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Her protests on Fridays demanding action on climate change have inspired children to demonstrate in some 100 cities. Her admonitions to grown-ups to “tell it like it is” have won her an invitation to speak at the United Nations — and detractors who have called her naïve.
Now, after sailing across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, has disembarked in Lower Manhattan ahead of her speech next month at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
After a 15-day sail that was obsessively tracked by European news media, cheered by fellow climate activists, mocked by critics and rocked by rough waves off Nova Scotia, Greta and the boat’s crew went through customs on Wednesday morning while anchored off Coney Island, Brooklyn.
Just before 3 p.m. in Manhattan, a shout went up from those waiting in the intermittent light rain to greet her at the North Cove Marina, most of them young activists. The boat’s black sails had come into sight just blocks from Wall Street, the heart of the global financial system whose investments in fossil fuels are one of the main targets of climate protesters.
“Sea levels are rising, and so are we!” they chanted.
As the vessel glided past the marina, there were more chants, and one anxious cry: “She’s going to Jersey!” But the yacht, trailed by a fleet of small boats, wheeled around. Soon Greta, with a slight smile, disembarked unsteadily, perhaps unsure of her land legs.
Amid a flurry of questions, Greta was asked to comment on President Trump in his hometown. “My message to him is just to listen to the science, and he obviously doesn’t do that,” she said.
Greta began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in 2018. With her signature double braids and stern demeanor, she inspired a movement called Fridays for Future, in which thousands of children have walked out of school in locally and sometimes globally coordinated strikes.
She does not fly because of airplanes’ high emissions of gases. To reach New York for the United Nations speech, on Sept. 23, she was offered a ride on the Malizia II, a racing yacht that uses solar panels and underwater generator turbines to avoid producing carbon emissions, according to a statement from Greta’s team.
The yacht was skippered by a German sailor, Boris Herrmann, and Pierre Casiraghi, a son of Princess Caroline of Monaco. It collects data that allow scientists to study rates of ocean acidification, a byproduct of carbon emissions.
Greta has her detractors. She was criticized after single-use plastic water bottles were seen on the yacht. Some have labeled her call to “pull the emergency brake” on emissions simplistic or even undemocratic. Others question whether encouraging teenagers and even younger children to skip school to protest is the right approach.
She has responded by arguing that the world is in a climate emergency and requires emergency action.
A shy, small girl who self-identifies as having Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological difference on the autism spectrum, Greta was thrust into the role of a global leader after years of struggling with crippling depression. One of her first victories was persuading her mother, a well-known opera singer in Sweden, to stop flying.
“We cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis,” she said in a 2018 speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
Many of the students at North Cove Marina on Wednesday said they were planning to attend a “climate strike” on Sept. 20. Some, like Olivia Wohlgemuth, said they regularly skip school to participate in the Fridays for Future movement.
“There’s nothing in the curriculum to explain the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to act,” said Olivia, a 16-year-old senior at Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School who learned of Greta about a year ago. “We’re saying, ‘Why study for the future we’re not going to have?’”
Greta’s arrival in New York comes just weeks after the state passed the country’s most aggressive climate law, which seeks to reshape the region’s economy over the next 30 years, cutting net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 and requiring the state to get 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
When asked what she would miss about the voyage, Greta said — much as some harried adults feel about a long trip — the best part was “to just sit, literally sit, staring at the ocean for hours not doing anything.”
“To be in this wilderness, the ocean, and to see the beauty of it,” she added. “That I’m going to miss. Peace and quiet.” She paused for a moment.
“We love you Greta!” someone shouted.