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Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Arrives in NYC to Fight “Biggest Crisis Humanity Has Ever Faced”

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Following weeks of anticipation, Swedish climate justice activist Greta Thunberg arrived on the shores of Lower Manhattan Wednesday afternoon after a 15-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in an emissions-free yacht. She was welcomed on land by hundreds of supporters at the North Cove Marina. As Thunberg’s yacht sailed over the horizon and past the Statue of Liberty, youth climate activists chanted “The sea levels are rising, and so are we!” and “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” The 16-year-old climate activist is kickstarting a months-long tour of the Americas. For her first action, she will be joining New York students climate-striking outside the U.N. Friday morning. She will then take to the streets for a massive climate march in New York City on September 20, followed by two U.N. climate summits here. In December, she will attend the COP25 climate summit in Santiago, Chile. We hear highlights of Greta’s first speech and news conference upon arriving in New York City and speak to her father Svante, as well as New York youth climate activists Alexandria Villaseñor and Xiye Bastida.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After weeks of anticipation, the Swedish climate justice activist Greta Thunberg arrived on the shores of Lower Manhattan Wednesday afternoon after a two-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in an emissions-free yacht. Greta Thunberg was welcomed on land by more than a thousand supporters and reporters at the North Cove Marina. As Greta’s yacht sailed over the horizon and past the Statute of Liberty, youth climate activists chanted “The sea levels are rising, and so are we!” and “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” The 16-year-old began her journey to the U.S. in southwestern England. Greta Thunberg doesn’t fly. She chose to make the journey from Europe to the U.S. aboard the Malizia II, a 60-foot racing yacht covered in solar panels.

The young climate activist is kickstarting a months-long tour of the Americas. For her first action, she’ll be joining New York students climate-striking outside the U.N. Friday morning. She will then take to the streets for a massive climate march in New York City September 20th, followed by two U.N. climate summits here. In December, she’ll attend the COP25 climate summit in Santiago, Chile.

Greta Thunberg became an international icon of resistance last year, when she began skipping classes to stand outside the Swedish parliament demanding her government take action to confront the climate crisis. Her weekly protest inspired millions, sparking a global movement of student strikes for climate.

This is Greta Thunberg speaking just minutes after docking in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday.

GRETA THUNBERG: I want to thank everyone so much, everyone who is here and everyone who is involved in this climate fight, because this is a fight across borders, across continents. And it’s — as you said, it is insane that a 16-year-old had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to make a stand and to — and this, of course, is not something that I want everyone to do. The climate and ecological crisis is a global crisis and the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. And if we don’t manage to work together, to cooperate, and to work together despite our differences, then we will fail. So we need to stand together and support each other and to take action, because, otherwise, it might be too late. So, let’s not wait any longer. Let’s do it now, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: After her brief opening remarks, Greta Thunberg answered questions from reporters. One asked if she had heard about the raging wildfires in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia, causing unprecedented damage and destroying large swaths of land.

GRETA THUNBERG: Yes. Even on a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I heard about the forests in the Amazon rainforest — the fires in the Amazon rainforest, yeah. And it is, of course, devastating, and it’s so horrible. It’s hard to imagine. So, I mean, we need to — I mean, this is a clear sign that we need to stop destroying nature, and we need — and our war against nature must end. And, I mean, the Amazon is such a key to addressing the climate crisis and the ecological crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! How are you? So, President Trump says oil and gas are the source of America’s wealth. Windmills cause cancer, he says. What is your answer to him? And to the activists who have come to greet you here and who are looking for a message from you all over this country, the historically greatest fossil fuel emitter, what do you say to them?

GRETA THUNBERG: I mean, of course, oil and gas has its ups and downs. And we need to sort of realize the consequences from a bigger perspective of what it actually does when we use it the way we use it today. And I’m pretty sure windmills doesn’t cause cancers.

And the second question, my message to all the activists: to just keep going. And I know it’s — it may seem impossible and hopeless sometimes. It always does. So, you just have to continue, because if you try hard enough and long enough, you will make a difference. And if enough people stand together, fight for the right thing, then anything can happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Greta Thunberg was welcomed Wednesday by hundreds of young climate activists. One of them asked Greta how old she was when she became an activist.

GRETA THUNBERG: I first heard about — I found out about this issue when I was maybe 7, 8 or 9 years old. And then I realized that, oh, this is actually very bad. And I started to read about it more and more. And when I became maybe 11, I became depressed. And the climate crisis was a huge cause of that, and because I just felt that everything is hopeless and there’s nothing we can do and no one is doing anything.

But then I sort of got out of that depression by promising myself that I’m going to do everything I can to change things. And that is what I tried to do. And I started to go to marches and demonstrations and to join organizations and things like that. But I still thought things were too slow, that nothing was really changing. So I was desperate, in a way, to try to do something, just anything. And then this idea of school striking came up. And then I thought, yeah, I might just as well try that and see if it works. And if it doesn’t, then I will try something else. And then I did it, and then it became huge very quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: Greta Thunberg was then asked about her plans through December.

GRETA THUNBERG: I am definitely coming to Chile, as it looks now. And I am going to try to get there, of course, without flying, so there will be a lot of trains, buses, and probably even sailing, as well. I will figure that out as time goes by. And from COP25, I expect — I mean, that must be some kind of breaking point. This United Nations Climate Action Summit in September now and the COP25, these two have to be a tipping point. … I and many people with me are going to try to do everything we can to make sure that the world leaders have all eyes on them during these conferences, so that they cannot continue to ignore this.

AMY GOODMAN: With that, Greta Thunberg left the stage to rest, she said. Again, on Friday, she’ll be outside the U.N., joining young climate activists protesting around the climate. And then the major September 20th climate march, she’ll participate in New York, a U.N. Youth Climate Summit on September 21st at the United Nations, and then the major U.N. climate summit in New York on September 23rd. She’ll go through the Americas and end up at the COP25, the U.N. climate summit in Santiago, Chile, in December. Democracy Now! will be there covering the summit.

After Greta Thunberg spoke, we were able to catch up with her father, Svante Thunberg, whom we first met last year in Poland at the U.N. climate summit. I asked him about Greta’s decision to make this trip by sailboat.

SVANTE THUNBERG: It’s amazing to have arrived in New York. So, we’ve made a special journey, a very — it’s been a huge opportunity. I mean, since Greta decided that she wanted to sail, that was the way she wanted to do it. I mean, you cannot win. She sort of says, you know, “I’m going to be hated, whatever I do, and someone’s always going to find fault in whatever I do. But, you know, this is my choice.” And this is the compromise she was going to go with. Then she decided, then it’s no stopping her. I mean, we — and she feels very completely at ease, you can tell. And once we got to the boat, she was, I mean, completely calm all the time. I was freaking out a little bit, I must admit.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain why she took a boat.

SVANTE THUNBERG: Well, she didn’t want to fly, because if she would have flown, you know, people would have come down on her for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Because of the carbon footprint.

SVANTE THUNBERG: Yes, of course, and for being a hypocrite. And then we looked at freighter ship travel, which also, I mean, some people would say, would argue, is a better choice. But then again, I mean, the emissions from the freighter ship boats are enormous, so she would be enormously hated for that, too. So then she landed on the sailing idea. And we tried so many different sailing boats, because they’re not very easy to find, but also a lot of them use a lot of diesel to make these trips, huge amounts of diesel. And then we were offered this trip, and she sort of said, “Yeah, this is how it’s going to be done.” And —

AMY GOODMAN: Why does the boat consume so little energy?

SVANTE THUNBERG: Well, because they’re very keen on it. I mean, the crew are very active on the subject. They really fight for the climate, and they really are involved in the climate movement. So, I mean, they fitted the boat with solar panels and hydropower, which is the only one of its kind. I mean, there’s literally no other boat that can do that. There might be some private small boats, you know, but they all take probably like three months to cross the Atlantic. And so, they came to us. And that was also a very important thing. So, I mean, they believed in what she was doing.

And once we got going, she was completely at ease. And that was amazing for me to see. And then, of course, I felt at ease. And we had, you know, a great time in this sometimes very crazy environment of this boat, which is incredibly fast. It goes up to 30 knots, which is hard to imagine. And you try to sleep inside of that. It’s like — I don’t know. It’s a surreal experience. We tried to film it, but you can’t. You cannot sort of fathom. You cannot. It’s just — it’s just you have to do it. And the sound is completely mad. Completely mad. But she kept — she fell asleep straightaway. And she ate, watched the ocean. And we were just happy. So, it was a great, great time.

AMY GOODMAN: Svante Thunberg is the father of Greta Thunberg. He made the ocean voyage with her. When they landed, Greta was greeted by over a hundred American climate youth strikers. I spoke with Xiye Bastida, one of the organizers of Fridays for Future New York City, but began by asking her fellow activist, 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor, what kind of response their strike has received.

ALEXANDRIA VILLASEÑOR: The response I’ve gotten striking has been really supportive, from Greta Thunberg herself and having students in New York City come out and strike, and are getting more involved. And students for Fridays for Future New York City, we are going to continue striking. On September 20th, it is going to be the next global climate strike, and it will be the Friday before world leaders come to New York City for the United Nations climate summit. So we’re sending a message to world leaders that they take bold climate action for our future.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you have to say to President Trump, who denies climate change exists?

ALEXANDRIA VILLASEÑOR: Really, my message to any world leader is that they have to start taking the climate crisis seriously, or else my generation will continue demanding that they do.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you have to say to politicians who say, “Well, you’re 14. You’re too young to vote. Why should we listen to you?”

ALEXANDRIA VILLASEÑOR: Just like Greta Thunberg says, you’re never too small to make a difference. And that’s why this movement is so strong, is because hundreds of students are striking, and we’re all — you know, we’re striking because we don’t have a voice, because we can’t vote. And striking is one of the best ways to get our voices heard.

CLIMATE JUSTICE ACTIVISTS: Unite behind the science! Unite behind the science! Unite behind the science!

XIYE BASTIDA: My name is Xiye Bastida. I am a 17-year-old climate justice activist. And I am originally from Mexico. And I have been leading most of the strikes in New York City with Fridays for Future. So, we’ve been organizing for the March 15th strike, the May 3rd strike, the May 24th strike and now the September 20th climate strike.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does this moment mean to you right now? Why are you here at the marina?

XIYE BASTIDA: So, I think this is a very important moment because America, as a whole, has been behind climate consciousness, so we need somebody who is going to come and really tell everyone to wake up. And it’s very important that we are having the U.N. climate summit, because that’s us, young people, speaking to our world leaders about how this is an intergenerational crisis that requires intergenerational cooperation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us where you’re originally from.

XIYE BASTIDA: So, I’m originally from a town called San Pedro Tultepec in Mexico. I was born and raised in Mexico, and I moved to New York four years ago. So, in 2015, my town was affected by flooding. And that’s what moved my family to move out of Mexico into New York City. And when I got to New York City, I saw the effects that Hurricane Sandy had had on the community, and I realized that the climate crisis follows you everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re leading the strikes at Beacon High School, one of the public high schools here in New York. How did you get involved in activism, climate activism?

XIYE BASTIDA: So, I was invited in 2017 to speak in a conference in Malaysia. And I had never done public speaking before, but I realized the power that my personal story had in comparison to data. So that’s why, when I came back, I started my school’s Environmental Club. And I really started mobilizing people to go to Albany to lobby our politicians, and City Hall. And I testified at City Hall so that they would declare a climate emergency. So, all this happened before the strikes started happening. And when I saw that students were striking for climate, I said, “We have to mobilize our school.”

AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have for President Trump, who denies the phenomenon of climate change, that there is a climate crisis?

XIYE BASTIDA: So, to that, I say there is many aspects to the climate crisis. It’s not only about our planet heating up, but it’s about pollution. It’s about air pollution, water pollution, plastic pollution. So, if you don’t believe that we are going through a cycle of warming, then at least clean up our oceans, clean up our forests and stop burning them.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the significance of Greta Thunberg? When did you first hear what she was doing in Sweden?

XIYE BASTIDA: So, when I first heard about Greta, I was really inspired by her moral compass, which aligns with my indigenous cosmology and beliefs. I am Otomi Toltec from Mexico. And indigenous beliefs are that you take care of the Earth because the Earth takes care of you. And we need that reciprocity. And I saw that she had a very high level of morality in saying, “You are affecting our future, so we have to take action now.” And I think that a lot of people look up to her and believe in her because she is really saying, “My generation is going to be the most affected, and that generation is us, and we’re calling on you to join us, because we cannot vote yet. But we strike today, and we vote tomorrow. And we need you to speak for us in this time of crisis.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was climate youth activist Xiye Bastida, an organizer with Fridays for Future New York, a student at Beacon High School here in New York. She was among the hundreds of supporters who greeted 16-year-old Swedish climate justice activist Greta Thunberg as she arrived on the shores of Lower Manhattan Wednesday afternoon after a two-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in an emissions-free yacht.

When we come back, a constitutional crisis is unfolding in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suspended Parliament in a move to push forward Brexit with or without a deal. Stay with us.

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