Instead of Flying, Activists Spend 4 Weeks Sailing to Climate Summit, Then Learn It's Canceled


When it comes to conspicuous green consumption, sailing is the new Prius.

Need to get somewhere and want some attention doing it? Don’t take a plane and buy carbon offsets; take a boat instead.

Sure, it’ll take exponentially longer, but at least you’ll get some media attention.

This is what Greta Thunberg did when she traveled across the Atlantic to scold us over the summer.

She took a solar boat so as to spare the planet the damage caused by her taking up one seat on a 777 or whatever. I mean, it took her 15 days instead of eight hours and, as the trip “was arranged at very short notice,” according to The Associated Press, a crew had to be flown across the Atlantic to skipper it back to Europe.

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But at least sailing created a pseudo-event the media could eagerly report on in a way that landing at Newark on a Thursday afternoon British Airways flight wouldn’t have, right?

Greta isn’t alone in her choice of green steed.

Recently, a group of climate activists made news when they departed by boat from Amsterdam on Oct. 2 for Chile to attend the U.N. Climate Conference, or COP25, set to take place in Santiago in early December.

Sailing to the COP25 was to take seven weeks, according to CNN, indicating either these individuals don’t have anything better to do than spend almost two months on the high seas or they’ve been reading too much Joseph Conrad.

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Four weeks into the journey, their plans shifted abruptly.

“Chile withdrew on Wednesday as the host of an APEC summit next month at which the United States and China had been expected to sign a deal to ease a trade war that has hurt the global economy, as raging street protests gripped the South American country,” Reuters reported.

“Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, fighting for his political survival, said he had taken the ‘painful’ decision to cancel the summit, as well as the high-profile COP25 international gathering on climate change in December, to focus on restoring law and order and pushing through a new social plan.”

The protests, which began over a hike in metro fare, are the most violent in the country since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, with over 20 people confirmed dead.

“We understand perfectly the importance of APEC and COP for Chile and the world, but we have based our decision on common sense,” Piñera said when announcing the decision to cancel the conferences, according to Bloomberg.

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“A president needs to put its people above everything else.”

There’s absolutely no way that the environmentalists aboard the sailboat could have known about the unrest, given that it began only two weeks ago — two weeks after the 36 climate activists sailed.

The conference was, at the time of the group’s statement on the cancellation, originally set to be rescheduled with either Costa Rica or Bonn, Germany as a likely replacement location. As it turns out, Spain will be the host.

“After the initial shock and sadness the news brought, everyone came together determined to continue what we started: putting the climate impact of aviation on the international agenda,” a statement from Sail to the COP read.

The group had originally planned to sail to Rio de Janeiro and take ground transportation to Santiago. Instead, they’ll likely be sailing to Belém, Brazil.

“If the COP would be in Bonn in early 2020 we can still be on time and meanwhile learn from sustainable travel ideas in South America,” the statement read.

The problem is that it won’t be held in early 2020.

According to CNN, the summit will take place in December as scheduled — just in Madrid, which is going to be a bit tougher to reach by boat given where they are.

All of which is a long way to say this was a massive waste of time and resources for everyone involved.

I can’t help but think that seven weeks of time among 36 climate activists — 252 weeks of productivity in all — could have been better used to further their cause.

Given that I’m unlikely to agree with the aims of anyone who decides to sail across the Atlantic and spend seven weeks on a boat to draw attention to greenhouse gas emissions when it would have taken less than a day by plane, I should probably be happy about this.

However, if this was about “putting the climate impact of aviation on the international agenda,” what it did was highlight the fundamentally unserious nature of this whole proposition.

Less than halfway through their trip, their destination country ended up getting engulfed in riots.

Instead of buying carbon offsets and spending the rest of their time engaged in a productive activity that doesn’t include being cooped up on a boat, they’re pinballing between destinations like this is some sort of 21st century high-seas picaresque novel, only without the fun or adventure.

In short, they’re a walking — well, sailing — advertisement for the indispensability of air transportation. And, by the way, this motley crew won’t be the only travelers racing across the Atlantic by boat to attend COP25.

If only there were some way for Greta and Sail to the COP to get over there before December and offset the carbon emissions.

I certainly can’t think of anything. Best of luck, everyone!

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture