Peter du Toit

Dec 036 min read

I have been profoundly impacted by Greta Thunberg’s travel choice

I have been profoundly and deeply impacted by Greta Thunberg’s choice to sail from Europe to the US and back. It is a powerful message from a teenager to all of us.

Nikki Henderson has eloquently articulated the impact this has had on her, co-piloting the boat on this return journey. Her thoughts are profound.

If we trust the science, and there is absolutely no reason not to, (the debate about what is causing the climate crisis is long over see then we are needing to urgently make serious and profound sacrifices to the way we live in order to prevent a global catastrophe.

Although we need massive systemic change to the global economy and how we generate our energy, these changes can start with us individually and the choices we make everyday as she has shown.

Greta’s journey, the perils she faced and the sacrifices she has made has been incredibly inspirational.

If I believe the science, and I do, what is my excuse for not acting in harmony with this?

(I am quoting Nikki Henderson’s comments here in full in case the Facebook post disappears for some reason.)

“Reflections from the North Atlantic:

For what feels like the first time in the entire journey, we are pointing directly towards Lisbon. We have 100 NM left to run before we can officially announce ‘mission complete’. The mission being - to safely sail Greta to Europe in time for her to attend the COP25 climate conference in Madrid.

Riley and I have spoken many times this trip about the ‘mission’. About feeling like we are now part of something significant. Like this crossing had real purpose beyond the normal “go from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’” which of course, whilst so simple, is one of the true beauties of travelling by sea: purpose.

Reading back through my messages from - unbelievably - only 23 days ago, we were discussing whether I would be the best person to help him and Elayna with the trip. I wrote to him and advised he make whatever decision was best for their safety - for there was “something bigger at stake than any of us”. I ... we ... felt a pull to work together for this bigger ‘thing’. There were good reasons to choose someone else - for example, the fact that I had to fly was not ideal considering what the trip represented, even though I did buy carbon offsets. What ultimately brought us together was the pull of the adventure, yes, but also a deeper common interest - a shared purpose ...

We have had many conversations on-board about the climate emergency - about how bleak the situation is. There have been some heated discussions too - is it too late? Should we still hope? Can we feel positive? Is it constructive to be afraid? To name a few.

Every discussion for me has been informative, and interesting. I’ve learned in much greater depth about the issues at hand - and had some ideas about how to contribute to fixing them. This was one reason I agreed to be part of this and support the crew - so in my view a successful 3 weeks!

One of my favourite conversations was with Svante and Greta yesterday. We were considering how the sailing trip that we have just done - a voyage that Greta decided was necessary for her to take - is so symbolic. On departing the USA we sacrificed any control or strict agenda. We surrendered to the ocean and to Mother Nature. We relied on science - the weather forecast - to guide us. We supported science with our own instinct for survival. We gained a unique perspective of how small we are in this big world. We compromised many of at least a Westerner’s life luxuries - plenty of food, running water, fast internet access - to name a few. Despite this, we are arriving feeling richer and more fulfilled than we left.

Reflecting on what this trip was about - the bigger ‘mission’- this conversation feels extremely relevant.

Whilst it could be misinterpreted this way, this trip was not about telling people what to do, or how to live. It was not about Greta or any of us travelling in the most sustainable way possible. If it was, there were probably slightly better options - although none perfect. There may have been skippers who could have joined the boat in two days without flying. There may have been boats without a diesel engine as a back up for power. There may have been vessels that could monitor their carbon footprint more closely.

This trip was about the bigger mission. It was for us to enable Greta - one of our influencers - our role models - to travel in the way that she felt was most in line with the youth climate movement message: To highlight the need for big structural change to fight the climate emergency. To make the point that there isn’t a sustainable way to travel yet, and there needs to be.

‘Big structural changes’ - no one knows exactly what that will entail. But I think it’s so beautiful that just by choosing to sail across the Atlantic, we demonstrated that it is possible to adopt ‘big structural changes’ into our lives - even if just for three weeks. These changes surely correspond with some of the changes necessary to solve the climate crisis: trusting science, setting aside differences and working together, sacrificing some of life‘s indulgences, surrendering control, compromising, staying optimistic - finding a shared sense of purpose. By sailing across the Atlantic we have shown what it is possible to achieve if you work with nature, and not against her.

In making it to Lisbon by the power of the wind, we have in a small way, contributed to the youth climate movement. We had ‘walked the walk’ and ‘talked the talk’ so to speak. Perhaps that was our shared purpose after all … ?

It has been a privilege to have helped Riley and Elayna sail Greta and her father safely to Europe, and ultimately to her family and her home. Being part of this project is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It’s been an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the climate emergency; to make five new friends; and best of all, to enjoy and share the purity, the perspective, and the peace that sailing across an ocean provides.”

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