Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg will leave North America and begin her return trip across the Atlantic on Wednesday aboard a 48-foot (15-meter) catamaran sailboat whose passengers include an 11-month-old baby.
The boat leaves little to no carbon footprint, boasting solar panels and a hydro-generators for power. It also has a toilet, unlike the boat on which she sailed from the United Kingdom to New York in August. That one only had a bucket.
“There are countless people around the world who don’t have access to a toilet,” she said about the upgrade. “It’s not that important. But it’s nice to have.”
Thunberg spoke Tuesday inside the tight confines of the catamaran, named La Vagabonde, as it was docked in Hampton, Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay’s mouth. She’s hitching a ride to Spain in hopes of attending a United Nations climate meeting in Madrid in early December.
The owners of the boat are Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, an Australian couple who have an 11-month-old son named Lenny. The family, which has a large online following, responded to Thunberg’s call on social media for a carbon-free ride to Europe. An expert sailor, Nikki Henderson, is also coming along.
The trip could take two to four weeks, and November is considered offseason for sailing across the Atlantic. As Thunberg spoke Tuesday, the temperature had dipped into the 30s as sleet turned into light snow.
But the 16-year-old, who refuses to fly because of the carbon price of plane travel, didn’t seem bothered.
“I’m looking forward to it, just to be able to get away and recap everything and to just be disconnected,” she said.
Thunberg just finished a nearly three-month trip through North America, where she gave an impassioned speech before the United Nations and took part in climate strike rallies and protests from California to Colorado to North Carolina.
She’s become a symbol of a growing movement of young climate activists after leading weekly school strikes in Sweden that inspired similar actions in about 100 cities worldwide.
She’s also drawn criticism from conservative commentators in the U.S. as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin. But she brushed off the criticism during her round of back-to-back interviews in the catamaran on Tuesday, saying that yes, she is too young to be doing this.
“It should be the adults who take that responsibility,” Thunberg said. “But it feels like the adults and the people in power today are not.”
When she looks back on her time in the U.S. and Canada, Thunberg said the things that stick out the most include a glacier in Canada’s Jasper National Park that is destined to disappear “no matter what we do.”
A visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where there have been protests over a pipeline, also left an impact.
“I was actually quite surprised to see how bad the indigenous people have been treated,” she said. “They are the ones who are being impacted often the most and first by the climate and ecological crisis. And they are also the ones who are at the front line trying to fight it.”
She also was surprised at how much she was recognized.
2019 was the year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and an uptick in climate action pledges by governments across the globe.
From Britain to Germany, Europe’s mainstream party leaders scrambled to respond to a surge in electoral support for Green parties — and to growing public anxiety about the possible impact of climate change.
During European Parliament elections in June, 48 percent of voters identified climate change as their top worry. Opinion polls in Germany for some weeks of 2019 put the Greens ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s storied Christian Democratic Party, which, along with its junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, has been racing to sharpen climate policies.
In Britain, the ruling Conservatives announced a hugely ambitious carbon reduction plan, enshrining into law a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so. Some smaller countries, including Finland and Norway, are earmarking dates earlier than 2050 to become net-zero greenhouse gas producers, but so far have not made their goals legally binding.
In America, an alliance of 24 states and Puerto Rico promised to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate action, despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the international pact.
Shouldn’t all these plans and pledges be music to ears of climate action activists and scientists?
Apparently not. On the eve of Christmas, Thunberg tweeted: “I hear many say 2019 was the year when the public woke up to the climate crisis. This is a misconception. A small but rapidly growing number of people have started to wake up to the climate crisis. This has only just begun. We’re still only scratching the surface.”
For Thunberg, her guardians and loyalists, change can’t come fast enough, however wrenching and dislocating it might be. Governments aren’t doing enough and are failing to count their emissions accurately, they complain, and corporations are dragging their feet.
For activists, December’s Madrid climate change conference epitomized the foot-dragging and a failure to be truly aspirational in cutting emissions. For Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion activists in Britain and Australia, the key task for the Madrid gathering was to unveil ambitious new goals — and fossil-fuel-dependent countries, notably Brazil and Australia, flunked it, they say.
Rich vs. poor
The rift between wealthy, developed nations and poorer, developing nations over who is going to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions also remained as wide as ever. And governments in Madrid stalled on agreeing on new regulations for carbon markets and the trading of carbon permits between countries for the offsetting of emissions, one of the most critical and contentious issues at the climate change conference.
“In Madrid, the key polluting countries responsible for 80 percent of the world’s climate-wrecking emissions stood mute, while smaller countries announced they’ll work to drive down harmful emissions in the coming year,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S.-based climate action advocacy group. “World leaders dithered instead of taking stronger, critical action soon to reduce the global climate threat. They ignored dire scientific reports, worsening evidence of climate destruction and demands from millions of young people to protect their future.”
For others, though, the Madrid conference symbolized how politically complicated it will be to deliver climate action — a complexity activists ignore and glide over, some analysts warn. The venue for the conference itself spoke to that. The meeting was scheduled to be held in Chile, but it had to be switched to Spain because of riots in the Latin American country over a “Green” hike in transit fares.
And it wasn’t only in Chile that protesters were taking to the streets to complain about expensive Green policies that could make living standards plunge. In France, the Yellow Vests, drawn mainly from small towns, persisted with their demonstrations against the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, an agitation triggered initially by the imposition of higher eco-taxes on fuel.
The year 2019 also saw strong resistance in Germany from motorists, as a well as automakers, to planned higher fuel prices and an abrupt shift to electric cars — yet another front in a political backlash to climate action.
For governments, even environmentally friendly ones, climate change poses a massive political dilemma, and 2019 brought that home. Impose the tax hikes and costly regulations scientists say are needed to lower emissions and move economies away from dependency on fossil fuels, and governments risk prompting a backlash, largely from lower-income workers and pensioners, who can ill afford to bear the expense.
The alternative is to move slowly and risk blowback from climate action activists and their supporters among largely middle class and higher-income groups able to adapt with less hardship. Squaring the circle between those who demand fast-track climate-friendly measures and those who want to slow down and mitigate the impact of moving toward a low-carbon future isn’t going to be easy, say analysts.
In Europe, Central European governments sense the acute political danger to them and have been resisting a European Union plan to join Britain in earmarking 2050 as the year the bloc has to be “net zero.”
Poland has been especially vociferous in opposition. The country is heavily dependent on coal for its energy needs and more than a quarter-million Polish jobs are tied to the fossil fuel industry. Without coal, many towns in Poland will have no economic raison d’être. “You can’t expect Poland to leap to zero carbon in 30 years,” according to Marchin Nowak, a coal industry executive.
While smaller developing countries fret that they will bear too much of the burden of climate action compared with richer nations, so, too, do those who already feel left behind in developed countries, fearing the costs and benefits of climate action will be unfairly placed on their shoulders. 2019 saw the opening salvos in this new political war over environmentalism. (VOA)