She can see land! Cross the Atlantic Like Greta
Published 28 August 2019 by Rob La Frenais
While Greta Thunberg is attracting massive trolling for crossing the Atlantic on an IMOCA sailing boat to attend UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York, Makery has investigated options how to “Do It Like Greta”.
As I write, activist and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg is arriving in New York on board the solar-assisted racing yacht Malizia 2 (former Gitana 16, the Vendée Globe Challenge IMOCA class of Sébastien Josse who won the 2015 Saint-Barth-Port-la-Forêt transatlantic race), after owner Boris Hermann responded to her tweet asking her followers how she could get across the Atlantic to attend COP24 in Chile and other meetings in the Americas without getting on a plane. The Malizia 2 sailed smoothly and quickly across the Atlantic in an emissions-free voyage, with the slogan ‘Unite Behind The Science’ on the sail. According to her twitter feed, the boat is “one of the very few ships in the world allowing trips like this to be emission free. Malizia 2 also has an onboard lab to measure ocean surface CO2 and water temperature in cooperation with Max Planck institute.”
Welcome to New York, @gretathunberg!
The determination and perseverance shown during your journey should embolden all of us taking part in next month's #ClimateAction Summit.
We must deliver on the demands of people around the world and address the global climate crisis. pic.twitter.com/dGUZr9fFQM
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 28, 2019
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 28, 2019
According to Hermann’s website:
“ Malizia is equipped with a state-of-the-art 1,3kW solar system and additionally with two hydro-generators, which are permanently installed on the stern of the boat…With these two independently working systems, we generate more electricity than we actually need on board. Both energy sources allow us to run all the systems and electronics on board continuously – navigation instruments, autopilots, watermakers as well as our SubCtech ocean laboratory.”
Day 12. We are getting closer to the North American mainland. Rough conditions, but downwind sailing. pic.twitter.com/n9huwHUSGI
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 25, 2019
Thunberg is already attracting massive trolling, suspected to be funded by fossil-fuel companies and countries such as Russia who want to increase, not decrease oil exploitation, but a new low was set when far-right demagogue and shady funder of the Brexit campaign Arron Banks tweeted about the teenager: “Freak yachting accidents do happen in August.” Thankfully they did not and Thunberg and her father have landed safely.
Freak yachting accidents do happen in August … https://t.co/6CPePHYLtu
— Arron Banks (@Arron_banks) August 14, 2019
Epic cycle ride
But how do the rest of us unite behind Thunberg in deed rather than word in getting across the Atlantic with at least fewer if not zero emissions? Not all of us can get a place on a racing yacht (or maybe just get sea-sick). The standard route is via cargo ship and activist Kate Rawles of ‘Outdoor Philosophy’ recently did just that, with her bamboo bike, then making an epic cycle ride to the ‘end of the world’ at Cape Horn – which she calls in her blog the life-cycle. She travelled to the US on a cargo ship with The Cruise People, who claim on their website that “flying produces 36 times more carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than sea travel”.
Rawles in the ‘Tough Girl Podcast’: “ They are like a broker – it’s all a bit rough and ready and the times are not exact. there is no email, so you need a project to work on – there’s nothing to do apart from watching the waves and flying fish. It took 13 days on the way out and a month to get back.” I asked her how effective in terms of system change and challenging the monopoly of aviation is taking a cargo ship, given that there are still emissions and this might be seen as a luxury few could afford? “It’s an effective way of reducing your personal emissions per passenger mile for a journey that would otherwise be made by plane. Mike Berners-Lee, carbon footprint expert and author told me that my transatlantic return journey for The Life Cycle ride would have had a footprint of about 2 tonnes if I’d travelled by plane, economy class; and actually had a footprint of about 50kg given that I travelled by cargo ship. However, the cargo-ship industry as a whole has a bigger footprint than aviation (because it is so vast) and it is not cheap, at around 100 euros per day.”
“So no, it is probably not central to the systemic change we need. We must resist this being positioned as primarily an issue about personal choice and responsibility. Individual actions are of course important but this is fundamentally a system change issue and as such needs government and others to enact changes that individuals cannot. In the case of transportation, for example, our transport systems have to become low-impact across the board and it has to become easier, cheaper and more pleasant to travel in a low-impact way. For me it was a once in a lifetime way of travelling for a journey-with-a-purpose that I won’t repeat. The wider and much more important context is that we currently can’t just substitute long-haul flying with something – we simply have to fly much, much less.”
There are various companies now offering possibilities for joining cargo ships. I contacted several recently as I am planning to attend ISEA 2020 (International Symposium of Electronic Arts) in Montreal and can’t see any other way of getting there from France. A good guide to who to use is the Beyondships website.
No ferries to New York
But why aren’t there ferries to New York? I have recently commuted to Finland on the Viking Grace which runs between Stockholm and Turku, and it occurred to me on that it shouldn’t take much for ships like this to cross the Atlantic. We approached Viking Line, based in Sweden and Finland, who are at pains to try and cut emissions in their regular crossings from Stockholm to Helsinki. You can read their sustainability report here. A spokesperson replied to Makery “Our vessels are unfortunately not suited for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They are technically built for short sea shipping and especially the cabins are too small for longer journeys”.
I probed further, asking their Project Manager, Kari Greenberg, what other factors limited these ships for an Atlantic crossing. He replied “Viking Grace has a limited amount of fuel onboard for an Atlantic crossing. We need to refuel many times. For example, from the Port of Goteborg to the Port of New York is 3864 nautical miles, while the Port of Turku to the Port of Stockholm is 175 nautical miles. Viking Grace has no equipment for freshwater production, all potable water is bunkered in Turku and Stockholm. Viking Grace has no black/greywater treatment plants, all this is pumped to municipal treatment plant in Stockholm and Turku, nothing is pumped into the sea. This is Viking Line policy. Viking Grace has no incinerator to burn waste, we transport all waste separated in 11 fractions ashore to a recycling facility. In conclusion Viking Grace is not built for international voyages.”
Ocean liners such as the Queen Elizabeth 2, the MS Hamburg, the SS United States and the Vistafijord reached the end of the line between about 1969 and 1972 when they ceased to be a viable means of transport across the Atlantic and were refitted as cruise ships or scrapped. However the Cunard line now seems to have sensed the new market with its cruise ship the QM2, offering 7 day cruise-style crossings at advance prices (about 3000 euros return) roughly equivalent to cargo ships.
Sailing fair trade goods
But how to cut emissions completely? Makery has documented a number of recent projects to use sail to transport fair trade goods around the world, such as the Times Up Boating Association and Feral trade. The large engineless sailing cargo ship Tres Hombres is used by many organisations to transport fairtrade goods around the world, like New Dawn Traders recently emerging, who turn the sailing ships they use into a travelling circus that does more than move trade goods.
Alexandra Geldenhuys: “A sailing ship physically and metaphorically bridges the gap between distant communities and cultures. The Slow Food Sailing Circus not only carries cargo, but has sailors who are also artists, teachers, makers, performers, musicians, scientists, and chefs. At the moment, 90% of what we buy arrives by container ships, which often use the worst type of polluting fuel, and many treat their crews appallingly. The bigger question is how much of what we buy do we actually need? Ultimately we should look to fulfil most of our wants and needs locally. The cargos that New Dawn Traders choose to ship are of value mainly because they are goods that cannot easily be grown locally, such as olive oil, or they are of cultural significance, such as the luxuries in life that are worth savouring: coffee, chocolate, and rum. We believe that fine quality, especially in food, is intrinsically linked to ethical production and that, therefore, an epicurean nature is something to be nurtured in all of us, and need not cost the earth.”
Returning to the age of steam
Finally a pair of artists who pioneered the project ‘Hogshead 733’ to bring whisky from the Isle of Islay to France in a traditional Breton Sailing Craft, Maxime Berthou and Mark Požlep, have returned to the age of steam in ‘Southwind’ that will start as a restoration of a traditional paddle steamer to cruise the 1712 miles of the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana. The trip will last 50 days and the goal is to fill the entire boat with corn grown by different farmers of the 10 states crossed by the river. Upon its arrival to New Orleans, the paddle steamer will be changed into a small custom-made still, where Moonshine, the mythical alcohol of the prohibition, will be produced from the collected corn. See the video of the paddle steamer here.
Southwind boat launch:
Peace Boat Ecoship
Meanwhile on the horizon are new initiatives to develop long-haul travel such as the Peace Boat Ecoship, unveiled at COP21 in Paris. The vessel will be the greenest cruise ship ever built and will be powered by solar and hybrid wind. The ship will have 10 retractable solar panelled sails and retractable wind generators, along with a future ready hybrid engine. The Finnish-built Ecoship is scheduled to set sail in 2020 and will have a hull inspired by the whale.
Operated by a Japan-based NGO, founder and director Yoshioka Tatusya and Director of Peace Boat called it: “the most innovative and ecologically friendly cruise vessel ever. We believe this ship will be a game changer for the shipping industry and will contribute to the protection of the environment. It will be a flagship for climate change. We are very happy to work together with a Finnish shipyard, and look forward to exploring clean and sustainable technologies with partners throughout this region, which is known for its environmental leadership,” Soon then, we will all be able to follow in Greta’s footsteps.
Follow Greta Thunberg on Twitter.
UN Climate Action Summit in New York, September 21-23, 2019.
More about sailing fair trade goods.
Follow live the ‘Southwind’ project by Maxime Berthou et Mark Požlep in Paris at Studio 13/16, Centre Pompidou, from Septembre 21st to November 3d, 2019.
Alexandra Geldenhuys is invited by Rob La Frenais to speak in Art After The Collapse in November.