Swedish Teen Bringing Climate Activism to US

29 July, 2019

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg says she will take her message to America the old-fashioned way: by boat.

The Swedish 16-year-old wrote on Twitter Monday that she and a crew will sail across the Atlantic Ocean next month. She plans to be in New York City in September for a United Nations climate meeting. Later in the year, she will travel to Chile for the UN's yearly climate conference.

Thunberg will sail on a high-tech boat that produces no carbon waste. It will leave from Britain in the middle of August.

Young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg reacts after giving a speech during a special meeting of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Eastern France, Apr. 16, 2019.
Young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg reacts after giving a speech during a special meeting of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Eastern France, Apr. 16, 2019.

Thunberg spoke with The Associated Press before she announced her plans. She said she spent months researching how to travel to the United States without using a plane. Thunberg mostly avoids flying because planes release high amounts of greenhouse gases.

But, large passenger ships are also major polluters. And sailors rarely cross the Atlantic in August because of the risk of powerful ocean storms.

"I have had countless people helping me, trying to contact different boats," Thunberg said.

The young activist has had a busy year. Since last August, she has appeared before policymakers at the 2018 UN climate conference in Poland, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and addressed business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

She is withdrawing from school for a year. She says she will use the time to continue to increase public understanding of climate change. She also plans to continue pressuring world leaders to increase efforts to fight global warming.

"This past year, my life has turned upside down," Thunberg told the Associated Press. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself and say ‘Is this really real? Has this actually been happening?' Because it has all happened so fast, and it's hard to keep up with everything."

Thunberg has become a leader for a young generation of activists. Martin Kaiser, the director of Greenpeace Germany, said Thunberg's message is especially heard among children across Europe.

"She has read all the science," he said. "That gives her a lot of credibility. She has motivated a whole generation in Europe to learn about climate change."

Yet, Thunberg still is not well known in the United States. She says she is unsure how the United States will receive her message. There is substantial opposition in the U.S. to many measures scientists say are required to limit global warming.

"I will just try to go on as I have before," Thunberg said. "Just always refer to the science and we'll just see what happens."

Thunberg would not be opposed to meeting with President Donald Trump. But, she does not believe such a meeting will happen.

"As it looks now, I don't think so, because I have nothing to say to him," she told the AP. "He obviously doesn't listen to the science and the scientists. So why should I, a child with no proper education, be able to convince him?"

Trump wants the U.S. to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In New York, Thunberg will attend a U.N. climate meeting on September 23. She also plans to take part in several climate protests in the city.

After New York, Thunberg plans to travel to the yearly U.N. climate conference in December, held this year in Chile. She plans to stop in Canada, Mexico and other countries along the way, traveling by bus and train.

Thunberg is setting an example for activists and leaders who are attending the U.N. climate meetings. Most are likely to arrive by plane.

She said, "I'm not saying that people should stop flying. "I'm just saying it needs to be easier to be climate neutral."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

old-fashioned - adj. of or relating to the past

global warming - n. the recent increase in the world's temperature that is believed to be caused by the increase of certain gases (such as carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere

pinch oneself - idiom. used to express that you do not believe that a good thing is really happening

actually - adv .used to refer to what is true or real

credibility - n. the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest

motivated - adj. giving (someone) a reason for doing something

refer - v. to send (someone or something) to a particular person or place for treatment, help, advice, etc.

proper - adj. correct according to social or moral rules

convince - v. to cause (someone) to believe that something is true