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Greta Thunberg’s boat: how the teenage climate activist’s zero-carbon Malizia II yacht with no toilet works

Thunberg's journey will be long and uncomfortable.

Greta Thunberg onboard the Malizia II, ahead of her journey across the Atlantic to New York (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has set sail for America.

She’s sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to avoid flying or travelling by cruise ship , two key polluters that contribute to climate change .

Thunberg is joined on the journey by her father, as well as skipper Boris Herrmann and Swedish documentary maker Nathan Grossman.

But how does the ‘zero-carbon’ boat work? And what might her journey be like?

What is the Malizia II?

The boat that Thunberg is sailing on is the Malizia II, a sea yacht in the Open 60 class capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 knots (approximately 29 mph).

That blistering speed makes Malizia II one of the fastest boats in its class, and its sleek, hydrofoil design means its ‘wings’ can develop an upward lifting force of six tons.

At top speeds, this force can lift the entire 18-metre long hull out of the water.

The boat was built in 2015 in France, before being bought by Team Malizia in 2017. Its port of registry is now Hamburg, the yacht sails under the German flag.

Malizia II has three social goals in addition to ITS sporting ones: research, environmental protection and youth work.

A sensor is attached to the boat which collects data on the temperature, the pH and salt levels and the carbon dioxide content of the water for marine research.

Will the journey be comfortable?

The journey will be by no means easy.

Two weeks on the open seas is an endurance effort at the best of times, and with the Malizia II’s efficient design allowing no space for luxuries like toilets or a kitchen area, Thunberg’s resolve will be tested.

Instead of loos, the crew will be forced to use buckets, with little privacy afforded.

Sleeping quarters are also tight, and despite offering a modicum of privacy, might not be the ideal place to while away the hours – when the boat reaches a speed of 17 mph, the noise below deck becomes deafening.

German captain Boris Herrmann looks at data on a computer screen onboard the Malizia II

Read more: Greta Thunberg is sailing to the United Nations climate summit in an emissions-free racing yacht

The crew will also be sailing at an inopportune time of year.

The Atlantic Hurricane season began on 1 June, and has already seen one Category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of 75mph.

While the season’s biggest storms don’t usually occur until later in the year, Thunberg and her crew will likely face stormy conditions, which could spell trouble.

When the boat took part in the Vendée Globe – a two-month, round the world race – in 2016, it came up against 46 mph winds and waves eight metres high.

The conditions were so severe, that the yacht – which was in third place – was forced to retire from the race due to the damage it had sustained.

How does the boat get power?

A crew member holds a bucket with the words "poo's only please", onboard the Malizia II

Documentary maker Nathan Grossman shouldn’t have to worry about powering his equipment as he charts Thunberg’s journey to America.

The boat is equipped with energy conversion systems designed especially for the vessel, including solar panelling across its hull to convert sunlight into electricity.

The panels in the centre of the boat have a non-slip quality to allow crew members to walk across them, while those on the outside of Malizia II’s railings are aerodynamically smooth.

The vessel is also fitted with a means of gathering energy from the water flow as it cuts through the ocean, a backup used during periods of bad weather.

How energy efficient is it?

A crew member climbs from a sleeping area onboard the Malizia II (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The plan is for the journey to America to be a ‘zero-carbon’ adventure, and with Malizia II’s solar, wind and water powered systems, it certainly seems feasible that Thunberg can reach America without contributing to climate change.

However, some have pointed out that racing regulations require that the boat be equipped with an engine capable of propelling it for 5 hours at a speed of 5 knots in each direction.

While this stipulation was previously fulfilled by a heavy-duty diesel engine (which also served for charging batteries for lights and electronics), the yacht is now fitted with an electric motor for use in emergencies.

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How green is Greta Thunberg's transatlantic trip?

By Lucia Binding, news reporter

Wednesday 14 August 2019 15:26, UK

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Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg onboard the Malizia II yacht at the Mayflower Marina in Plymouth on August 13, 2019

Greta Thunberg has set sail for New York, avoiding a plane journey for environmental reasons, but will her transatlantic trip really be 100% zero carbon?

The Swedish climate activist, 16, is crossing the Atlantic in a racing yacht to join protests in the US and take part in a United Nations summit.

She is making the non-stop two-week voyage in a 60ft Malizia II yacht - one of the fastest ocean sailing boats on the planet.

On board with her are two highly experienced skippers, Boris Herrmann and Pierre Casiraghi (the grandson of Monaco's late Prince Ranier III and actress Grace Kelly), her father Svante and cameraman Nathan Grossman.

Greta Thunberg

The boat has been fitted with solar panels and underwater turbines that produce electricity on board, with the aim of making the journey zero-carbon.

It has no toilets, kitchen or privacy - so Greta is in for an uncomfortable voyage.

As it stands, the journey Greta is about to make is the lowest-carbon option to cross the Atlantic.

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Test sailing off the English coast today! — Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 12, 2019

And as far as environmentally friendly companies go, Malizia is up there in terms of actively contributing to ocean research and the impacts of climate change on marine environments.

The boat makers recently joined the UN-Iniative Sports for Climate Action and recycle its used sails while avoiding the use of plastics.

:: Will an engine be used at any point?

All Malizia yachts carry an emergency combustion engine on board in accordance to essential safety measures.

However, for Greta's translantic trip, the engine will not be used at all so as to be consistent with her message of sustainability and environmental protection.

Skipper Boris Herrmann poses on a Imoca category monohull Malizia II yacht

The engine has been officially sealed, so Greta and team can only rely on the sails for the whole voyage.

While the engine will stay turned off at all times, it will remain fully operational and ready to use in case of an emergency.

Greta and her father Svante Thunberg (C) and co-skipper Boris Hermann

But the journey will not be 100% engine free, as the yacht will be assisted by Torqeedo RIBs powered by electric engines during docking manoeuvres at the start and finish to tow it out of and back into port.

The yacht will not have any support vessels travelling with it during the crossing.

:: How will electricity be generated on board?

In terms of generating electricity, Malizia is equipped with a state-of-the-art 1,3kW solar system and two additional hydro-generators which are permanently installed on the stern of the boat.

A hydro-generator

With these two independently working systems, Greta and crew will have more electricity than they need on board.

Both energy sources will allow the yacht to run all the systems and electronics on board continuously, including navigation instruments, autopilots and watermakers - ensuring the transatlantic trip will be fully emission-free.

A Malizia II racing yacht sailing upwind during the Transat Jaques Vabre in 2017

:: Is the trip 100% zero-carbon on a carbon fibre racing yacht?

That's what many sailing experts are wondering.

Malizia say that building this type of racing boat needs three tonnes of carbon fibre, moulds for hull and deck, a number of construction materials and various resins.

It says the boatyards that construct the yachts are aware of the resulting and indisputable environmental impact during boat construction and attach great importance on a sustainable building process.

Malizia II is fitted with solar panels and underwater turbines that produce electricity on board

Therefore moulds are made with recycled dry carbon fibre and reused for building the hulls and decks of several new boats.

Old carbon fibre material is also turned into powder and reused in resins for further construction, and all sorts of construction materials are recycled and reused on new boats.

So in short, the answer is technically no, the trip is not 100% zero-carbon.

:: How has Greta's boat been modified for the trip?

Greta's boat has been minimally modified for the upcoming translantic trip, with the interior kept very bare to reduce the weight of the boat for a high-speed journey.

The only alterations include fitted curtains in front of the bunk and comfortable mattresses for better sleeping.

Malizia say the boat's interior is characterised by lack of comfort and that Greta and her team are fully aware of the living conditions to be expected on board.

:: Could the average traveller afford this trip?

In short, no. Most of us don't have access to such luxury vessels as the Malizia II.

Malizia told Sky News that they had not calculated the total cost of the trip.

The company states on its website that it has not received any additional funding for the voyage and has not asked Greta's team to pay for it.

However the boat's construction cost is upwards of €4m (£3.7m), according to RT.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg arrives in New York by boat, putting ‘climate crisis’ in spotlight

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, sailed into New York Harbor today flanked by a fleet of 17 sailboats representing each of the Sustainable Development Goals on their sails.

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After a two-week sail across the Atlantic, youth climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in the Big Apple on Wednesday to take part in two major climate summits to be held at UN Headquarters next month.

Refusing to take a gas-guzzling plane, the Swedish teen decided on a zero-carbon mode of transportation to further bring awareness to the dangers of rising global emissions and pollution caused by human activity.

The @UN has sent out one boat for each of the 17 sustainable development goal to greet us! Thank you! Greta Thunberg GretaThunberg

Despite the tight quarters and lack of creature comforts, she sailed with her father, a two-man crew and a cameraperson on the 60-foot Malizia II racing yacht with solar panels and underwater turbines that generated electric power. 

To show appreciation and solidarity for her mission toward a better world by 2030, the UN greeted the sixteen-year-old at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with a flotilla of 17 sailboats.

“The UN has sent out one boat for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to greet us!” she tweeted “Thank you!”

“We welcome Ms. Thunberg and wish her a pleasant stay after a long journey across the seas”, Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, told reporters in New York. 

The flotilla met Ms. Thunberg at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which links the New York City boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn.

The boats accompanied her to North Cove Harbor in Manhattan to show appreciation and solidarity for her mission to mobilize support for action to achieve SDG 13, on climate action ,as well as the other 16 goals for a better world by 2030, unanimously adopted by world leaders at the UN in 2015.

Transformative youth

“Young people around the world are demanding urgent climate action by all leaders”, said Amina Mohammed , UN Deputy Secretary-General. 

“They are leading the kind of transformative change needed to drastically reduce carbon emissions to protect our planet and ensure the wellbeing of people,” 

Warning that “time is running out”, Ms. Mohammed affirmed that the UN is “proud to host hundreds of young activists and leaders, including Greta, who are answering the Secretary-General’s call to bring solutions to the Youth Climate and the Climate Action Summits”. 

“Our individual and collective actions will transform our world, save lives and ensure a life of dignity for all”, maintained the UN deputy chief.

The Climate Summit aims to mobilize political and economic ambition at the highest levels to advance climate action and enable many of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Climate activist, 16-year-old Greta Thurnberg sails into New York Harbour to attend the United Nations Climate Summit in September.

A teen’s climate action mission 

Stepping onto dry land for the first time in two weeks, Ms. Thunburg said at a press conference: “I would love not to have to do this and just go to school, but… I want to make a difference”.

Pointing to “the older generation” as causing the climate crisis, she stated that they “should not be saying to us ‘be a normal kid’ [because] we are just trying to clean up after them.”

The young environmental campaigner has been captivating people around the world since she waged a one-girl ‘school strike’ for climate action last August.

At that time, the then 15-year old stood by herself in front of the Swedish Parliament with a demonstration sign, calling for bold climate action. 

As she began drawing media attention, other students followed her lead and began staging similar protests in their own communities. 

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Climate Activist Greta Thunberg, 16, Arrives in New York After Sailing Across the Atlantic

T eenage climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City on Wednesday after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to call attention to the need for quick action to save the planet.

Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden, embarked in the racing sailboat Malizia II from Plymouth in the United Kingdom two weeks ago on the trip to the U.S. to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit, which is scheduled to take place in September at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York.

After disembarking from the vessel at a Manhattan marina, Thunberg was greeted by a crowd of supporters, including a group of fellow high school students carrying homemade signs. The students broke into chants as the sailboat slowly pulled into the marina in Lower Manhattan, including “Sea levels are rising and so are we!” and “There is no Planet B!”


Thunberg seemed a little weary from her journey, but spoke forcefully about climate change. While she doesn’t expect everyone to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a boat like she did, she said that she believes it’s time for people to come together to fight climate change.

“The climate and ecological crisis is a global crisis and the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” she said shortly after she stepped on shore. “And if we don’t manage to work together and to cooperate… then we will fail.”

Thunberg said that while she’s hoping to spread the word about climate change, one person isn’t the primary focus of her message––President Donald Trump.

“My message for him is just listen to the science, and he obviously doesn’t do that. As I always say to this question, if no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis, the urgency, why should I be able to do that?” Thunberg said.

Thunberg launched her campaign for action on climate change just last August, when she sat outside of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm holding a sign inscribed with the phrase, “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (School Strike for Climate). In the year since, she helped to organize a March 15 strike believed to have been joined by 1.6 million people in 133 countries; met with world leaders, including Pope Francis; and was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Thunberg has drawn attention to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by air travel. In Sweden, she is credited for the spread of “flygskam”––flight shame––which reports say may have encouraged some Swedes to avoid traveling by plane.

Greta Thunberg in New York

The Malizia II is a 60-foot vessel is designed to be emission-free, and is equipped with solar panels, hydro-generators and an onboard lab for measuring CO2 levels and other information about the surface of the ocean.

The teen set sail two weeks ago with a small group, including her father, Svante Thunberg, and co-skippers Pierre Casiraghi––grandson of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco and Grace Kelly––and professional sailor Boris Herrmann, who has travelled around the world three times and made “countless” journeys across the Atlantic, according to Herrmann’s website .

As the vessel was designed for racing, it was built for speed––but not comfort. Herrmann’s website acknowledges that the boat lacks many amenities, including cooking facilities, a toilet and a shower, although “comfortable mattresses” were added for Thunberg’s voyage.

Several young people said that they had first learned about Thunberg from YouTube, but had been motivated to act because they’ve learned how climate change is impacting people around the world.

Olivia Wohlgemuth, a 16-year-old student at LaGuardia High School, tells TIME that while she’s worried about the future, protesting to raise awareness gives her hope.

“I always feel so hopeful at protests. Climate change can be so bleak and action can be an antidote to that,” Wohlgemuth said.

Greta Thunberg in New York

Several teenagers, including 15-year-old Dwight School student Alessandro Dal Bon, said that Thunberg had been the inspiration for them to get involved with climate activism.

“She’s not afraid of anyone. She’s not afraid of the politicians, she’s not afraid of the businessmen. She just wants to get her message out there. And she’s willing to do anything for that. She’s willing to cross the Atlantic Ocean for 15 days on a small boat to do that. That just shows you how determined she is,” Dal Bon says.

Thunberg thanked the sailboat’s team and said that the trip had been “surprisingly good,” noting that she hadn’t gotten seasick. She said that she would miss feeling “disconnected” from the world during the journey.

“To just sit, literally sit for hours, and just stare at the ocean not doing anything. That was great. And I’m going to miss that a lot,” Thunberg said. “And of course, to be in this wilderness, the ocean, and to see the beauty of it. “

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Watch CBS News

Teen Eco-Activist Traveling To NY From England Aboard Solar-Powered Sailboat

August 14, 2019 / 10:30 PM EDT / CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Young eco-activist Greta Thunberg has set sail for New York in hopes of pressuring politicians to do more to combat global warming.

The 16-year-old left from England aboard a solar-powered sailboat to attend the UN climate summit next month in Manhattan before she heads onto Chile in December.

Teen Eco-Activist Traveling To NY From England Aboard Solar-Powered Sailboat

Thunberg has made headlines by taking a year off from school to travel around the world promoting climate change legislation.

The teen says she is looking forward to the adventure, but not the seasickness.

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Greta Thunberg Sets Sail for U.N. Climate Talks

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greta thunberg solar powered yacht

By Somini Sengupta

PLYMOUTH, England — Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, set sail Wednesday on a racing yacht bound for New York. The boat cast off from the Mayflower Marina here in this old English port city around 3 p.m. local time during a brief pause in the rain.

Ms. Thunberg wore black sailing gear and boots for what will be a roughly two-week journey at sea. “Unite Behind the Science,” read the logo on her suit and on the mainsail, raised against a gray sky. Her hair was tied back in a signature braid.

Ms. Thunberg is making this epic voyage because she has been invited to participate at the United Nations climate talks in September, and she refuses to fly because aviation has such an enormous carbon footprint.

The yacht, Malizia II, a 60-foot open-cockpit monohull, has made many journeys across the ocean, but never with a 16-year-old novice. The boat has been fitted with solar panels to power its equipment. The conditions inside are spartan: There is no toilet nor much light in the cabin, so Ms. Thunberg will have to read by headlamp. In a particularly acute challenge for a teenager with more than 871,000 Twitter followers , she will not have much access to the internet.

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Ms. Thunberg has never done anything like this before. She said she was looking forward to being without the familiar luxuries, to “being so limited.” She acknowledged being a bit nervous. “Whether it’s seasickness or homesickness or just anxiety or I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know how tough this journey will be.”

Also, she said, she will really miss her two dogs.

She has packed many books (she is currently reading “Quiet,” a book about introverts, like her); eight writing journals, some partly filled; and boxes of freeze-dried vegan meals. (Ms. Thunber g stopped eating meat a few years ago, because of the emissions associated with animal protein.)

There is a satellite phone on board, so she plans to send some pictures and text messages from her voyage to friends who will upload them on her social media accounts. Going to the toilet will mean going to the back of the boat with a bucket. Her drinking water will come from a tiny desalination machine that treats seawater.

“By doing this it also shows how impossible it is today to live sustainable,” she said. “That, in order to travel with zero emissions, that we have to sail like this across the Atlantic Ocean.”

The epic journey of the Malizia II is the latest stage in an epic journey that Ms. Thunberg has been on for the last few years. As a child, doctors told her she had Asperger’s syndrome. In early adolescence she battled severe depression , so much so that she stopped eating for a while and stopped growing.

Recovery came slowly, and only after finding a sense of purpose. “I’ve had my fair share of depressions, alienation, anxiety and disorders,” she wrote in a recent Facebook post . “But without my diagnosis, I would never have started school striking. Because then I would have been like everyone else.”

Her weekly school strikes began in Stockholm, her hometown, a year ago. They sparked a global youth movement to demand climate action and then turned her into something of a modern-day Cassandra, a target of praise and pointed attacks. In March came a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said he trusted young activists like her to “ push societies to save our planet .” This week, Steve Milloy, a former member of the Trump transition team, described her on Twitter as “the ignorant teenage climate puppet.”

Ms. Thunberg on Tuesday shrugged off the attacks. “They are doing everything they can to switch the focus from the climate crisis to me,” she said. “That is what you have to expect when you talk about these things.”

Ms. Thunberg is taking the year off school. She is scheduled to attend the United Nations climate summit talks next month, speaking at a youth summit on Sept. 21 and then at the main meeting on Sept. 23. She also plans to travel to Chile for the next round of United Nations-sponsored climate talks in December.

Both meetings are to be attended by world leaders, all of whom have agreed , under the Paris Agreement, to keep global temperatures from rising to levels that would produce climate catastrophes. Still, global emissions continue to grow, and the world as a whole is not on track to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

“This is a big opportunity for those world leaders who say they’ve been listening to us to actually show that they’ve been listening to us, to actually prove that,” Ms. Thunberg said.

The voyage has drawn enormous media attention. Ms. Thunberg gave four face-to-face interviews Tuesday, spoke to other reporters on the phone in between, and greeted a few youth strikers who had come to Plymouth from elsewhere in Britain before heading into an emergency training session.

There were many handlers and helpers. And there was Greta swag. One woman moving chairs for her well-wishers wore a sweatshirt that hollered, “Be Like Greta.” Ms. Thunberg, for her part, wore a red hoodie and lilac sweatpants with a hole at the knee.

Boris Hermann, the 38-year-old German captain, said he had crossed the Atlantic many times. In fact, he has sailed around the world in this yacht, finding routes where the wind was in his back, steering it through rain and darkness. This trip, though, would be different. “I feel a special responsibility also because it’s an important trip for Greta and we promised to bring her over,” he said. “I admire her leadership.”

The captain said he would try to take a southerly route to the United States to avoid the strongest headwinds, to find what he called the “softest” variations. If the wind is calm, it could be smooth sailing and his passengers would be able to relax and read. Or, there could be gusts of wind and rain.

There are two beds for Ms. Thunberg and her father, Svante, who is accompanying her. The others on the voyage — Mr. Hermann, the skipper; Pierre Casiraghi, the head of the Malizia II racing team; and a documentary filmmaker named Nathan Grossman — plan to sleep on beanbags. The boat has a motor and generator in the event of an emergency.

Ms. Thunberg will be close to Mr. Hermann’s age in 2040, which is when, scientists say, climate catastrophes could strike the world unless we move swiftly away from a fossil fuel based economy.

“I have no idea how the world is going to look,” she said. Either the world will have tackled the problem in time, she went on, or it will have crossed what scientists call “tipping points,” beyond which it’s impossible to return to normal weather patterns.

“I can’t really start planning my future,” she said.

That profound uncertainty animates the activism of many people of her generation. It explains, in large part, why she is taking this voyage across the ocean — and why, for the voyage, she wants to focus on the basics.

“My goal is to feel as good as possible during the trip,” she said

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter .

Somini Sengupta covers international climate issues and is the author of "The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's Young." More about Somini Sengupta

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How eco-warrior Greta Thunberg travels

Climate change activist to sail to US on ‘zero-carbon’ racing yacht to attend key summits

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Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg has found a suitably green way to travel from the UK to the US in order to spread her message - a high-speed racing yacht.

The 16-year-old is taking a sabbatical year from school to focus on her campaigning, but had been puzzling over how to cross the Atlantic to attend two key United Nations climate summits after travelling to Britain by train in April, reports The Times . Thunberg has described the summits - on 23 September in New York and 2-13 December in Santiago, Chile - as “pretty much where our future will be decided”, adds The Guardian .

“It’s on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean,” she said in June. “And there are no trains going there. And since I don’t fly, because of the enormous climate impact of aviation, it’s going to be a challenge.”

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The Stockholm-based teenager, who inspired the Fridays for Future global school climate strike movement, told the Associated Press (AP) that she did not want to travel by cruise ship either, because of their high emissions.

“Taking a boat to North America is basically impossible,” she said. “I have had countless people helping me, trying to contact different boats.”

However, yesterday Thunberg announced on Twitter yesterday that she had accepted “a ride on the 60ft racing boat Malizia II” and will set sail to New York City in mid August.

Based in Brittany and sponsored by the Yacht Club de Monaco, the yacht was built for the 2016-17 single-handed, round-the-world Vendee Globe race and is made with solar panels and underwater turbines, creating zero-carbon electricity.

The club said on its Facebook page that it is “honoured to be able to sail Greta Thunberg emission-free over the Atlantic”.

During the two-week journey, Thunberg will be accompanied by her father, Svante; the yacht’s skipper, Borris Hermann; a filmmaker; and Pierre Casiraghi, the grandson of Monaco’s late Prince Rainier III and US actress Grace Kelly.

After arriving in New York, where she will take part in several meetings and protests, Thunberg aims to travel by train and bus to the annual UN climate conference in the Chilean capital, with stops in Canada, Mexico and other countries.

Her father told the Financial Times in February that the family had bought an electric car and stopped flying when his daughter was 11 years old - a “rule that effectively ended Thunberg’s opera-singer mother’s international career”, notes the newspaper.

But while increasing numbers of people worldwide are following their lead in adopting greener lifestyles, Thunberg told AP that she is not sure how her message will be received in the US. Meeting with President Donald Trump, who opposes the radical measures that scientists say are required to limit global warming, would be “just a waste of time”, she added.

“I have nothing to say to him,” she continued. “He obviously doesn’t listen to the science and the scientists. So why should I, a child with no proper education, be able to convince him?”

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16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg plans to sail from Europe to New York in September. Here’s what her zero-emissions journey will look like.

  • Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist, was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her pioneering work organizing the "Fridays for Future" youth climate protests.
  • Thunberg is scheduled to speak at the United Nations climate action summit in New York City in September.
  • However, the Swedish teenager refuses to fly in airplanes because of their carbon footprint. So to reach New York, Thunberg plans to sail across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat.
  • The skipper of that boat, Boris Herrmann, told Business Insider about why he volunteered to help Thunberg and what her journey will be like.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

The world's most famous climate activist doesn't fly.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden who was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, is the world's leading youth voice on the climate crisis. In August 2018, she launched the "Fridays For Future" movement, which encourages students around the globe to skip school to demand action on climate from their governments.

Read More: 9 times teenage climate warrior Greta Thunberg left us speechless

Because airplane travel has such a heavy carbon footprint — a single round-trip flight between New York and California generates roughly 20% of the greenhouse gases your car emits in a year — Thunberg refuses to board any airplanes. In Europe, this means she typically travels by train. 

But to reach the UN Climate Action Summit in New York next month — where Thunberg is scheduled to speak with international leaders about the growing threat of climate change — the activist has recruited an unlikely partner: competitive German sailor Boris Herrmann.

Thunberg announced last week that she'll be sailing across the Atlantic on a schooner named Malizia II, with Herrmann at the helm. The ship runs on solar-power and underwater turbines (in addition to wind, of course), thereby generating electrical power with zero carbon emissions. 

Following that journey, Thunberg plans to travel throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico, then attend the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile in December.

"During the past year, millions of young people have raised their voice to make world leaders wake up to the climate and ecological emergency. Over the next months, the events in New York and Santiago de Chile will show if they have listened," Thunberg said in a press release. "Together with many other young people across the Americas and the world, I will be there, even if the journey will be long and challenging."

An environmentally friendly alternative to air travel

Thunberg's  protest is aptly timed. 

July was the hottest month ever recorded in human history. This year is on pace to be the third-hottest on record, according to Climate Central , and 2018 was the fourth-warmest ( behind 2016, 2015, and 2017 ). Last year was also the very   hottest year on record for the world's oceans . 

Thunberg's activism has vaulted her onto the world stage : In December 2018, she accused  assembled leaders from nearly 200 countries at the UN climate change conference in Poland of "behaving like children."

"This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced," she told UN secretary general António Guterres.

Three months later, Thunberg led more than 1 million students around the world in a climate change protest. Young people in more than 123 countries skipped school to demand more robust climate policies and the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.

To get to this year's UN summits, Thunberg was determined to find a plane-free, zero-emissions mode of travel. The aviation sector accounts for 2% of annual global greenhouse-gas emissions. A 747 aircraft emits more than 21 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per mile traveled.

So Thunberg put a call out on Twitter in search of a solution to this ethical quandary.

Related stories

Herrmann had seen Thunberg speak at a "Fridays for Future" demonstration in Hamburg, Germany, and he offered his team's sailing services.

"Greta was thankful, polite, humble, very informed, and asked a lot of detailed questions about safety," Herrmann told Business Insider. 

A 38-year-old professional sailor, Herrmann has raced across the Atlantic and sailed around the world multiple times. Thunberg, on the other hand, has little sailing experience, so Herrmann said the trip will require mental preparation on her part. The journey will involve two weeks of potentially rough seas and cramped quarters.

"I'm very impressed by her courage to try it out and her ability to accept the lack of comfort that goes with traveling without emissions," he said .

What Thunberg's 3,000-mile journey will be like

Thunberg and Herrmann's 3,000-mile journey will start in the southwestern UK and terminate in New York. (Thunberg will likely take the train to the UK from her home in Stockholm.) The trip will take about 13 days — they'll go north towards Greenland then down the coast of eastern Canada and New England.

Also aboard the Malizia's will be Thunberg's father, a filmmaker to document the trip, and Herrmann's colleague and fellow sailor Pierre Casiraghi.

The Malizia has no showers, no kitchen, and no air conditioning. The group will dine on on freeze-dried or vacuum-packed meals.

Herrmann's team isn't charging Thunberg for this journey, and he said he even cancelled two big practice sessions for the opportunity to sail her.  

"I'm happy about Greta's youth movement," he said. "They're much more realistic about the [climate] problem, and concerned as a generation as much as the older generation should be, but isn't."

Thunberg, for her part, took a sabbatical year from school to attend the UN events and travel around the Americas in between.

The Malizia

The Malizia, which means "the wily one" in the Monegasque language, is 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. The sailboat relies on 8 square-meters of solar paneling that cover its deck for power during the day, and turbines at night. (It has motors and generators onboard in the case of emergency.)

Casiraghi told the New York Times that only a handful of zero-emissions vessels like Malizia II exist. 

Herrmann said he and Casiraghi will handle all sailing duties on the 8-ton racing boat  and keep an eye out for hurricanes as well (that risk is why the group is sailing north).

"I am conscious about Pierre's and my responsibility. We will make sure she will reach New York in the safest way possible," Herrmann said in a press release.

After she arrives in New York and attends the UN summit, Thunberg's plan is to travel around the US, Canada, and Mexico to meet with " people most impacted by the climate and ecological emergency, climate activists, and decision-makers." She'll then to make her way to Chile for the December UN conference via trains and buses.

Thunberg hasn't yet announced how she'll get back to Europe — Herrmann and Casiraghi are doing a quick about-face after dropping her off. But during the UK-to-US journey, Herrmann plans to teach Thunberg a bit about sailing — how to check the weather, trim the canvas, and help with the Malizia's maneuvers.

"She's clearly very intelligent, and I'm sure she'll be a quick learner," he said.

Perhaps, one day, Thunberg may be able to sail herself around. But first comes the cross-Atlantic voyage.

"I haven't experienced anything like this before," Thunberg told the Associated Press . "I think this will be a trip to remember."

Watch: This family of 5 has been sailing around the world for 9 years

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

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Greta Is Here

Greta Is Here

The air at North Cove Marina, a small slip amid the towering high rises of Lower Manhattan, felt pregnant. With rain. With hope. With anticipation.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist trying to turn the world back from the climate crisis brink, had spent the night docked off Coney Island after 330 hours at sea. On Wednesday afternoon, the solar-powered yacht that had ushered her across from England to American shores entered New York Harbor, zig-zagging up the western flank of the island. Onlookers gathered, waiting for Thunberg to take her first wobbly steps on American shores since becoming a climate icon.

Onlookers wave at Greta Thunberg arriving in New York Harbor.

It felt like the second coming of the Beatles in some way, but with higher stakes. Thunberg has been nominated for a Nobel Prize, burned politicians and the wealthy to their faces for putting profit over planet in ways most of us can only dream of, and galvanized a wave of youth climate activism. The power of that wave was visible with a large contingent of young adults (and a good number of voting-age adults, too) greeting her on the shore. A hush washed over the crowd as Thunberg’s racing boat appeared, giving an almost church-like vibe to the proceedings.

As the boat drew closer, the gather took on more of a raucous playoff game. Many onlookers broke out into song and waved their hellos as the Malizia II neared the dock like a scene out of Victorian times. And during a brief press conference with Thunberg in full racing yacht gear, when she lost her thread while addressing the gathering, someone in the audience screamed, “We love you, Greta,” as the crowd broke out into cheers.

Even with a microphone, Thunberg’s voice still had to battle against the cacophony of fossil fuel-powered boats prowling New York Harbor. In some ways, it was the perfect metaphor for what a growing cadre of youth activists is up against. The inescapable grind of capitalism, founded on fossil fuel-based growth, has pushed us to the brink. Now, youth activists are pushing back.

The crowd waits.

Fridays for Future, Thunberg’s group, as well as a number of other youth activist groups, are organizing a climate strike on September 20. Adult organizations are also getting into the mix, helping plan a global strike on September 27. Sandwiched between that, world leaders will meet at the United Nations for a one-day climate summit in the run-up to a major climate conference in Chile known as COP 25 later this year. Thunberg’s message to those leaders in clear: “COP 25 must be a breaking point” she said at a press conference.

Others feel the same way. Earther chatted with kids and adults about their climate hopes and what Thunberg’s arrival signals to them.

Shiv, college sophomore

Image for article titled Greta Is Here

“Something that’s really common among young people is a lot of time we just aren’t given that platform. Now, Greta and millions of other kids are showing that we don’t need it handed to us. We can fight for the platform that we deserve and that our voices need to be heard.

“On the 20th, we have three main demands as part of our coalition, which is no more fossil fuels, a just transition for frontline communities and for everybody in general, as well as holding fossil fuel executives accountable.

“I think a really big contribution she [Thunberg] had is really making young people realize that we do have power, that we have the ability to change the conversation. There are hundreds of kids here, and we’re all fighting, we’re all changing the conversation as a team, and we’re all honored to have Greta fighting alongside us.”

Chloe, Ozkar, and Marco

Marco (left and on one), Chloe (middle), and Ozkar (right).

Chloe: “I wanted to come because I’ve been following it on Facebook for maybe a year or so. I think it’s really inspiring that she’s taking the reins of the climate issue and drawn attention to it.”

Ozkar: “Mom. Mom. I think I can...her boat!”

Rachel, NYC Light Brigade

Chris (left) and Rachel (right) of NYC Light Brigade.

“She’s really a remarkable young person. She’s inheriting this crazy future that we’re leaving to her. And so supporting her is really important.

“Most of the young people in New York City—and this is a really small bubble so it’s hard to say—but most of the young people in New York City that I encounter are furious. People are really reluctant to make deep, effecting change, but we’re getting there, we’re talking about it, things like this are happening. Maybe it’s a moment. I’ll cross my fingers.”

Image for article titled Greta Is Here

“I personally have kids myself, and I would want a better planet for my kids to live in. And I think what she is doing is bringing about change. Change not only that I can benefit from, but that my kids to being a benefit for me, too. So I am all for it. I hope the government, as well as everybody else, catches on.”

Tatiana and Ana, on vacation from Spain

Tatiana (left), Ana (center), and Ana’s dad and grandmother.

Tatiana: “My daughter is 14 years old, and she sees that a person can change the world and do amazing things. To me, it is very important for my daughter to see this.”

Ana: “We need to make changes because this is our only home, and we need to take care of it. She’s amazing.”

Cathy, Violette, and Balthazar

Violette (right) and Balthazar (center) getting strangled by a stranger. He was fine.

Violette: “I’m a really big fan of her and I want to try to meet her.   She is trying to get everyone on board to fix the climate crisis.”

Balzathar: “I’m here to welcome her more for my sister because she really likes her, [but]   I hope that she raises more awareness.”

Cathy: “We’re so inspired by Greta and what she’s doing and what a strong voice she has. She’s basically put into words what we all need to hold onto: Our planet is being destroyed actively, and we’re not really paying attention to that. Really, it’s my 10-year-old daughter who came to be inspired by her. Violette actually became vegetarian last year because of what Greta was talking about she wanted to do something that was really active.

“It’s mind-boggling to think of how far we still have to go, so it’s great to be here with all these people welcoming her.”

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Greta Thunberg's environmentally friendly sailing adventure no pleasure cruise

The teenage climate activist will set sail wednesday from england to new york to attend environment conference.

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

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Greta Thunberg's two-week voyage to the United States will be no pleasure cruise.

The 16-year-old climate change activist, who has inspired student protests around the world, will leave Plymouth, England on Wednesday, bound for New York in a high-tech, but decidedly low-comfort sailboat.

Highlighting the urgency of cutting carbon emissions, the young Swede last month announced that while she would not fly to environmental conferences, she had found a way to get there without hurting the planet.

Pierre Casiraghi, the grandson of Monaco's late Prince Rainier III and American actress Grace Kelly, and fellow yachtsman Boris Herrmann offered her passage on a racing yacht as she travels to UN climate summits next month in New York and in Santiago in December.

"It's not very luxurious, it's not very fancy, but I don't need that. I need only a bed and just the basic things," Thunberg told The Associated Press. "So I think it will be fun, and I also think it will be fun to be isolated and not be so limited."

Sailing on the 18-metre Malizia II, outfitted with solar panels and underwater turbines to generate electricity, Thunberg will make a zero-carbon transatlantic journey.

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

But to call it a no-frills passage would be an understatement. The sailboat is built for high-speed, offshore racing, with weight kept to a minimum. The only alterations for the voyage are fitting curtains in front of the bunk and adding mattresses for comfort. There is no toilet or fixed shower. There's a small gas cooker and the food will be freeze dried.

Inside, the yacht resembles the interior of a tin can. It is dark and grey, with no windows below deck.

Herrmann, the boat's skipper, will take turns with Casiraghi steering the craft. He described life on board as a mixture of camping and sailing, with a thin mattress and sleeping bag the only comforts.

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

"It's a very simple life and then the rest of the day depends on the wind," Herrmann told The Associated Press. "It can be calm and smooth, and going along and you can read a book, or it can be really rough and you hold on and try to fight seasickness, and can be really hard."

Casiraghi's and Herrmann's Team Malizia was founded to sail the biggest ocean races — the Vendee Globe 2020 and the Ocean Race 2021. They also developed the Malizia Ocean challenge, a science and education project aimed at teaching children about climate change and the ocean. Their vessel has an onboard sensor that tracks carbon dioxide levels in seawater, a measure of how atmospheric carbon is changing the oceans.

Leaves school to highlight climate change

Thunberg became a global celebrity last year when she refused to go to school in the weeks before Sweden's general election to highlight the impact of climate change and put pressure on politicians to do something about it.

She continued her school strike on Fridays after the election, spurring thousands of young people around the world to follow suit. Since then, she has met the Pope, spoken at Davos and attended anti-coal protests in Germany.

She is now taking a year off school to attend the events in North and South America, and meet with some of the people most affected by climate change. She decided not to fly to New York because of the emissions caused by air travel and plans to use the least carbon-intensive methods of travel available as she continues her trip.

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

"By this journey I hope to increase awareness among people, to spread information and communicate the science about what is really going on so people can understand what is really going on with the climate and ecological crisis," she said. "That is what I am hoping to achieve with everything, and that will also lead to international opinions so that people come together and put pressure on the people in power so that they will have to do something."

Rising levels of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, are already increasing global temperatures, according to the UN. This will lead to shifting weather patterns that threaten food production and rising sea levels, though scientists hope that by curbing emissions catastrophic consequences can be avoided.

  • 5 ways to make air travel greener

Thunberg will be accompanied on her transatlantic voyage by her father, Svante, and filmmaker Nathan Grossman of B-Reel Films, who will document the journey. She has brought audio books and has notebooks to fill.

Beyond that, everything depends on the wind.

  • Greta Thunberg, teen climate activist, sailing from Europe to U.S.

The Atlantic Ocean in hurricane season can be a rocky place. Herrmann plans a southern route since three of the five sailors on board have no experience. During a trial run in Plymouth Sound on Monday, Thunberg said she was seasick for "five minutes" when the boat stood still.

"Of course, I will be a little bit seasick," she said. "But I don't think I will be very seasick."

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Greta Thunberg wraps up 15-day carbon-free voyage to New York City

She made the journey to call attention to climate change ahead of a united nations summit.

By Justine Calma , a senior science reporter covering climate change, clean energy, and environmental justice with more than a decade of experience. She is also the host of Hell or High Water: When Disaster Hits Home, a podcast from Vox Media and Audible Originals.

Share this story


Teen climate sensation Greta Thunberg has made it to New York City after her 15-day voyage by yacht from Plymouth, England. 

After disembarking to a cheering crowd in lower Manhattan, Thunberg opened a press conference saying, “Well all of this is overwhelming.”

“The trip was surprisingly good. I did not feel sea sick once,” Thunberg said. 

Thunberg made the trip across the Atlantic to attend a United Nations climate summit taking place in September — and she did it without leaving a carbon footprint. She traveled aboard the Malizia II, which has its own solar panels and hydro-generators to power the yacht. (Her journey did spark some criticism for the emissions associated with it because others will fly to New York to bring the yacht back to Europe, although those flights will reportedly be offset.)

Thunberg has become a leading figure among young activists

Sixteen-year-old Thunberg has incited students across the globe to strike for the climate. She started skipping school to protest climate inaction outside Swedish Parliament in August 2018. Since then, tens of thousands of young people have joined in on the movement, walking out of class on coordinated “Fridays for the Future.”

Thunberg has become a leading figure among young activists concerned that they will bear the brunt of the climate crisis created by generations before them. Realizing the future ahead of her, Thunberg told the crowd gathered in Manhattan that she became depressed at 11 years old. “I got out of that depression by promising that I’m going to do everything I can to change things. I started going to marches and demonstrations,” Thunberg said.

Thunberg said that she will miss the “peace and quiet” she had sailing across the Atlantic, but is looking forward to being dry, and eating food that isn’t freeze-dried after two weeks at sea. She has another journey ahead of her later this year: traveling to Santiago, Chile by bus, train, and boat for another United Nations climate conference in December.

In the meantime, she’ll be gearing up for the UN summit in New York in September. She told the gathered crowd that she planned to “make sure that world leaders have all eyes on them during this conference — so they cannot continue to ignore this.”

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The inside story of Greta Thunberg’s upwind Atlantic crossing on La Vagabonde

Yachting World

  • February 13, 2020

To sail climate activist Greta Thunberg across the Atlantic – eastbound – aboard La Vagabonde was the voyage of a lifetime for skipper Nikki Henderson. She shares the inside story


Photos: Elayna Carausu / Nikki Henderson

The sea was ominously flat. Not that I could see it – except during those electric illuminations – and I wasn’t sure how windy it was. We had isolated the batteries and switched off power to the boat in case of an electrical strike , so the anemometer screen was blank, along with the rest of our instruments, but I judged it was blowing 40 or 45 knots.

Then the rain started. It was torrential; driving horizontally but also sliding off the sail above me, and blinding me. The light of my head torch was the only visual thing keeping the boat going in the right direction as I intermittently shone it down at my feet to where the compass was located. “Riley, let’s furl – now.” I paused for what felt like a few minutes, but was more likely a few seconds, “Like NOW, now!”


The crew had to contend with serious North Atlantic seas… but did enjoy some fast boatspeeds

It was that feeling where the wind increases, and you know it’s stronger than you have felt all night. I could feel nature’s pressure on the back of my legs, and the wind must have been in the high 40 knots, maybe even 50. The boat was flying. Another flash came, lighting up the sky just long enough for me to see the towers of water surging up either side of us as we carved through the water.

“This is ****ing amazing! This boat flies. We must have hit 20 knots,” I screamed at Riley, as shouting was the only way he could possibly hear me. He ran forward and furled the headsail. The furling line had broken earlier that day, and we had tied it together temporarily meaning Riley could only furl by pulling the line right at the drum and tying it to the bow cleat. We both regretted not fixing that line earlier in the day.

When he came back to the cockpit the wind was already subsiding and the rain had stopped. I was on a total high, ready to increase canvas again. “Make that call earlier next time, Nik,” he said. I felt put out, and must have showed it. “Nik, my kid is down there.” I thought of baby Lenny, and Greta. It was one of the most grounding moments of my life. When I had first discussed this trip with Riley I had described it as “bigger than any of us.” Those words suddenly felt very, very real.

Article continues below…


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How did we get here?

In the autumn of 2019, Greta Thunberg, 16, and currently the most famous teenager in the world, was in the United States, having sailed across the Atlantic on the IMOCA 60 Malizia for the UN Climate Action Summit. She planned to travel on to Chile for the 2019 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP25.

But civil unrest in the country meant the event moved at short notice: back to Europe. Thunberg was looking for a solution that didn’t involve an aeroplane. On 1 November 2019 Thunberg sent out a tweet from Los Angeles: “As COP25 has officially been moved from Santiago to Madrid I’ll need some help… to find a way to cross the Atlantic in November.”

Thirteen days later she left Virginia, USA, on La Vagabonde . This 48ft Outremer performance cruising catamaran is a liveaboard yacht owned by Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, creators of the La Vagabonde YouTube channel . Along with their 11-month-old son Lenny, they came to the rescue. “I hear a certain young girl needs a ride across the Atlantic,” was Whitelum’s typically laid-back offer.

Appreciating the risks associated with the North Atlantic, and their precious cargo of baby Lenny, and 2019 Time’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg, the couple contacted professional sailors in search of someone to bolster the crew.

“Nikki, meet Greta” read the message on the group chat that was started late in the evening on Thursday 7 November. We talked and talked, and two days after that first text I met Greta for real. We arranged to meet outside Norfolk, VA airport, next to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s electric car. The Governator had lent Greta and her father, Svante, his car as a green method of transportation while on their US tour.

In my bag were three sets of foul weather gear to share around, a drysuit, a medical kit, a paper chart portfolio, a handheld GPS and minimal personal belongings. Six strangers came together, prepared a yacht for a 3,000-mile ocean passage, informed the world’s media of our plan and swiftly set sail. It felt like we were trying to prove the impossible possible.

Social experiment

Preparing for an ocean voyage is always stressful. Going to sea is always a challenge. Sailing with strangers is always a bit of a voyage into the unknown. This trip was like some epic social experiment: two Swedes, two Australians, one baby, and a Brit. Two fathers, one daughter, a mother and baby, a captain: and a skipper. A climate activist, an ex-rigger, a semi-retired actor, a team boss, social media influencers, introverts and extroverts, leaders and followers.


Skipper Nikki and Greta, Time Person of the Year 2019

We were united by one steadfast purpose; to cross 3,000 miles of North Atlantic ocean, and one deadline; Greta was due to speak at the COP25, so we had four weeks to compete the voyage. We were motivated by more fluid incentives. Greta to continue raising awareness about the climate emergency, Svante to support and protect his daughter, Riley and Elayna to support the climate movement, experience an adventure and capture it on videos. Lenny had no choice.

As for myself? I wrote down my thoughts at the time: “It was one of those moments in life that takes you by surprise. Where you have to look inside your heart to think what is right.

“To get to know the person behind the shell, the voice that the world is listening to, is such an opportunity. To have the chance to help her on her journey is remarkable. The greatest opportunity is spiritual: I will get to know someone who will inspire me.”

Heading west to east across the North Atlantic in November on a sailboat is not a recommended place to be. Even the pharmacist in Virginia commented on it while he was helping me find ear ointment that was suitable for a baby. “Conditions this year aren’t great, you know. You make sure you check the weather now…”

He had the right idea. In the winter, statistically there is a high risk of severe depressions or tropical storms. These strong fronts can pack quite a punch in wind speeds and sea state.

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Conflicting aims
  • 3. Greta at sea

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Climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaks upon her arrival at Santo Amaro port in Lisbon, Portugal December 3, 2019. P...

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Greta Thunberg says sailing voyage ‘energized’ her climate fight

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Portugal on Tuesday after a three-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, telling cheering supporters that the journey had “energized” her for the fight against climate change.

The Swedish teen, whose one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament helped inspired a global youth movement, sailed into the port of Lisbon after making a last-minute dash back from the United States to attend this year’s U.N. climate conference.

Thunberg has been steadfast in her refusal to fly because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by planes, a stance that put her planned appearance at the meeting in doubt when the venue was moved from Chile to Spain a month ago.

“We’ve all been on quite an adventure,” Thunberg told reporters shortly after stepping off the catamaran La Vagabonde, on which she’d hitched a ride back home to Europe. “It feels good to be back.”

Thunberg’s appearances at past climate meetings have won her plaudits from some leaders — and criticism from others who’ve taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.

“I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids,” Thunberg said. “If they want us to stop being angry, then maybe they should stop making us angry.”

The 16-year-old said she planned to spend several days in the Portuguese capital before heading to Madrid, where delegates from nearly 200 countries are discussing how to tackle global warming.

“We will continue the fight there to make sure that within those walls the voices of the people are being heard,” she said.

The white 48-foot (15-meter) yacht carrying Thunberg, her father Svante, an Australian family and professional sailor Nikki Henderson sailed into Lisbon amid blue skies, with a small flotilla of boats escorting it to harbor.

Her trip contrasted with the many air miles flown by most of the U.N. meeting’s 25,000 attendees.

Thunberg wanted a low-carbon form of transport to get to the climate meeting, which was switched at short notice to Spain from Chile due to unrest there.

The yacht leaves little or no carbon footprint when its sails are up, using solar panels and hydro-generators for electricity.

“I am not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so,” said Thunberg. “I’m doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier.”

Chile’s Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt, saluted Thunberg’s role speaking out about the threat of climate change.

“She has been a leader that has been able to move and open hearts for many young people and many people all over the world,” Schmidt told The Associated Press at the summit in Madrid.

MORE: Climate activist Greta Thunberg on the power of a movement

“We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action,” she said.

Near to the conference, some 20 activists cut off traffic in central Madrid and staged a brief theatrical performance to protest climate change.

Members of the international group called Extinction Rebellion held up a banner in Russian that read: “Climate Crisis. To speak the truth. To take action immediately.”

Some activists jumped into a nearby fountain while others threw them life jackets. They chanted: “What Do We Want? Climate Justice.”

Others dressed in red robes with their faces whitened to symbolize the human species’ peril danced briefly before police moved in to end the protest.

Meanwhile, the U.N. weather agency released a new report showing that the current decade is likely to set a new 10-year temperature record, providing mounting evidence that the world is getting ever hotter.

Preliminary temperature measurements show the years from 2015 to 2019 and from 2010 to 2019 “are, respectively, almost certain to be the warmest five-year period and decade on record,” the World Meteorological Organization said.

“Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last,” the agency said.

While full-year figures aren’t released until next March, 2019 is also expected to be the second or third warmest year since measurements began, with 2016 still holding the all-time temperature record, it said.

This year was hotter than average in most parts of the world, including the Arctic. “In contrast a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average,” the U.N. said.

The World Meteorological Organization’s annual report, which brings together data from numerous national weather agencies and research organizations, also highlighted the impacts of climate change including declining sea ice and rising sea levels, which reached their highest level this year since high-precision measurements began in 1993.

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Climate campaigner Greta prepares to sail to the U.S. on boat with no toilet

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"Fridays for Future" climate activist Thunberg at Hambach Forest near Cologne

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Greta Thunberg

'No sea sickness so far': Greta Thunberg update on Atlantic crossing

Climate activist is four days into a two-week journey on solar-powered yacht

Four days into its two-week Atlantic crossing, the zero-carbon yacht carrying climate activist Greta Thunberg is becalmed in the ocean after a choppy start to the trip, still 2,500 nautical miles from New York.

In an update posted to Twitter around midday on Saturday, the 16-year-old said she was eating and sleeping well and had no sea sickness so far.

Day 4. Pos 46° 20‘ N 015° 46‘ W Eating and sleeping well and no sea sickness so far. Life on Malizia II is like camping on a roller coaster! — Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 17, 2019

Boris Herrmann, the experienced captain who is skippering the Maliza II, which is carrying a crew of four including Thunberg’s father, Svante, tweeted: “When you have no wind and you’re drifting around... Ahh the contrast to yesterday ... gives some time to slow the boat to have a wash and play some games ... which Greta keeps winning!”

On Friday the boat, which is a high-speed planing monohull built for the 2016-17 single-handed, non-stop round-the-world Vendée Globe race, had “experienced uncomfortable conditions and everyone is feeling a bit seasick but nothing too bad or unexpected”, Herrmann tweeted on Friday.

August is not the ideal time to cross the ocean as it is in the middle of the Atlantic’s hurricane season. The team’s progress is being tracked on a website .

Greta Thunberg begins zero-carbon Atlantic voyage – video

Thunberg is hoping to cross to the US in time to appear at two crucial global gatherings: the Climate Action Summit in New York on 21-23 September and the UN climate conference in Santiago in early December.

She refused to travel by plane to the US because of the environmental impact of flying. Earlier in the year Thunberg undertook a tour of European countries by train .

While mainly powered by wind, the yacht draws its electricity for lighting and communication from solar panels and underwater turbines – aiming by these means for zero-carbon status. There are no bathroom facilities on board so the crew must make do with blue plastic buckets.

Herrmann said the journey would show how it was possible to cope without fossil fuels. He said: “This can be positive and exciting. Solidarity with Greta is not limited to eco-activists.”

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How Do Solar-Powered Boats Work? 7 Innovative Vessels That Run on Solar

Solar boats can serve ordinary functions for more sustainable transportation.

David Kuchta, Ph.D. has 10 years of experience in gardening and has read widely in environmental history and the energy transition. An environmental activist since the 1970s, he is also a historian, author, gardener, and educator. 

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

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When Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic in 2019 to address the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, she sailed aboard the Malizia II , a racing yacht powered by hydro, solar, and sail. The Malizia II raised the international profile of powering boats with renewable, carbon-free energy.

Installing solar panels on the Malizia II and other boats is a challenge. The panels and electronic equipment can be exposed to corrosive saltwater, strong winds, and extreme weather conditions. The panels must conform to the shape of the vessel, but cannot interfere with the work of the crew. Fortunately, these are challenges that many boat owners have overcome. In a growing industry, flexible solar panels capable of being installed on a boat can cost as low as $200 . Solar power isn't just for high-end racing yachts.

One of the virtues of a solar-powered boat is its infinite range when paired with lithium-ion batteries on board, which can store the energy produced by the solar panels. Like a sailboat, a solar-powered boat never needs to make refueling stops.

Spurred on by competitions like the Solar Splash (which calls itself “the World Championship of Collegiate Solar Boating”), the Solar Boat Regatta , the Dutch Solar Challenge , and Solar Sport One , engineers and innovators in sustainable transportation have turned solar-powered boats from a novelty item on the sea to vessels that can serve many functions.

The Malizia II

Mark Lloyd/Alea / Getty Images

The Malizia II is a 60-foot (18-meter) monohull boat weighing 8 tonnes. It was launched in Monaco in 2015. While it has participated in a number of races and regattas, it is best known for transporting Greta Thunberg to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. But it was built for racing—capable of speeds of up to 25 knots, it is one of the fastest boats of its class.

The Solliner

The Solliner is a line of small catamarans meant for day boating, from Green Dream Boats . At 21 feet (6.2 m), it can accommodate up to 10 people in a U-shaped seating area. They are fitted with four solar panels that allow for navigation without the need for an outside energy source. They can sail at up to 12 km/hr. Solliner boats have been seen around the world, such as the one pictured here in Poland. In the United States, they are sold by Infinity Solar Boats.

Samarjitbharat / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Aditya is India's largest solar boat and the world's first solar-powered ferry. Carrying approximately 1,700 passengers per day , it is 30 times cheaper to run than the diesel ferry it replaced. In 2020, it won the Gustave Trouve Award for Excellence in Electric Boats and Boating, an international award. The Indian state of Kerala, which commissioned the Aditya , plans on replacing the entirety of its diesel fleet with solar ferries. The Aditya is a 20-meter-long catamaran ferry boat made from glass-reinforced plastic with photovoltaic panels on its roof. It seats 75 passengers at a time.

The Interceptor

The Interceptor sounds like a racing boat, but it is a 24-meter (78 ft) solar-powered barge whose role is to intercept 50 tons of trash a day from Malaysia's rivers—most of it plastic that would otherwise reach the sea. The Malaysian Interceptor is one of a series of Interceptors created by The Ocean Cleanup , the largest effort to remove plastic waste from the oceans, 80% of which stems from 1,000 of the world's rivers. Other Interceptors are (or will be) stationed in Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam.

MS Tûranor PlanetSolar

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

A 31-meter catamaran, the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar is the world's largest solar boat and the first to sail around the world. On its round-the-world voyage, it sailed at an average speed of 5 knots—not racing yacht speed, to be sure, but to be expected from a 6-meter-wide scientific research vessel weighing 89,000 kg (nearly 100 tons), 8.5 tons of which are lithium-ion batteries stored in the ship's two hulls. It was launched in 2010.

The 537 square meters of solar panels are sturdy enough to be walked on, and provide electricity stored in 6 blocks of lithium-ion batteries, allowing the Tûranor PlanetSolar to travel over 60,000 km (37,282 m) in 584 days without fuel stops.

The Ecowave

The Ecowave ( Ecowolna ) is Russia's first solar-powered catamaran. In 2018 it conducted a scientific expedition to explore the potential for solar-powered trams for the Neva, Oka, and Volga rivers. Launched from St. Petersburg, the Ecowave expedition covered more than 5,000 km (3,106 m) over 90 days, traveling the Black and Caspian Seas as well as major rivers of Russia. The catamaran is 11.6 metres long.

The solar panels cover an area of ​​solar panels is 57 square meters (613 sq ft) and are capable of producing 9 kW of power. Lithium-ion batteries allow the vessel to sail for 20 hours without recharging.

While apparently no longer plying the waters of the Lot river in France, the Kevin was a solar-powered hotel boat that offered river cruises focused on sustainable river tourism. Calling his converted barge “ the first solar boat-hotel of the world ,” owner Dominique Renouf launched Kevin in 2011. The vessel was 97 feet (29.50 m) long, equipped with a solar water heater, and able to accommodate 14 overnight passengers in 6 cabins.

4FR / Getty Images

Solar-powered boats can be as humble as tour boats on Turkey's Lake Eğirdir or on Lake Altaussee in the Austrian Alps. Like ferries, tour boats are ideal candidates for solar power, as their regular routes allow for batteries to be sized with enough electricity to power voyages of days when the sun isn't shining.

Solar boats have barely entered the mainstream boating market, but the technology is within the financial reach of most boat owners, as the cost of solar panels has dropped precipitously over the past decade. Any boat with a large-enough surface exposed to the sun can attach solar panels to it, and with a little wiring and (optionally) battery storage, infinite sailing is an increasingly affordable possibility.

" Largest Solar-Powered Boat Completes Around the World Voyage ." Guinness Book of World Records , 2012.

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It’s Greta’s World

But it’s still burning. the extraordinary rise of a 16-year-old, and her hail mary climate movement..

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When Greta Thunberg stepped onboard the Malizia II — a 60-foot racing yacht owned by the royal family of Monaco — it had been less than a year since she first walked out of school as an unknown, awkward, nearly friendless 15-year-old making a lonely protest outside the Swedish Parliament against her country’s absolute indifference to the climate crisis, which she saw in uncannily black-and-white terms. She painted her now-iconic sign in those colors, which she carried across the Atlantic on the two-week carbon-free journey she documented periodically on social media . Black capital letters on white: SKOLSTREJK FÖR KLIMATET (or “School Strike for Climate”).

By the time she stepped off the yacht in New York on August 28, two weeks after she’d set sail from Plymouth, England, wobbly legged from the weeks at sea as she walked to address a crowd of many hundreds, she had become something even more unusual than an adolescent protester or even a generational icon. She was the Joan of Arc of climate change, commanding a global army of teenage activists numbering in the millions and waging a rhetorical war against her elders through the unapologetic use of generational shame.

The comparison might seem hyperbolic and may come to look even more strained than that, depending on what the future brings for Greta and for climate action. But for the moment, there is simply no other appropriate analogy from political history to draw on in describing just how much she has achieved at such a young age and in so little time. (Even Malala Yousafzai, now a student at Oxford, was celebrated more in newsmagazines and on conference stages than in the streets.) In a way that is perhaps possible only in the social-media age, Greta has become almost a synecdoche for the global climate movement: its mascot, its theorist, its revolutionary, and a representative “victim” of generational malice. A well-off white girl, she has even been called out by fellow activists for embodying the movement’s blind spots and shortcomings — though she has been conscientious, in ascending the world stage, to praise the work of all the other teens striking from school now each Friday.

Within four months of beginning her strike, Greta had spoken at the U.N.’s climate-change conference in Katowice, Poland, excoriating the crowd for its nihilistic self-interest:

You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.

The language was hot, relatively speaking, but Greta has Asperger’s, and her delivery was cool, flat, almost blank in its affect — somehow flatter even when performed aloud before an audience than when read on the page.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

A month later, at the World Economic Forum’s orgy of plutocratic comity at Davos, where she traveled by train and slept in a small tent in the Swiss winter, she used even more direct language :

Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful; I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.

In March, an estimated 1.4 million schoolchildren did just that, following Greta’s lead, walking out of classrooms and marching in cities and towns around the world : 300,000 students in Germany, 200,000 in Italy, 150,000 in Quebec. There were strikes in Delhi, Seoul, and Cape Town; London and San Francisco and Washington, D.C.; Melbourne and Brussels, Lisbon and Taipei, and Quezon City in the Philippines, and Kenya and Namibia and Ghana; Edinburgh and Dublin and Sydney and Prague; Paris and Reykjavík and Tokyo. Greta stayed home, leading the strike in Stockholm. She had only just turned 16.

But the strikes themselves are only part of what Greta has achieved. In February, the president of the European Commission committed to spending fully a quarter of the E.U. budget on climate mitigation over seven years, following a meeting with her. And shortly after she visited the British Parliament, its Conservative majority voted to declare a climate emergency, then promised it would zero out on its carbon emissions by 2050 (and this amid the long, consuming drama of Brexit).

These were just pledges and may soon prove illusory, like every other pledge that has ever been made to fight climate change. But all are far more ambitious than would have seemed even conceivable a year ago. After all, when Greta began her school strike, late in August 2018, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had not yet released its “doomsday” SR15 report , which would arrive that October festooned with alarm bells and produce a sea change in public concern; the British protest movement Extinction Rebellion had not yet launched, which it would in November, blockading five bridges across the Thames and effectively stopping traffic in parts of London; hardly any American had heard of the Sunrise movement, which would make itself known when it occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office in November and later forced two single-issue climate town halls onto the Democratic primary calendar; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had not yet been elected to Congress or introduced the crusade toward a Green New Deal . It has been a dizzying year for climate mobilization, in other words, and improbably but inarguably, Greta Thunberg has become its face.

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

The announcement of  the boat trip itself occasioned a huge flurry of media attention on both sides of the Atlantic. In the photos she shared on Twitter and Instagram along the way, Greta looked not entirely comfortable at sea. In New York, where she disembarked from the boat at Brookfield Place’s glitzy North Cove Marina, she took the stage wearing blister-revealing Crocs and a two-piece, water-resistant matte-black sailing outfit, printed on the back like an athletic jersey with her name (GRETA), as though anyone onboard or off would need help identifying her. On the front, a nameplate read G. THUNBERG, as it would on a military uniform. The crowd that welcomed her was made up of television and print media, activists pumping in the air signs like THERE IS NO PLANET B, and proud parents and teenage climate strikers she’d inspired, singing in rounds, to the tune of “Frère Jacques,” “Welcome, Greta, welcome, Greta / To New York.”

Greta hung back nervously as she was introduced by two local climate strikers: Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old who moved to New York from California last fall for a single school year while her mother pursued a master’s degree at Columbia and quickly started striking weekly in front of the U.N., inspired by Greta’s December call to action, and Xiye Bastida-Patrick, a 17-year-old from Mexico who moved to the U.S. because of her parents’ work on climate change and whose phone bore the sticker GRETA HAS A POSSE. Onstage, both towered over Greta, each more charismatic and typically adolescent in their affect than the headliner — a little more demonstrative, burning with considerably more performative righteousness as they addressed the crowd. “All of this is very overwhelming,” Greta said when she finally took the microphone. Losing her train of thought, she apologized: “My brain isn’t working correctly.”

Greta has delivered 12 speeches in her short but very public life, now packaged together in a Penguin paperback called  No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference .  But they have all been relatively quick, her interviews often briefer, and while she is regularly enveloped by supporters during climate strikes, she seems generally uncomfortable in crowds. “Greta’s in the middle there, looking miserable,” a reporter whispered to me, a few days later, when she joined Villaseñor’s weekly climate strike at the U.N.

Her natural medium — as it is for many celebrities roughly of her generation — is the controlled stage of social media. There, she has called her atypicality a “superpower” and has been quite open and unguarded about the details: As a young child, she says, she was diagnosed not only with Asperger’s but obsessive-compulsive disorder and what’s called “selective mutism.” Beginning at age 11, seized by a deep depression about the fate of the world, she stopped talking and eating. That has led, she says, to the stunted growth that today gives her the appearance of a preteen, a wise-beyond-her-years golden child.

This atypicality has not proved, as you might have expected, a challenge in her public life. In fact, the plot points of Greta’s rise could have been lifted from Joseph Campbell: an Everygirl turned reluctant crusader, a dark night of the soul, a forbidding and intrepid journey from the imperial periphery to the very center of global power. The saga was irresistible. And as was the case for the Parkland students who originally inspired her strike with their protests against gun violence in the U.S., Greta serves as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for members of an older generation, the one she so pointedly and repeatedly calls out, who seem desperate to believe in a next-generation savior — and who seemed gratified to be flagellated a little bit for their selfishness and shortsightedness.

Along the way, Greta’s childlike clarity has been her best and most unique asset — fortifying her moral standing and underlining the standing of her generation as a whole. She has been alive for fully a third of all the carbon emissions ever produced in the entire history of humanity, yet she is only now truly coming into political consciousness, just as the window for avoiding catastrophic warming is, the scientists tell her, almost closed. Perhaps for this reason, too, she does not appear to be grandstanding, even when she is.

That she delivers her message with such direct, uninflected matter-of-factness is another aspect of her disarming rhetorical power. Unlike alarmist activist groups like Extinction Rebellion, she cannot be accused of hyperbolic license in her presentation of the state of the science — they say the U.N. understates the crisis; she takes its reports at face value. Unlike policy-makers like Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Bernie Sanders, and those working on Green New Deal legislation , she cannot be faulted for pushing “too fast,” however necessary change may be, because she is not advocating any particular policy at all, merely describing the problem as scientists do and showcasing the failure of leaders to do much, yet, about it — a failure anyone with eyes can plainly see. And unlike climate celebrities like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, she cannot be attacked as a hypocrite, because she is already living an exemplary low-carbon life — abjuring plane travel, going vegan, denouncing consumerism.

Greta’s visit to New York was occasioned by two essentially simultaneous but in other ways counterpoised events. There is the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit, beginning September 23, where many nations are expected to unveil new emissions-reductions commitments more ambitious than the ones they have all, to this point, failed to meet, and the Global Climate Strike, on September 20 and September 27, the first of its kind to invite adults to join the ranks of schoolchildren and walk out of work. There will be strikes in at least 500 places in the U.S. thanks to the organizing efforts of other teenage leaders, from Villaseñor and Bastida-Patrick to 13-year-old Haven Coleman and 17-year-old Jamie Margolin, among others. (“Many activists stand in the shadow, not being focused on, highlighted, being appreciated for what they’re doing,” Greta told me.) And there will be thousands more strikes elsewhere in the world. Which means Greta will have flanked with disruptive politics the whole project of addressing climate change through the existing, elite-governed order — though of course she will be a star attraction at the U.N. events that week too.

At the pier in Battery Park City, teenagers waiting for Greta to arrive burst now and again into call-and-response chants: “Show me what democracy looks like,” followed by “This is what democracy looks like.” But a strike, of course, is what you do when conventional politics has failed. The summit, like all U.N. activity on climate change, is aimed at stabilizing the planet’s temperature safely below two degrees of warming. At that level, a recently leaked U.N. report suggested, climate change would increase damages from storms and sea-level rise a hundred times over, displacing at least 280 million people. Already, the planet’s landmasses, which warm faster than its oceans, have surpassed 1.5 degrees. A report published in September found large parts of the ocean too had already hit that threshold of warming.

The stated goal is to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Practically speaking, by the time her yacht carried Greta into New York, that ship had already sailed. Nevertheless, she arrived buoyed by a kind of unpersuadable relentlessness of purpose, one that could almost look like optimism, it so contrasts with the reflexive resignation of so many older than she.

greta thunberg solar powered yacht

“I have not seen anything that’s worthy of the word plan, ” Bill Gates told me in early August when I asked him whether he saw any path forward on climate that would allow us to stay below two degrees of warming.

“It’d be great if we could stop at two degrees,” Gates said. “Unless there are huge surprises on scientific advances, I just don’t see it happening.” As for the U.N.’s stated goal of 1.5 degrees? “We’re not in that universe, period,” he said. “Unfortunately, the general literature, because it’s done by scientists, understates these things by quite a bit,” he went on. “I think of India as paradigmatic because it’s big enough to count and it’s poor enough. They deserve to have air-conditioning. They’re getting very high wet-bulb temperatures. Jesus Christ, by 2070 there could be just a massive number of people dropping dead in the streets.”

Gates is, famously, a techno-optimist. In recent years, the Gates Foundation has focused more on climate change, and he is, as an investor, behind a lot of the most ambitious work being done on next-generation nuclear power (critical to making new plants affordable), battery storage (critical to making intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar truly scalable), and carbon-capture technology (critical if we hope to take enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to bring carbon concentration back under catastrophic levels). But on innovation he cites more pessimistic thinkers. “The greatest expert on energy is Vaclav Smil,” Gates said, echoing praise he has offered elsewhere for the iconoclastic Canadian academic and author of Energy and Civilization . “Whenever you spend time with Vaclav, he’s like, ‘Oh yeah? You’re going to do what in 20 years?’ ”

I called Smil. His new book, Growth , closes with the line “The long-term survival of our civilization cannot be assured without setting … limits on a planetary scale.” When I put the question of two degrees to him, he literally laughed: “To make that happen, you are talking about billions and billions of tons of everything. We are mining now more than 7 billion tons of coal. So you want to lower the coal consumption by half, you have to cut down close to 4 billion tons of coal. You have to get rid of more than 2 billion tons of oil. These are transformations on a billion-ton scale globally. They cannot be done by next Monday.”

Naomi Klein, the leftist and climate activist, was more hopeful but still called the goal of staying below two degrees “a moon shot.” When I asked Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the lead policy author of the Green New Deal, whether it was possible to decarbonize on the U.N. timeline, she said, “This is going to sound very dark, and I should preface it by saying ‘I am a depressive,’ but a lot of life is pain. And one of the best things you can hope for is that, in life, you have the privilege to pick what kind of pain you want.”

In dozens of conversations like these in the months leading up to the U.N. summit, not a single climate leader expressed great confidence to me that we would manage to avoid two degrees of warming. That may seem like a rebuke to the clarity of purpose embedded in Greta’s goals — and indeed to the whole U.N.-supported climate apparatus targeting, as she does, a safe landing at 1.5 degrees. And it does probably signal the arrival of a new era for climate politics, the post-two-degree phase, when we may stop so single-mindedly chasing quixotic temperature goals and debating how many angels have to dance on the head of a pin to get there.

Instead, we can begin designing ways to limit warming beyond that level and designing ways to live best amid those conditions, which once seemed unimaginable. As nearly all of my interlocutors pointed out, by any rigorous logic, the faster arrival of catastrophic impacts argues not for fatalism but for more ambition in response , deployed more quickly and more widely, especially to protect those already suffering. Gunn-Wright told me she hardly ever thinks about the technical question of whether the U.N. timeline is plausible, so focused is she on the work of preventing more warming and more pain at any temperature level. As Klein put it, “I don’t see this as either we do it all or we should all just give up and drink ourselves to death. I think it all matters because every quarter-degree is hundreds of millions of lives, if not more.” Then she added, “The rockier the future is, the more important it is that we become a decent society. Which we’re not right now.”

Here is why everyone is so pessimistic: Emissions are at an all-time high, not moving too slowly in the right direction but still moving in the wrong direction, last year reaching a new peak partly because of increased energy demand arising from growing air-conditioning use for relief on all the additional punishingly hot days; staying safely below two degrees, the U.N. says, requires halving emissions globally over the next decade; those modeled pathways also require such rapid deployment of technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere that by the end of the decade, we’d have to have built from scratch a carbon-capture industry at least twice and perhaps four times as large as today’s oil and gas businesses, which took more than a century to develop; and they also require expanding nuclear power probably by at least 150 percent, perhaps by as much as 500 percent, by just 2050. There are other paths to climate stability than the ones drawn by the IPCC, of course, but those that feature less nuclear and less carbon capture require decarbonization to come even more quickly — perhaps, one IPCC scenario suggests, by adjusting our policy priorities away from economic growth. Even the slower, more manageable path to two degrees requires, the U.N. says, a global World War II–scale mobilization. Secretary-General António Guterres, who met Greta last December, says it needs to begin this year.

2019 has been, yes, a remarkable one for climate, with all those protests and town halls, rising poll numbers for concern about climate change (ten points in a single year in the U.S.), and wind and solar power expanding around the globe (now cheaper, in many parts of it, than dirty energy). But even a climate optimist would tell you this progress isn’t enough, not nearly. The rosy view is: With exploding political energy and skyrocketing policy pledges and astonishing progress with renewables, everything is moving in the right direction but time. The bleaker perspective is: We haven’t even begun to dent the centuries-long trajectory of global emissions growth, and, in the form of Category 5 hurricanes stalling for days over low-lying islands and record heat waves broiling Europe three times in a single summer, the impacts are already unprecedented and beginning to overwhelm us.

The politics show it, growing only more jagged. It has been just three years now since the historic signing of the Paris climate accords, which formalized the two-degree goal, and here is what has happened in the meantime: Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, pledging to boost coal, kill wind power, and roll back environmental regulations so aggressively that the industry groups he was theoretically appealing to have objected; Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, promising to deforest the Amazon at such a rate that scientists of his own country estimated the impact would be, over the course of a decade, equal to adding a second China and a second U.S. to the global carbon footprint, if only for a year; and Xi Jinping appointed himself president for life of China, a booming autocracy that has, just this year, proposed new coal plants to single-handedly push us past the Paris goals.

What this means is that while Greta can look like a refreshing vision of a green future, in other ways her protest embodies the climate politics of the era now ending, when the forces of denial and delay so shaped the boundaries of political discourse that simply advocating for action and demanding we respect the science could sound, at first, like a radical gesture and perhaps sufficient. Greta knows it isn’t, not anymore, which is why she has pointedly said that what she wants now is “a concrete plan, not just nice words.”

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For those resistant to that concrete action, Greta represents a difficult target — a teenager, after all, her hands clean. For most of the past year, the right wing stayed quiet about her aside from a few early attempts to dismiss her by saying she and her fellow strikers should just have stayed in school.

But beginning with the announcement that she would be traveling to the U.N. by boat — which they read as a kind of trolling, a gesture of liberal superiority — a phalanx of critics appeared and moved so much in unison you’d be forgiven for seeing it as a coordinated attack. “Is Greta a green prophet or a schoolgirl puppet controlled by more sinister forces behind her?” asked the British  Sun,  a Rupert Murdoch paper. “No teenager is more freakishly influential than Thunberg, the deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement,” the Australian columnist Andrew Bolt wrote in the Melbourne  Herald Sun,  another Murdoch paper. “I have never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru.”

“The arrival of Greta Thunberg in New York on Wednesday was one of many recent events that illustrate how rapidly modern environmentalism is degenerating into a millenarian cult,” Niall Ferguson wrote in the  Sunday Times  of London, another Murdoch paper. And in the New York  Times,  the conservative centrist Christopher Caldwell called her rhetoric a threat to democracy.

“This is not a ‘woman of the year’ but at best a teenager with autistic prehistory who is burned by her ‘advisers’ and by willing MSM as a new icon for the ‘climate church,’ ” wrote one far-right member of the German Parliament in the run-up to the European elections. The Swedish populist Jimmie Åkesson described her as the creation of her parents and a PR agency, echoing a puppet narrative that has become so firm on the European right that a full-length book has already been published about the family, The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg .

I should say a second full-length book, because Greta’s parents wrote their own account of their daughter’s troubled childhood and climate awakening,  Scenes From the Heart ,  first published in 2018, when Greta’s mother — a successful opera singer who was once Sweden’s competitor in the Eurovision Song Contest — was still the most famous member of the family. This year, they brought out a new edition, with 90 new pages of material and Greta’s name now on the cover too. When it is published in English next year, it will be under a revised title:  Our House Is On Fire .

The book is more of a parenting memoir than a hagiography of a child. In it, many elements of the Greta conspiracy theory are confirmed, but only as perhaps the most normal features of her otherwise nearly incomprehensible adolescence: She is a child of relative privilege who early on raised the matter of climate change to her singer mother and her sometime actor father, himself the son of a quite famous actor.* He was one of the four to accompany Greta on the Malizia II, for instance, and when she camped out at Davos, and he helped nurse her through her black years, a friend of the family told me, “one gnocchi at a time.” In other words, Greta has been helped, and perhaps even stage-parented, in her journey, as teenagers often are even on much less dramatic missions.

When she arrived in New York, Greta was asked what she thought she would miss about the boat now that she was back on land. Her second answer was about the beauty of the ocean; her first was about the solitude it brought. A few days later, on Twitter, she wrote, “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” She added the hashtag #aspiepower and a photo of herself, smiling, aboard the Malizia II in New York Harbor.

“I’m not public about my diagnosis to ‘hide’ behind it,” she continued, “but because I know many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative. And believe me, my diagnosis has limited me before.”

In a third tweet, she went on : “Before I started school striking I had no energy, no friends and I didn’t speak to anyone. I just sat alone at home, with an eating disorder. All of that is gone now, since I have found a meaning, in a world that sometimes seems shallow and meaningless to so many people.”

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I met Greta late on a Friday morning in early September near the U.N. at the Ford Foundation — a spectacular mid-century monolith with a towering atrium so wet with plant life that the corridors all the way up on the tenth floor smelled like the reptile house at a metropolitan zoo.

When Greta arrived, she was carrying her sign from the strikes and looking tired, even a little sad, wearing gray sweatpants printed with stars and a short-sleeved, medium-blue T-shirt she’d later layer with a sweatshirt of the same color and then a classic yellow raincoat. She wore her hair in a long, single braid and, in a couple of nervous moments, switched it from hanging over one shoulder to the other. Occasionally, between conversational breaks, she returned to the side of the room to collect her sign, held it for a moment, then set it down again.

I started by making an obvious point, that she could surely not have imagined what was to happen for her when she first began striking. “Yeah, I know,” she said, looking down and seeming very much like a teenager. “I think I was — and am — still in shock about how fast it has been changing. Of course, the situation has not become better, but it feels like people are standing up and understand more the problem.” Back then, she said, “I just thought I will try something new because nothing else seemed to be working in the way that is required.”

“But where it’s led is incredible,” I said. “I mean, hundreds of thousands of people all around the world — ”

“Millions,” she interrupted.

“How did that happen ?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It was some kind of invisible tipping point that no one really could predict.”

She seemed genuinely surprised, still. She was sitting in the very seat of imperial American influence, after a few weeks of travel documented (and criticized) in the biggest newspapers and on the most widely watched news channels, outside the U.N., where in just a few weeks she would speak before the General Assembly, the world’s most powerful body, about what she saw as a global existential crisis, a girl from Sweden who had been simply unable to square what she understood about the state of climate science with how little she saw being done in response and simply said so. “I mean, you can’t really deny the science anymore,” she said. “So the dissonance builds up, the difference between what people say and what people do, what politicians say and what they do, and how the media frames the situation versus how the science frames the situation. I think people are just, in a way, as I was in the beginning. Like, very …” Here, she paused and made a face, almost as if she were pantomiming a T. rex, to suggest how frustrated she was to not be able to find the word in English, her second language. “How do you … It’s an easy word, I can’t …” Disappointed in herself, she settled on an unsatisfying alternative: “Surprised, or something like that.”

I asked whether she thought the public as a whole saw the crisis more clearly than they did a year or two ago.

“Yes, I definitely think we in general see things more clearly now. That has had several reasons. Both because people seem more worried about — I mean, floods and heat waves and weather events during the last year. Just many small things adding up to each other. The SR15 report and several U.N. reports and” — she gave a small laugh at the bland repetitiveness of the language — “ other reports. ”

“If you let yourself be optimistic,” I said, “what are you hoping unfolds?”

“If I’m optimistic, I can just see what has happened during the last year — during the last month — and I could never dream that something like this would happen. I think no one could have predicted it, either. And I think: There is the hope. ”

Instead I asked what more change would look like. “If we imagine a world in which the powerful are really focused on addressing this at the scale that is necessary, what kind of power structure would we be looking at?”

“I mean, that is not for me to say,” she said, “because I am just an uneducated teenager. I can’t really speak up about things like this; no one would take me seriously. So I try not to speak about politics and that kind of … structure. I just think that we need to listen to the scientists and the experts so they can say how best to run the situation. I mean, I don’t know how things are going to look like in even the near future. I don’t know how the situation is going to look like in even a week from now because things can change. So I think—that is both the scary part but also the hopeful, exciting part, because things can change so quickly.”

I changed the topic to the logistics of the next few weeks. I knew she would be heading to D.C. the following weekend to meet with lawmakers, as she had in London and Brussels and Stockholm, before returning to New York for the climate strike. Afterward, it would be on to South America with a possible showdown in Brazil with Bolsonaro along the way to Chile and the Santiago Climate Change Conference.

“My ideal is that during the next month the awareness grows and the information spreads so that people in general become aware of these things. Because I think that once people are aware they will come together and put pressure on people in power.”

“So ignorance is the main obstacle?” I asked.

“That has been my experience, that people don’t know about these feedback loops or tipping points or carbon-dioxide budgets. I mean, in general, if you walk out on the street and ask a person, ‘What is a climate feedback loop?,’ they wouldn’t know how to answer that. So I think that is one of the keys — to spread awareness. And to treat the climate crisis as the crisis it is, because as it is now, we are just treating it like any other political issue, and that of course minimizes it to a very small subject. We must see it for what it is.”

“And you think if people see it that way, that will lead inevitably to some change in our policy?”

“That is what I hope ,” she said cautiously. “Because I don’t think people are evil. I just think we are unaware. And that it is due to these surroundings, these circumstances around us, that make us continue like there’s no tomorrow and not care about anything.”

“But you’ve spoken in the past about the selfishness of the world’s powerful, the world’s wealthy, people like us who live in the West, relatively well off,” I said. “Do you think that is just ignorance? That once people really understand the story we’ll become less selfish?”

“That is what I think and hope,” she said.

“Is there hope we can stay below 1.5 degrees?” I asked.

She paused to collect her thoughts and answer carefully. “I have spoken to many scientists who have told me about the aspects not included — what things the IPCC are not supposed to write about. But I try to stay away from personal opinions. Current best available science says it is still possible within the laws of physics to do it but not as it is now — not if we continue like we are doing now.”

I told her it must be so strange to be at the center of conversations like that.

“It’s too much,” she said quietly. “In the beginning, it was like, when someone recognized me on the street, I was like, Someone recognized me on the street? ” She smiled, then shook her head. “But now … it’s nice, of course, when people appreciate what you are doing. But I think it’s a focus on me, as Greta”—and here, as she pronounced her own name, I heard for the first time her native speaking voice, the emphasis on the second syllable — “not as one among many.”

This was not just a matter of fairness, she said. “I don’t like being in the center. I don’t like being heard. I don’t like to be always in the spotlight. I’d rather be in the back and not say anything.” She paused. “But I can’t really complain, because I’ve put myself in this situation and so much is at stake.”

I wondered aloud if she would still be doing the same kind of work in five years.

“I think that I will be doing … something, ” she said. “I won’t be as interesting in people’s eyes, of course, as I am now. That will fade away eventually. But I will still try to do everything I can from where I am.”

*This article was updated to better reflect the dynamics of the Thunberg family in discussing climate change.

*This article appears in the September 16, 2019, issue of  New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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