It took 13 days and 18 hours for the Malizia II to complete the journey from Plymouth, England across the North Atlantic, past the Azores, to New York City. Along the way, the boat — a 60-foot, solar- and wind-powered monohull belonging to the Principality of Monaco — contended with six low-pressure systems, two tropical depressions and wind speeds that exceeded 30 knots. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, the boat angled up the Hudson River and sailed into the North Cove Marina a few blocks west of Wall Street, to deposit its cargo: 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“The ground is still shaking for me,” Thunberg said moments after she hopped on to dry land for the first time in two weeks. The trip — which Thunberg rated as “surprisingly good — I did not feel seasick once” — had been a long time coming. On Wednesday, she reflected on the larger journey that brought her to New York, where she will deliver a speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September.
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When Thunberg was 11 years old, she told supporters Wednesday, she fell into a depression. “The climate crisis was a huge cause of that because I just felt that everything is hopeless and there is nothing I can do,” the 16-year-old said. “I was desperate, in a way, to do something — anything — and this idea of school striking came up, and I thought I might as well try that and see if it works, and if it doesn’t I will try something else.”
It did work.
Thunberg’s weekly school strike outside the Swedish parliament, launched last August, sparked a worldwide movement and inspired children and teens around the world to join her effort to demand action on climate. Alexandria Villaseñor, who was at the marina Wednesday to welcome Thunberg to the U.S., was one of them.
Villaseñor reached out to Thunberg over social media last November to ask for advice before starting her own strike outside the United Nations. She remembers the Swedish teen’s reply: “My advice for future is to stay at it, week after week, month after month, then you will sooner or later start something big. So never stop.” Thunberg, Villaseñor says, added: “Hope to you join you some day if I can find a ship to America.”
Villaseñor was just one of the hundreds who turned out on Wednesday, lining the seawall and filling a nearby park to greet the ship. As the boat’s black sails bobbed slowly toward Manhattan, 77-year-old Nadine Godwin clutched a handmade sign that read “Welcome Greta — a Heroine for Our Times.”
“It really does give me a giggle to see teenagers upset the world of the old farts,” Godwin said. “And mind you, I am one of the older people, but I don’t wander around thinking the future is oil and gas — we need to get rid of it. I admire her very much so I just wanted to come out and be part of it.”
In her own youth, Godwin said she wasn’t particularly politically active, but the 2016 election changed that. Now retired, she spends her days drafting letters to legislators and comments to the EPA. “I share them with friends all over the country and invite them to use them if they want to. It’s just something that keeps me able to get out of bed in the morning.”
Stephie Beaudoin, 29, left her office in the middle of the day Wednesday and waited in the misty drizzle to catch a glimpse of Thunberg. Like Godwin, the election turned her into an activist. “You felt like we were moving forward with Paris and all this other stuff and then Trump was elected and like a lot of people I thought: ‘If I want this change then I need to take some personal responsibility for it.’ And that’s when I started showing up.”
But for Thunberg, the American president is an after thought. “It’s strange: everyone always asks me about Donald Trump,” she said. “My message for him is just: ‘Listen to the science,’ and he obviously doesn’t do that… If no one has been able to convince him about the climate crisis — the urgency — then why should I be able to do that?”
Instead of trying to change his mind, her attention is focused on the rest of the world, and she said Wednesday that she believes real change is coming, starting with the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, and continuing in November, when world leaders will gather in Chile for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “This has to be a tipping point and I think, I hope it will be, because it must. I, and many people with me, are going to try to do everything we can to make sure that world leaders have all eyes on them during these conferences so that they cannot continue to ignore this.”
In addition to Villaseñor, another teen climate activist, Xiye Bastida, was present to welcome Thunberg. In 2015, Bastida was forced out of her hometown, San Pedro Tultecpec, Mexico, by flooding. “I realized that the climate crisis follows you everywhere: from Sweden to Mexico to New York — the United States,” Bastida said Wednesday. “We have united behind the science and realize the climate crisis is affecting everyone, everywhere.”
Thunberg thanked them, everyone who made the trip possible, and climate activists everywhere: “This is a fight that is across borders, across continents. As you said: it’s insane that a 16 year old would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to make a stand.”
The trip, Thunberg insisted, was symbolic. “This is, of course, not something that I want everyone to do.” But, she added, she would miss the Malizia II and the hours of calm it afforded her the past two weeks. “The thing I’m going to miss the most is to be disconnected from everything and everyone, to not have contact with anyone, and to just not have anything you have to do and to just sit, literally for hours, staring at the ocean without doing anything, that was great and I’m going to miss that a lot. To be in this wilderness — the ocean — and see the beauty of it and that I’m also going to miss,” Thunberg said. “Peace and quiet. “
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