LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Climate activist Greta Thunberg told cheering supporters Tuesday that her three-week journey across the Atlantic had “energized” her for the fight against climate change as she arrived in Portugal.
The Swedish teen, whose one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament helped inspire a global youth movement, sailed into the port of Lisbon after making a last-minute dash back from the United States to attend this year’s U.N. climate conference.
The 16-year-old has been steadfast in her refusal to fly because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by planes, a stance that put her planned appearance at the meeting in doubt when the venue was moved from Chile to Spain a month ago.
“We’ve all been on quite an adventure,” Thunberg told reporters shortly after stepping off the catamaran La Vagabonde, on which she’d hitched a ride back home to Europe. “It feels good to be back.”
Thunberg’s appearances at past climate meetings have won her plaudits from some leaders, and criticism from others who’ve taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.
“I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids,” said Thunberg, who has berated heads of government for failing to do enough to cut back the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming.
“If they want us to stop being angry, then maybe they should stop making us angry,” she said.
Being invited to express her criticism in front of political leaders can feel awkward, she said.
“I feel strange when I get applauded by people in power … because it’s obvious that it’s them I’m criticizing, but they can’t show that in front of the cameras,” she said. “It’s quite funny sometimes.”
The 48-foot yacht carrying Thunberg, her father Svante, an Australian family and professional sailor Nikki Henderson arrived in Lisbon under blue skies, with a small flotilla of boats escorting it to harbor.
Her trip contrasted with the many air miles flown by many of the U.N. meeting’s more than 25,000 registered attendees.
Thunberg wanted a low-carbon form of transport to get to the climate meeting, which was switched at short notice from Chile due to unrest there.
The yacht leaves little or no carbon footprint when its sails are up, using solar panels and hydro-generators for electricity.
“I am not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so,” said Thunberg. “I’m doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier.”
Looking ahead to next year’s presidential election in the United States, Thunberg said: “I just hope that someone wins that can think on the long term, not just the short term.”
Thunberg said she planned to spend several days in the Portuguese capital before heading to Madrid, where delegates from nearly 200 countries are discussing how to tackle global warming.
Chile’s environment minister, Carolina Schmidt, saluted Thunberg’s role speaking out about the threat of climate change.
“She has been a leader that has been able to move and open hearts for many young people and many people all over the world,” Schmidt said at the summit in Madrid.
“We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action,” said Schmidt, who is chairing the two-week talks.
Near to the conference, some 20 activists cut off traffic in central Madrid and staged a brief theatrical performance to protest government inaction on climate change.
Members of the international group Extinction Rebellion held up a banner in Russian that said: “Climate Crisis. To speak the truth. To take action immediately.”
(The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for content.)