happens.”
Aside from attending a summit on September 23, Thunberg plans to take part in several climate protests in New York then travel by train and bus to Canada, Mexico and other countries on her way to Chile.
The 60-foot yacht she’ll be crossing the Atlantic with is fitted with solar panels and underwater turbines to generate zero-carbon electricity onboard.
Thunberg will be accompanied on the two-week journey by a filmmaker and her father.
She will be setting a very high bar for the activists and leaders from outside the Americas who are attending the U.N. climate conferences. Almost all will probably come by plane.
“I’m not saying that people should stop flying,” she said. “I’m just saying it needs to be easier to be climate neutral.”