Climate activist Thunberg boards catamaran back to Europe

Set for a climate conference in Madrid, Greta Thunberg embarked for Spain after an Australian family answered her call for a low-carbon way home.

Rob Ostermaier/The Virginian-Pilot/AP
Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to Europe for a climate conference aboard a carbon-neutral catamaran, departing from Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13, 2019. Ms. Thunberg recently arrived in the U.S. aboard another ship.

Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg hitched a renewable-energy ride back to Europe on Wednesday, sailing into the Atlantic on a trip she hopes will get her to Madrid in time for another climate conference, and then home for the holidays.

Ms. Thunberg tweeted as she took to the sea on the 48-foot catamaran of an Australian family that answered her urgent appeal for a low-carbon way back home after the United Nations climate meeting she had planned to attend in Chile was moved due to political unrest there. She encouraged followers to track their journey online.

Before departing, Ms. Thunberg reflected on her time in North America during an Associated Press interview in the cabin of the catamaran. Some people in power, she said, simply lack a sense of urgency when it comes to global warming.

“The situation in Canada and the U.S. is basically the same as to where I come from: It is the same arguments that are being used to delay action. It is the same methods that are being used to mislead people,” she said Tuesday as they prepared to leave Hampton, Virginia, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

After her work in Spain, Ms. Thunberg hopes she’ll make it home for Christmas and to be with her family and her dogs, Moses and Roxy, a golden retriever and a Labrador.

“Of course I miss my family and dogs, and especially to have one place to stay, to not travel all the time,” she said. “Just to have routines.”

The boat taking her across the Atlantic, named La Vagabonde, leaves little to no carbon footprint when its sails are in use, counting on solar panels and hydro-generators for electricity. It also has a toilet, unlike the boat on which she sailed from the United Kingdom to New York in August. That one had only 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."

Her hosts are Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, an Australian couple who travel the world with their 11-month-old baby, Lenny. The family, which has a large online following, responded to Ms. Thunberg's call on social media for a carbon-free ride to Europe. An expert sailor, Nikki Henderson, also is coming along.

The trip could take two to four weeks, in conditions that could be challenging. November is considered offseason for sailing across the Atlantic. As Ms. Thunberg spoke Tuesday, the temperature had dipped into the 30s, with sleet turning to 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.

Ms. Thunberg’s nearly three-month trip through North America included her impassioned speech before the United Nations. She joined in climate strike rallies and protests from California to Colorado to North Carolina.

Ms. Thunberg has 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 Tuesday, saying that yes, she IS too young to be doing this.

"It should be the adults who take that responsibility," Ms. 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, Ms. 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.

"There are always people who come up to me and ask for selfies and so on," she said. "So, that really gives you an idea of how big the climate movement has reached."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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