Greta Thunberg sailed from England to New York in a yacht.

Wikipedia explains:

The trip was announced as a carbon-neutral transatlantic crossing serving as a demonstration of Thunberg's declared beliefs of the importance of reducing emissions.

However, the Daily Mail reports:

British yacht skipper, 26, wiped out the carbon emissions saved by Greta Thunberg's sail across the Atlantic by flying out to the US to help her [...] A British yacht skipper's flight to the US to help Greta Thunberg sail to Portugal has produced the same amount of carbon emissions the voyage hoped to save.

Is that true?

  • I think that Wikipedia quote needs a source.
    – Mast
    Dec 25, 2019 at 13:39
  • It should be obviously true. If the plan was to save the costs of a transatlantic flight, then using a transatlantic flight anyway would defeat the point.
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 26, 2019 at 9:01
  • @OrangeDog: The trouble with such arguments is that it is so easy to counter them: It should be obviously false. The plan was clearly never to save the costs of a transatlantic flight. The plan was to highlight the costs of a translatlantic flight in the effort to save many thousands of times the cost. (Please don't argue with my hypothetical point here. Please post an answer with references.)
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 30, 2019 at 12:30

1 Answer 1


The Daily Mail words their claim as follows:

[The yacht skipper Nikki] Henderson's flight from Britain to the US likely produced the same amount of emissions the journey hoped to save, countering Ms Thunberg's mission

This incorrectly characterizes the net CO2 gain of the voyage, because Henderson purchased carbon offsets. Of course, carbon offsets are not a perfect way to combat CO2 emissions; but creating an ideal model trans-Atlantic journey for scalable minimal emissions is not what "the journey hoped to" accomplish and its "mission," and the claim that the end result was "more emissions than the journey hoped to save" is thus false. Nikki Henderson writes on her Facebook page:

There were good reasons to choose someone else - for example, the fact that I had to fly was not ideal considering what the trip represented, even though I did buy carbon offsets. [...]

Whilst it could be misinterpreted this way, this trip was not about telling people what to do, or how to live. It was not about Greta or any of us travelling in the most sustainable way possible. If it was, there were probably slightly better options - although none perfect. There may have been skippers who could have joined the boat in two days without flying. There may have been boats without a diesel engine as a back up for power. There may have been vessels that could monitor their carbon footprint more closely.

This trip was about the bigger mission. It was for us to enable Greta - one of our influencers - our role models - to travel in the way that she felt was most in line with the youth climate movement message: To highlight the need for big structural change to fight the climate emergency. To make the point that there isn’t a sustainable way to travel yet, and there needs to be.

Greta herself made an identical statement.

"I’m not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so, I’m doing this to send a message that it is impossible to live sustainably today & that needs to change. It needs to become much easier."

So, in conclusion, the skipper purchased carbon offsets, but both her and Greta are aware that this form of travel does not scale, and avoided flying in order to send a message that avoiding CO2 emissions is difficult now and needs to become easier.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 24, 2019 at 12:46

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