Abigail BanerjiAug 29, 2019 11:37:11 IST
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate change activist and arguably, the most prominent voice in climate action today, has just completed a gruelling trans-Atlantic journey from Plymouth, England to New York, USA. After two weeks of sailing, she and her father Svante Thunberg arrived in New York on Wednesday. Thunberg isn't in the Big Apple to enjoy the cheesecake but to attend the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and the COP25 in Chile.
The Swedish teen caught the attention of news media when she started protesting the inaction of her country's government on climate change a year ago. She stepped out on a Friday, 20 August 2018, with a handmade sign "Skolstrejk för Klimatet" (School Strike for the Climate), standing outside the Swedish Parliament demanding urgent action to protect the futures of school-going kids everywhere. A vegan and an advocate of a carbon-neutral lifestyle, Thunberg vowed to never fly in an airplane owing to its large carbon footprint.
Greta Thunberg's online presence is substantial and has spread far and wide since her solo protest in August 2018. Her physical presence, though, has been limited to areas she can travel to by public transport (road or rail). Her insistence on using only carbon-neutral public transport has influenced fellow Swedes to popularise the term "Flygskam" which translates to "shame of flying." This trend has gained momentum on social media, with many people far and wide opting out of flying considering its footprint.
Flygskam — I won’t fly
Thunberg hoped to attend the UN Climate Change Summit, to which was extended an invitation this year, but had turned it down because flying or travelling on a cruise ship was the only foreseeable option. She did not want to go down that road, though.
In a video interview with The Associated Press during a Fridays for Future protest (an organisation she started that encourages students to skip school on Fridays to protest climate change), she said, "sailing will be the best option."
Thunberg admits that taking a boat to North America is difficult — almost impossible. She spent several months finding an alternative, an "optimal" option. While a lot of people reached out to help, nothing seemed quite right.
Along came Malizia II. According to AFP, Thunberg was offered a ride to the US aboard the Malizia II racing sailboat by its owner, German property developer Gerhard Senft. Senft came upon Thunberg's trans-Atlantic problem online and offered help. So did the founder of the Malizia, Pierre Casiraghi.
The journey begins
Thunberg was no short of company on the trip — accompanied by her father, Swedish author Svante Thunberg, Swedish documentary filmmaker Nathan Grossman who filmed their journey, the boat's captain and navigator Boris Herrmann and Team Malizia II founder Casiraghi.
Thunberg and her crew started the long traverse across the Atlantic on 14 August and was expected to reach New York by 28 August. They had a distance of 3,000 nautical miles (~5550 kilometres) to cover from the UK to New York in two weeks. Despite it being hurricane season in the Atlantic, it was smooth sailing all the way (no pun intended), except for a spot of foul weather in the last leg of their journey.
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 14, 2019
The entire duration of her journey has been documented online for her followers to see with daily updates and images on her social feed.
The Malizia is a racing sailboat that's been used in multiple different races all over the world. It even emerged victorious in a few of them. The 60-foot-long sailboat uses the wind to propel it forward. While the boat does have a combustion engine on board, it won't be used in the duration of the journey. It was officially sealed-off for use in emergencies.
The engine is otherwise also used to dock and leave the port. However, in keeping with the carbon-neutral spirit of the journey, that wasn't done either. When the yacht reached the port, they would have electric boats that would accompany them and help them in docking.
Malizia II has a website, which claims the boat could reach speeds of up to 16 knots (~30 kmph). A tweet from Thunberg, however, suggested they had crossed that limit, reaching 25-30 knots on Day 12 of the journey. For electricity, the boat is fitted with hydro-generators and solar panels. These are permanent fittings in Malizia II, attached to the hull of the boat. Between the two, the boat is supplied with more than enough energy to power the motor and all the other equipment on board, the website states.
The sails of the boat are covered with the slogans "Unite behind the science", "A race we must win" and "Climate Action now."
Changes made to the boat
In light of Thunberg's voyage to sail to NY, there weren't any major changes made to Malizia II, according to the team’s official website.
The main aim of the trip was to travel to another continent in a carbon-neutral manner. The boat, crafted to race, is designed keeping speed at the heart of its slender, skeleton outline.
The yacht has four beds and mattresses that were added to make it better suited for someone unaccustomed to life on the sea. Both skippers, Herrmann and Casiraghi, have been alternating and sharing a bed between them for the journey. Thunberg, her father and the filmmaker have been assigned a bed each. For whatever use curtains would be out at sea, those, too, provided some privacy when it came time for sleep.
The food onboard is nothing to write home about — along the lines of astronaut-food while at the space station. Being vegan, Thunberg feels strongly against the carbon-intensive meat habit. The food was "freeze-dried and vacuum-packed".
For all its beauty and engineering, Malizia II has no bathroom, toilet or running water. Talking to CNN, Thunberg said, "We all have to do it in a bucket and that is fine". She has said that the journey won’t be easy but "that I can live with."
After her visit to New York, Thunberg intends to travel to the annual UN climate conference in December, which will be held in Chile this year. She also plans to stop in Canada, Mexico and other countries along the way, travelling by train and bus while there. However, Thunberg has said that she does not know how she is going to go back home. The boat will be going back to Europe after dropping Thunberg and her father in New York. Their filmmaker companion, Nathan Grossman, will also be accompanying Thunberg during her trip.
A spokesperson for Herrmann, the boat's captain, said that team Malizia will be flying two of their crewmembers to the US to return the yacht to Europe. This carbon-intensive step was necessary since the journey was a last-minute plan, and Malizia only had one boat to spare for it. Herrmann, too, will be flying back in a few days' time.
The manager of team Malizia II, Holly Cova, shared an oddly specific bunch of words about Thunberg's "journey" being "carbon neutral" in a statement.
Flights that the crew will take will be offset and she also acknowledged that they do not have a perfect solution to sail across the ocean without leaving a carbon footprint. At least not as yet.
In a tie-up with Max-Planck Institute—Germany, Malizia II has taken on the 'The Malizia Ocean Challenge'.
The team has equipment on board to study the ocean and help study the acidification of oceans around the world. The study looks at the impact of climate change, while also measuring carbon dioxide levels in the ocean. The boat has an onboard laboratory to facilitate this.
During her voyage, Thunberg, too, got to be a part of this experience.