“Our House is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
These words didn’t come from a seasoned philosopher or politician. They came from Greta Thunberg, a teenage environmentalist, speaking to a crowd of seasoned politicians and business people at the World Economic Forum.
It is one short year since Greta Thunberg began her school strike for climate, in which she sat outside the Swedish Parliament with the sign ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’. Alone, she went every day for three weeks, then every Friday going forward, demanding greater climate action from the Swedish government.
That lone protest sparked a global youth movement. Hundreds of thousands of children across the world have joined school strikes demanding greater action on climate change. The impacts of these actions cannot be overstated; in the UK, the School Strikes led to the first Parliamentary debate about climate change in two years.
Greta’s reputation and actions have only grown since then. Whether attending COP24, the World Economic Forum, or giving TEDx talks she is speaking truth to the powerful. Not satisfied with speeches and conferences she has now published a book with Penguin and collaborated on a song with British band The 1975.
One might expect someone with such a large number of international projects to fly across the world multiple times. But even here Greta demonstrates her climate convictions, travelling across Europe by train, most notably to Davos whilst other delegates arrived in private jets.
But this year's climate summits are in New York and Chile, an ocean away. Even though the easy thing to do would be to hop on a jet, Greta is travelling across the Atlantic on a high-speed racing yacht. In her own words, “I think this will be a trip to remember.”
Racing yachts are built for speed, not comfort. Aboard Malizia II there is no toilet, no cooking equipment, and no shower. The bunks are small fold-down platforms with straps to wedge you in against the hull in case of particularly rough seas.
But despite the cramped conditions and inevitable seasickness, Greta has a determination to live her climate principles. A flight from Stockholm to New York produces more than two tonnes of carbon dioxide that is now avoided. Even the electricity generated on the boat is carbon-free, created from solar panels and water turbines attached to the yacht. “By stopping flying, you don’t only reduce your own carbon footprint,” she says. “You also send a signal to other people that the climate crisis is real.”
It’s not a journey that many of us might have time or incentive to take, but Greta is making the link between individual action and demands for greater government action. Flight-free living is not only possible, it is necessary to rapidly reduce emissions. And when those in power attempt to dismiss climate activists like Greta Thunberg as hypocrites, they inevitably fail. They must listen to those who truly understand and act in our planet’s interests.
Greta puts it best herself in her track with The 1975. “We need system change, but we need individual change. You cannot have one without the other.”
Low impact boat travel might not become the norm for ocean crossings any time soon. But in the meantime, we can all ‘be more Greta’, reducing our individual footprints as far as possible whilst going forward every day fighting for climate action. She has quickly become an inspiration to tear up the rule book, protest, and act to save our planet.
In choosing not to fly, to live appreciating our crisis and its solutions, we can become an example to others. As Greta shows, the power is in our hands and the planet cannot wait. ‘The rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today.’