Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg left North America on a return trip across the Atlantic on Wednesday, hitching a renewable-energy ride with an Australian family aboard their 48-foot (15-meter) catamaran.
Thunberg tweeted that they set sail from Virginia after the family answered her urgent appeal for a ride back to Europe, where she hopes to arrive in time for the United Nations climate meeting that was moved to Madrid in early December. They left shortly before 8 a.m. She encouraged followers to track their journey online.
Their boat, named La Vagabonde, leaves little to no carbon footprint, using solar panels and hydro-generators for power. It also has a toilet, unlike the boat on which she sailed from the United Kingdom to New York in August. That one had only a bucket.
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"There are countless people around the world who don't have access to a toilet," she said about the upgrade. "It's not that important. But it's nice to have."
Thunberg spoke with The Associated Press Tuesday inside the tight confines of the boat’s cabin as it was docked in Hampton, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
The boat’s owners are Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, an Australian couple who travel the world with their 11-month-old baby, Lenny. The family, which has a large online following, responded to Thunberg's call on social media for a carbon-free ride to Europe. An expert sailor, Nikki Henderson, also is coming along.
The trip could take two to four weeks, in conditions that could be challenging. November is considered offseason for sailing across the Atlantic. As Thunberg spoke Tuesday, the temperature had dipped into the 30s, with sleet turning to light snow.
But the 16-year-old, who refuses to fly because of the carbon price of plane travel, didn't seem bothered.
"I'm looking forward to it, just to be able to get away and recap everything and to just be disconnected," she said.
Thunberg’s nearly three-month trip through North America included her impassioned speech before the United Nations. She joined in climate strike rallies and protests from California to Colorado to North Carolina.
Thunberg has become a symbol of a growing movement of young climate activists after leading weekly school strikes in Sweden that inspired similar actions in about 100 cities worldwide.
She's also drawn criticism from conservative commentators in the U.S. as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin. But she brushed off the criticism Tuesday, saying that yes, she IS too young to be doing this.
"It should be the adults who take that responsibility," Thunberg said. "But it feels like the adults and the people in power today are not."
When she looks back on her time in the U.S. and Canada, Thunberg said, the things that stick out the most include a glacier in Canada's Jasper National Park that is destined to disappear "no matter what we do."
A visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where there have been protests over a pipeline, also left an impact.
"I was actually quite surprised to see how bad the indigenous people have been treated," she said. "They are the ones who are being impacted often the most and first by the climate and ecological crisis. And they are also the ones who are at the front line trying to fight it."
She also was surprised at how much she was recognized.
"There are always people who come up to me and ask for selfies and so on," she said. "So, that really gives you an idea of how big the climate movement has reached."