The air at North Cove Marina, a small slip amid the towering high rises of Lower Manhattan, felt pregnant. With rain. With hope. With anticipation.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist trying to turn the world back from the climate crisis brink, had spent the night docked off Coney Island after 330 hours at sea. On Wednesday afternoon in the U.S., the solar-powered yacht that had ushered her across from England to American shores entered New York Harbour, zig-zagging up the western flank of the island. Onlookers gathered, waiting for Thunberg to take her first wobbly steps on American shores since becoming a climate icon.
It felt like the second coming of the Beatles in some way, but with higher stakes. Thunberg has been nominated for a Nobel Prize, burned politicians and the wealthy to their faces for putting profit over planet in ways most of us can only dream of, and galvanised a wave of youth climate activism.
The power of that wave was visible with a large contingent of young adults (and a good number of voting-age adults, too) greeting her on the shore. A hush washed over the crowd as Thunberg’s racing boat appeared, giving an almost church-like vibe to the proceedings.
As the boat drew closer, the gather took on more of a raucous playoff game. Many onlookers broke out into song and waved their hellos as the Malizia II neared the dock like a scene out of Victorian times. And during a brief press conference with Thunberg in full racing yacht gear, when she lost her thread while addressing the gathering, someone in the audience screamed, “We love you, Greta,” as the crowd broke out into cheers.
Even with a microphone, Thunberg’s voice still had to battle against the cacophony of fossil fuel-powered boats prowling New York Harbour. In some ways, it was the perfect metaphor for what a growing cadre of youth activists is up against. The inescapable grind of capitalism, founded on fossil fuel-based growth, has pushed us to the brink. Now, youth activists are pushing back.
Fridays for Future, Thunberg’s group, as well as a number of other youth activist groups, are organising a climate strike on September 20. Adult organisations are also getting into the mix, helping plan a global strike on September 28.
Sandwiched between that, world leaders will meet at the United Nations for a one-day climate summit in the run-up to a major climate conference in Chile known as COP 25 later this year. Thunberg’s message to those leaders in clear: “COP 25 must be a breaking point” she said at a press conference.
Others feel the same way. Gizmodo chatted with kids and adults about their climate hopes and what Thunberg’s arrival signals to them.
Shiv, college sophomore
“Something that’s really common among young people is a lot of time we just aren’t given that platform. Now, Greta and millions of other kids are showing that we don’t need it handed to us. We can fight for the platform that we deserve, and that our voices need to be heard.
“On the 20th, we have three main demands as part of our coalition, which is no more fossil fuels, a just transition for frontline communities and for everybody in general, as well as holding fossil fuel executives accountable.
“I think a really big contribution she [Thunberg] had is really making young people realise that we do have power, that we have the ability to change the conversation. There are hundreds of kids here, and we’re all fighting, we’re all changing the conversation as a team, and we’re all honoured to have Greta fighting alongside us.”
Chloe, Ozkar and Marco
Chloe: “I wanted to come because I’ve been following it on Facebook for maybe a year or so. I think it’s really inspiring that she’s taking the reins of the climate issue and drawn attention to it.”
Ozkar: “Mum. Mum. I think I can… her boat!”
Rachel, NYC Light Brigade
“She’s really a remarkable young person. She’s inheriting this crazy future that we’re leaving to her. And so supporting her is really important.
“Most of the young people in New York City — and this is a really small bubble so it’s hard to say — but most of the young people in New York City that I encounter are furious. People are really reluctant to make deep, effecting change, but we’re getting there, we’re talking about it, things like this are happening. Maybe it’s a moment. I’ll cross my fingers.”
“I personally have kids myself, and I would want a better planet for my kids to live in. And I think what she is doing is bringing about change. Change not only that I can benefit from, but that my kids to being a benefit for me, too. So I am all for it. I hope the government, as well as everybody else, catches on.”
Tatiana and Ana, on vacation from Spain
Tatiana: “My daughter is 14 years old, and she sees that a person can change the world and do amazing things. To me, it is very important for my daughter to see this.”
Ana: “We need to make changes because this is our only home, and we need to take care of it. She’s amazing.”
Cathy, Violette and Balthazar
Violette: “I’m a really big fan of her and I want to try to meet her. She is trying to get everyone on board to fix the climate crisis.”
Balzathar: “I’m here to welcome her more for my sister because she really likes her, [but] I hope that she raises more awareness.”
Cathy: “We’re so inspired by Greta and what she’s doing and what a strong voice she has. She’s basically put into words what we all need to hold onto: Our planet is being destroyed actively, and we’re not really paying attention to that. Really, it’s my 10-year-old daughter who came to be inspired by her. Violette actually became vegetarian last year because of what Greta was talking about she wanted to do something that was really active.
“It’s mind-boggling to think of how far we still have to go, so it’s great to be here with all these people welcoming her.”