Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed into the New York City harbour on Wednesday in a zero-carbon emissions vessel, completing her 14-day journey to the United States from the United Kingdom to partake in a United Nations climate summit next month.
The 16-year-old Swedish activist, who set sail from Plymouth, England on August 14, attracted international attention last year when she started skipping school on Fridays to protest against political inaction on climate change and inspired youth around the world to do the same.
“Land!! The lights of Long Island and New York City ahead,” Thunberg tweeted early on Wednesday morning before daybreak, posting a picture of tiny dots of light on a dark horizon.
“We have anchored off Coney Island – clearing customs and immigration. We will come ashore at North Cove Marina earliest 14:45 tide allowing,” Thunberg tweeted later on Wednesday, after mooring near one of New York’s main beach areas in Brooklyn.
In addition to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York that begins later next month, Thunberg – who is taking the year off school – intends to join the COP 25 climate change conference in Santiago, Chile, in December.
Rather than travel in an aeroplane that burns fuel and contributes to atmospheric carbon pollution, Thunberg decided to make her transatlantic journey free of carbon emissions by sailing on the Malizia II, an 18-metre yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines that produce electricity on board.
The boat has no shower or toilets, and those aboard – including crew members – ate freeze-dried food throughout the trip.
“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 said before her journey. “So I think it will be fun, and I also think it will be fun to be isolated and not be so limited.”
It's not very luxurious, it's not very fancy but I don't need that.
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 the racing craft.
Herrmann described life on board as a mixture of camping and sailing, with a thin mattress and sleeping bag as the only comforts.
“It’s a very simple life and then the rest of the day depends on the wind,” Herrmann said. “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 [that] can be really hard.”
Casiraghi and Herrmann’s Team Malizia was founded to sail the biggest ocean races. 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 on-board sensor that measures CO2 levels in seawater to gauge how atmospheric carbon is changing the oceans.
Thunberg has met with the pope, spoken at Davos and attended anti-coal protests in Germany as part of her campaign to spur young people to take action to abate the climate crisis.
“By this journey I hope to increase awareness among people, to spread information and communicate the science about 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. This leads to rising sea levels and shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, though scientists hope that – by curbing emissions – catastrophic consequences can be avoided.
Thunberg was accompanied on her voyage by her actor father, Svante, and filmmaker Nathan Grossman of B-Reel Films, who was documenting the journey.
The young Swede’s voyage sparked controversy, however, after a spokesman for Herrmann, the yacht’s co-skipper, told a Berlin newspaper that several people would fly into New York to help take the yacht back to Europe.
Hermann himself planned to return by plane, according to the spokesman.
Team Malizia’s manager said that the activist’s trip would be climate neutral, as the flights would “be offset”.
But Thunberg has said that she does not yet know how she will return to Europe.