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In the name of sustainability, Greta Thunberg will travel 3,000 miles on a solar-powered boat

Emily Dao

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To say climate activist Greta Thunberg has made waves in the past year would be somewhat of an understatement. For the Swedish teenager, what began as a lone protest at her country’s Parliament morphed into a sweeping environmental movement. Further, youth across the globe have been emboldened to stand with Thunberg against climate inaction and ignorance. 

Following Thunberg’s rise to prominence, she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, among other awards, for her activism. Additionally, several major forums and conferences with important global leaders have invited her to speak. This September, she is poised to speak at the UN climate summit in New York.

To get there? Thunberg will travel by sailboat. 

Greta Thunberg will board a solar-powered racing yacht

The sixteen-year-old recently set sail for a two-week voyage on a solar-powered yacht. Accompanying Thunberg on her journey are two professional skippers, her father, and a documentary filmmaker. 

Thunberg and the crew are aboard the Malizia II, a 60-foot, zero-carbon sailboat. The words, “Unite Behind the Science,” a motto Thunberg coined after an impassioned speech she gave last month to the National Assembly of France adorn both Thunberg’s suit and the boat’s mainsail.

Thunberg opted for this unique mode of transportation due to the negative impact flying has on the environment. Earlier this year, when Thunberg went on a European tour, she did so by train. 

When asked if she wanted others to ban flying as well, Thunberg said it was their own decision. 

“I’m not telling anyone what to do or what not to do,” she said. “I am one of the very people in the world who actually can do this, and I think I should take this chance.” 

Taking a chance is certainly a good way to describe Thunberg’s decision to embark on this epic journey. Although the hyper-efficient yacht is definitely high-tech, it doesn’t fare well for long, leisurely trips—rather, the Malizia II is actually a racing boat. As a result, these passengers are certainly in for a ride.

Life on the sea proves far from paradise

The New York Times reported Thunberg will live off freeze-dried food, drink filtered seawater, and use a bucket to go to the restroom. While Thunberg and her father will have beds to sleep on, the other team members will sleep on bean bags.

Thunberg, however, planned accordingly so as not to live completely in the dark. With a satellite phone, she’s able to communicate sporadically with friends and family, who will update her followers. Additionally, since the vessel isn’t well-lit, Thunberg will use a headlamp to read and journal her travel experience.

“By doing this, it also shows how impossible it is today to live sustainable,” she said. “That, in order to travel with zero emissions, that we have to sail like this across the Atlantic Ocean.” 

“We will make sure she will reach New York in the safest way possible,” Boris Herrmann, skipper of the boat and Team Malizia co-founder, said. “I feel humbled that Greta accepted our offer as the lowest-carbon option to cross the Atlantic—despite the lack of comfort for her.” 

Though Thunberg is nervous, she has since assured her 1.06 million Twitter fanbase that she is safe and healthy.

Call for celebration

Thunberg disembarked from Plymouth, England, which she traveled to from Sweden by train. As the team sailed onwards for their 3,000-mile trip, fans sent them off with cheers of encouragement.

Mozza Brewer, who dubbed Thunberg as “Greta the Great,” told CBC she traveled about an hour south to Plymouth to wish Thunberg well on her travels. 

“I want her to know there is so much love for her in the world; so many support what she’s doing in spite of the trolls and negativity about what this young woman has achieved,” Brewer said. 

However, great support almost always comes with harsh criticism as well—and when it comes to critics on social media, it’s hardly ever smooth sailing. While en route to New York, social media has blown up with backlash towards the teen activist and her fairly unusual voyage. 

Still facing criticism

On Twitter, British businessman and staunch Brexit supporter Arron Banks wrote, “Freak yachting accidents do happen in August…” 

Immediately, Banks found himself in the middle of a storm of online condemnation. British actress Amanda Abbington took to Twitter as well to express her discontentment, characterizing Banks as “incredibly cruel, vicious and ignorant” for his message. 

“If you are a grown up, fully-fledged adult and you are mocking this young girl for trying to save the planet, then I feel genuinely sorry for you,” Abbington wrote. 

Banks defended himself, saying the Tweet was simply a joke, before adding, “you lefties have no sense of humour.” 

Carbon emissions are inevitable

Once Thunberg reaches America, the sailing team would fly back and return the boat. To offset the carbon emissions from the crew members’ flight, the team will donate to other carbon-reducing projects. 

Holly Cova, a spokeswoman for the racing company, told The Associated Press via email, “we only have one boat, so they cannot easily sail over to meet them.” 

While the team understood the solution was “imperfect,” Cova says it’s “better than doing nothing.” 

Next steps for Greta

Navigating how to evoke real, meaningful change in the fight against climate change can be difficult, especially when constant reports and news alerts may make it seem like hope is dwindling. However, with young activists like Thunberg going above and beyond to do their part in trying to save the planet, it serves as a reminder that anyone—no matter how small—can make a tremendous impact, and that even though there may be storms brewing up ahead, change is on the horizon. 

If interested in tracking Greta Thunberg on her journey, her progress can be found here

Sustainability

Greta Thunberg and fellow youth climate activists testify to Congress

Ari Kelo

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This week, Greta Thunberg is making a case on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, the 16-year old climate activist met with the Senate climate crisis task force, where she testified alongside young climate activists from across the U.S.

And on Wednesday morning, the group testified before Congress again. This time, they spoke at a hearing on Climate Change Leadership, organized by the House Climate Crisis Committee and a Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

Their goal? To demand the U.S. government finally stand up against the climate crisis.

Greta Thunberg and Jamie Margolin urge politicians to unite behind science

Rather than giving prepared remarks, Thunberg kept her statement short and sweet. In under a minute, she submitted the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming to serve as her testimony.

“I don’t want you to listen to me,” she explained. “I want you to listen to the scientists.”

The report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, discusses the increasing threats of global warming. It warns that, without drastic change, the global temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030. And the consequences of that rise in temperature are dire.

By submitting the report to Congress, Thunberg made a simple statement ⁠— there’s no time to waste. “I want you to unite behind science, and then I want you to take real action.”

At her meeting on Tuesday with the Senate climate crisis task force, Thunberg made a similar demand. Speaking to Congress as a whole, she said, “I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”

Her fellow activists agree.

Jamie Margolin, the 17-year-old co-founder of the Zero Hour movement, urged Congress to forge a path to climate recovery. To her, there’s still a chance to solve the climate crisis. “But this must start today,” she said. “In fact, it should’ve started yesterday.”

And Vic Barrett, the 20-year-old member of the Alliance of Climate Education, continued the call to action. He pointed out his greatest fears about imminent climate change. How marginalized communities are the most at risk. How, for him and his friends, climate change has become a source of serious mental and physical stress.

“My culture and inheritance are slipping into the sea,” he went on, discussing the threat of rising water levels on the Caribbeans. “My people are going extinct.”

Youth take charge in climate movement

Following their statements, House Speakers commended the young activists for their leadership in the movement against climate change.

But recognition is not what they need from Congress. “We need your leadership,” said the 21-year-old conservationist Benji Backer. “You have remarkable power.”

“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride. It should fill you with shame,” said Margolin.

These testimonials are part of a greater movement initiated by young people across the globe to combat climate change.  The face of the movement, Greta Thunberg will continue her efforts to incite policy change this Saturday at the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit in New York.

And on Friday, she will join thousands of other concerned young people as they march against climate change during the Global Climate Strike.



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Sustainability

An Environmental Crisis is Looming Over the Horizon in Yemen

Chris Chen

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The civil war in Yemen has been raging on, with the UN calling it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 

The conflict between the internationally-recognized government of Yemen and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has led to disease outbreaks, widespread famine, and water scarcity, all of which threaten the livelihoods of millions across the country. On top of this, it now seems to be in a time of environmental crisis.

A large portion of the death toll, which has exceeded 91,600 fatalities since fighting broke out in 2015, can be attributed to civilian deaths from extensive bombing campaigns. Countless bombs have left chemical residue which can attach to particles in the air, seep into the soil, and traverse across vast distances via wind and rain.

In the coming years, climate change and sea level rise will strike Yemen hard. This has been illustrated in the past decade by an unprecedented amount of hurricanes and back-to-back cyclones in a region where tropical storms rarely occur. 

Extreme heat is affecting most of the country and will enable tropical diseases like malaria to easily spread. Biodiversity loss is also accelerating across many ecosystems.

The war has undermined critical action in few ways. First, issues like the environment have not received proper attention due to humanitarian aid being the number one priority for most international organizations. 

Second, the government has been caught in a fiscal bind in recent years. It has poured all of its resources into pushing back the Houthi resistance. In August, for example, violence escalated when separatists took over the port city of Aden. Mainstream coverage of the war hasn’t helped either; despite the toll the environment is taking, it has largely ignored these issues.

“It’s certain that Yemen is one of the countries most affected by climate change,” Tawfeeq al-Sharjabi, the Yemeni Deputy Water and Environment Minister.

Solar power could help mitigate the environmental crisis

One solution that could alleviate some of Yemen’s problems is solar power. Countries that support the Yemeni government’s efforts, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been developing alternative energy which could prop up Yemen’s energy sector and save billions of dollars in the process.

International organizations have also stepped up. The World Bank is working with local communities to install solar applications in schools and other public facilities. It aims to bring electricity into the lives of over 1.3 million people while also helping Yemen meet its Paris Agreement goals by reducing carbon emissions by as much as 430,000 tons.

On the other hand, as The Cairo Review points out, the drawbacks of solar alternatives may also just push civilians back to traditional fuel sources once they are available again. 

A ticking time bomb with global implications

Though many problems manifest on land, issues could soon arise in the seas. In July, the UN warned that the Safer FSO, an oil tanker abandoned in 2015, could explode from a buildup of volatile gases and leak over 1 million barrels of oil. 

Safer FSO anchored 30 miles off the coast of Al Hudaydah. Photo: SEPOC

To put that into perspective, experts warn that it could result in a spill four times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. It would devastate the Red Sea and surrounding bodies of water, reaching as far as Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and even the coast of Egypt.

A spill of this magnitude would effectively block commerce from reaching international destinations through the Red Sea, which accounts for 10% of global trade. Furthermore, it would wreak havoc on marine life for hundreds of miles around and further exacerbate Yemen’s water crisis. 

The trouble stems from Houthi control over the tanker, which has prevented maintenance from outside groups. Fortunately, a UN team was recently dispatched to assess the situation after complicated negotiations with the rebel group. Other than that, not much progress has been made.

“The danger increases with every day that goes by,” Doug Weir, policy director of the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told CNBC.

Conclusions

Yemen’s environmental crisis is quickly deteriorating but the country’s conflict has halted important preventative measures from being enacted—the government faces countless issues of its own. Its lack of financial flexibility means that these problems will likely persist into the near future.

Bringing solar technology into the country is a worthy initiative, but it is only one piece of the larger puzzle. Securing the Safer FSO will also require substantial effort. 

Yemen needs a coordinated global response to tackle this dilemma. However, given the complexities of international diplomacy, its environmental pleas will likely yield little to no response.



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Sustainability

Bill Gates is funding solar geoengineering research. Is it a viable climate change solution?

Maddie Blaauw

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently invested in a drastic approach to lowering the surface temperature of the earth, solar geoengineering. Along with other individuals and 14 companies, he helps to fund the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) at Harvard University. The study has raised a total of $16,225,000 as of August 2019. 

What is solar geoengineering?

Solar geoengineering relies on the idea that all of the heat on the earth is from the sun. Certain gasses in the atmosphere keep the heat near the planet. Gasses like carbon dioxide, in this sense, act as insulators, keeping the heat close to the earth instead of letting it escape. gasses like carbon dioxide trapping solar heat in the earth’s atmosphere too well creates the climate change trend.

From this background, two paths of dealing with climate change can be discerned. One is to reduce carbon emissions. This would decrease the amount of it that is in the atmosphere trapping solar heat. The other is to change the amount of solar heat that the earth and the surrounding atmosphere absorb initially. This is the path that solar geoengineering pursues. 

To decrease the amount of solar heat that the earth absorbs, a plane would release small particles into the stratosphere, about 50 km above the earth’s surface. These particles will reflect a portion of the sunlight, theoretically creating cooler surface temperatures. However, while many researchers have run simulations, this has never been tried in the actual atmosphere. They have not yet determined the most beneficial article to use, either.

The SCoPEx Project

Later next month, the group anticipates running its first real-world experiment. While computer simulations can be highly accurate, the environment is extremely complex. Thus, running small-scale tests is an essential step before deploying this strategy on a scale that could impact worldwide temperature.

This will involve, per the research website, using a “high-altitude balloon to lift an instrument package approximately 20 km into the atmosphere.” The machine will then release approximately 2kg of naturally occurring chemicals like calcium carbonate and sulfates into the air. The release of these chemicals will create a “perturbed air mass” approximately one kilometer long and 100 meters across. This will allow for measurement of this theoretical idea in a real-world setting. Researchers will outfit the balloon with equipment to measure “aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry, and light scattering.” After particles are released, researchers will use these pieces of equipment to measure the effectiveness of this tactic.

Ethical Issues

Such a large amount of particles would have to be dispensed that they would spread to cover the entire atmosphere. Thus, this strategy would affect all countries and people on earth. All nations would have to consent in order for this strategy to be used fairly. If the particles were released into the atmosphere without the consent of all countries, it could create tension between nations, or even incite war. 

Additionally, many condemn this idea as a lazy approach to dealing with climate change, because it does not address the ultimate cause of the crisis: pollution. Thus, solar geoengineering would have to be used continuously, constantly releasing more and more particles to reflect sunlight, if carbon emissions are not curbed. If carbon emissions continue at their current rates, geoengineering couldn’t be stopped without temperatures rising several degrees as soon as there weren’t particles in the atmosphere anymore.

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