Greta Thunberg is stuck on the wrong continent after the year’s most important UN climate-change summit got moved from Chile to Spain
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- Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist, has emerged as the face of a global youth movement demanding action to curb climate change.
- Thunberg refuses to fly in airplanes because of their carbon footprint, so she used a zero-emissions sailboat to cross the Atlantic to attend climate summits in New York City in September.
- Thunberg planned to stay in the Americas to attend the United Nations COP25 climate summit in Santiago, Chile in December, but the event was just moved to Madrid, Spain.
- On Friday, Thunberg tweeted asking for help crossing the Atlantic: “It turns out I’ve traveled half around the world, the wrong way,” she said. “If anyone could help me find transport I would be so grateful.”
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The world’s most famous youth climate activist doesn’t fly.
Because of air travel’s large carbon footprint, Greta Thunberg relies on trains and boats for transportation instead. But that’s put the Swedish 16-year-old in a bit of a bind.
Thunberg traveled from the UK to New York City on the Malizia II, a sailboat that runs on solar power (and wind, of course), in order to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Her plan was to stay in the Americas until the UN COP25 climate summit in early December.
But on Friday, that event got moved to Madrid, Spain, because the Chilean capital is the throes of riots and protests.
Now, Thunberg is looking for a low-emissions way to travel back across the Atlantic Ocean before COP25 commences on December 2.
“It turns out I’ve traveled half around the world, the wrong way,” she tweeted on Friday, adding, “if anyone could help me find transport I would be so grateful.”
Could Thunberg travel home the same way she came?
To reach the US, Thunberg sailed with the crew of the Malizia II, a zero-emissions sailboat. Her father and a documentary filmmaker were onboard, too. The boat’s captain, Boris Herrmann, and fellow sailor Pierre Casiraghi volunteered to help them cross the Atlantic at no cost.
Only a handful of zero-emissions vessels like the Malizia II exist, Casiraghi told the New York Times.
The 3,000-mile journey from Plymouth, England to New York took 13 days, after which the crew of the Malizia II returned to Europe. Thunberg never planned to sail back on the Malizia II; her travel arrangements back to Sweden had always been up in the air.
Even if Herrmann and Casiraghi did want to ferry Thunberg back across the Atlantic on the Malizia II, that might not be possible: The ship its captain are currently in the mid-Atlantic, racing in the 114th Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic sailboat race from Brazil to France.
To make matters more complicated, Thunberg is currently in Los Angeles, so it would take her at least three days to get back to the Atlantic’s shores by train.
Air travel’s heavy carbon footprint
Thunberg’s refusal to fly reflects a growing global awareness about airplanes’ 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. Overall, 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.
Since arriving in North America, Thunberg has relied mostly on trains and buses to get to meetings and events.
She testified before the US Congress in September, chatted with Barack Obama, and gave a fiery, tearful speech to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.
Most recently, Thunberg has been traversing Canada, where she met with Canadian president Justin Trudeau and joined climate strikes in Montréal and Vancouver before returning to the US.
But since Chilean president Sebastian Pinera withdrew Santiago as the UN summit host, Thunberg no longer plans to travel farther south.
“I’m so sorry I’ll not be able to visit South and Central America this time, I was so looking forward to this. But this is of course not about me, my experiences or where I wish to travel. We’re in a climate and ecological emergency. I send my support to the people in Chile,” Thunberg tweeted on Friday.