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Greta Thunberg’s Transatlantic Sailing Trip Is Seriously Carbon-Neutral

She’s inspired school kids globally to take Fridays off and strike for climate action. She’s spoken at UN climate summits. Now she’s sailing to America.

Greta is coming to America, and she’s not flying here. She’s coming by boat. Sailboat to be precise. Zero-emissions ‘R Greta.

She’s inspired school kids globally to take Fridays off and strike for climate action. She’s adding new Swedish portmanteau words to the hashtags of social media globally. Flygskam means shame of flying and it’s taken off in the past few months per Google Trends. Tagskryt, or bragging about taking the train, hasn’t taken off to the same extent, but it’s in use too.

And now the 16-year-old global climate leader is coming to address the UN and wander through the Americas in as carbon-neutral a way as possible with her father, taking a year of travel, discussion, and activism over another year of school.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Greta Thunberg, youth climate activist, at the R20 Austrian World Summit.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Greta Thunberg, youth climate activist, at the R20 Austrian World Summit. Image courtesy United Nations.

But the question being asked by the usual suspects is, How carbon-neutral is Greta’s trans-Atlantic trip?

Very carbon-neutral

The boat is obviously a sailboat, the 60-foot racing hull Malizia, so the vast majority of the propulsive power for the journey comes from renewable wind energy. Further, the boat has solar panels on the decks and underwater turbines used to generate all of the electricity on board. Pretty good so far.

The boat does have an emergency gas motor, but let’s look at what they are doing with it:

“Malizia carries an emergency combustion engine on board in accordance with the IMOCA Class Rule 2019 V.1.1, number C.6.1 (a): “A motor […] shall be permanently installed, permanently attached to the boat and not moved”. This is a safety measure prescribed by the International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA). During the normal season we use the engine only to a minimum extent, namely, to safely approach and leave the dock and marinas.

Now, for Greta’s transatlantic trip, the engine will not be used at all so as to be consistent with Greta’s as well as Team Malizia’s message of sustainability and environmental protection. In fact, the engine will be officially sealed before setting off for the crossing. Although the engine will stay turned off at all times, it will remain fully operational and ready to use in case of an emergency situation, in order to respect the IMOCA Class Rule. The safety of crew and boat is always of prime importance for us.”

Barring emergencies, in other words, the motor will not be used at all. If they end up becalmed, they end up becalmed until the wind picks up.

Further questions might be about whether they have support boats with internal combustion engines.

“We will not have any support vessels travelling with us or accompanying us at sea during the crossing.”

Even more questions might be asked about docking at either end of the journey. Will that use combustion engine tenders or tugs?

“At the start and finish, we will have Torqeedo RIBs powered by electric engines to assist us during docking manoeuvres as well as to tow Malizia out of and back into port.”

Nope, no fossil-fuel powered tugboats for Greta.

As they also point out, it would be pretty hard for a powered boat to keep up with them across the Atlantic as they expect to average 16 knots.

What about the carbon debt of the boat itself? It’s a 60-foot carbon fiber racing beast, after all. Well, let’s start with the reality that they bought the hull second hand. It wasn’t specially built as a throwaway for this purpose, but purchased used and retrofitted. That’s upcycling, so pretty responsible. But even then the team went the extra mile, buying a boat from a yacht maker with a strong focus on reducing its footprint.

“Both boatyards are well aware of the resulting and indisputable environmental impact during boat construction and therefore attach great importance on a sustainable building process: Moulds are built with recycled dry carbon fibre and reused for building the hulls and decks of several new boats – not just one, old carbon fibre material is turned into powder and reused in resins for further construction, all sorts of construction materials are recycled and reused on new boats, in addition to continually pursuing sustainable developments in the boat building domain, notably the use of natural fibres.”

But what about meals, you ask? Is Thunberg chowing down on beef burgers from the currently burning Amazon?

“Greta will be eating a variety of freeze-dried and vacuum-packed vegan meals on the boat, which can be prepared in all weather conditions with minimum effort and minimum use of energy.”

Yeah, no.

It’s all symbolic, of course. Thunberg could have flown and ensured more than sufficient trees were planted as offsets. And of course she could fly on private jets for the rest of life with the carbon credits she’s stacked up for her amazing advocacy and the global movement inspired by her.

But climate change deniers leap on every single opportunity to cast people trying to change the world for the better as hypocrites, as if offsetting convenience is in any way equivalent to their full-throated attempts to continue the destruction of the planet.

Greta is coming to North America. Let’s roll out the welcome mat.

Source: Frequently Asked Questions on the transat with Greta Thunberg – News | Boris Herrmann Racing –

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Written By

is a member of the Advisory Board of ELECTRON Aviation an electric aviation startup, Chief Strategist at TFIE Strategy and co-founder of distnc technologies. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future, and assisting executives, Boards and investors to pick wisely today. Whether it's refueling aviation, grid storage, vehicle-to-grid, or hydrogen demand, his work is based on fundamentals of physics, economics and human nature, and informed by the decarbonization requirements and innovations of multiple domains. His leadership positions in North America, Asia and Latin America enhanced his global point of view. He publishes regularly in multiple outlets on innovation, business, technology and policy. He is available for Board, strategy advisor and speaking engagements.


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Fascinating, but as an avid sailor, I have a hard time calling that a "sailboat".

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