Last week, a brave young lady supported by a talented yachtsman and his team sailed into NYC after their Transatlantic journey on a carbon-fiber race yacht. While it wasn’t exactly a race, this wasn’t just any Transatlantic sail; this was one intended for the record books.
A hero’s reception, sailors of NY gathered in a flotilla to welcome Greta Thunberg into the city of all cities. To them, she was a new beacon of light. Colorful sails adorned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals festively enhanced this climate change activist’s iconic Statue of Liberty photoshoot, on an otherwise gloomy August afternoon.
While there were many supporters to Greta’s cause, there were plenty of critics. Any threat to Greta’s life or other cruel-hearted comments left on social media are disgusting and obviously condemned. But there were some people who saw legitimate issues in what they saw as a PR stunt. This fair questioning, however, was often lumped up into the bullies of the internet and condemned as well. Why can we not have a fair and open discussion about this “Race We Must Win” together?
If your game is awareness, then your job is to be the most aware. Many critics challenged that Malizia, the vessel of choice, was not eco-friendly in its non-organic build materials and that these race boats have short life spans. While I cannot disagree that a more climate-friendly ride would have probably been an old wooden sailboat, I have to say that Malizia is actually “recycled.” This IMOCA60 race boat was once Gitana, so she has been technically repurposed. But still, probably not the best boat for Greta’s “zero emissions” journey.
A core issue in the yacht racing industry is sustainability and what to do with old race boats that eventually sit rotting in boat yards around the world. We know this personally, as we resurrected the IMOCA60 O Canada in 2015. Our high-tech race industry is definitely not the most eco-friendly, and organizations like 11th Hour and the Ocean Race are taking on sustainability seriously. It might be uncomfortable, but we need to be honest with our issues if we want to solve them.
On the docks, crowds gathered with picket signs in support of Greta and her cause. It was a mostly young crowd, but the world was represented — all empathizing with Greta in our desperation for climate action. But in our desperation for action, have we made some wrong moves?
Crowd hands without signs and smart phones held SMARTWATER plastic water bottles from a nearby FREE kiosk stationed at North Cove Marina/Brookfield Place. The crowds marched with Greta to the UN, being sure to capture the movement on social media. As Labor Day Weekend came to a close, the crowds dispersed to enjoy final days of summer, while a new crew flew in to take Malizia immediately back to France. It seems the show has been packed up, and our planet still has the same post-festival status. That we all experienced the peace and love of Woodstock, but selectively ignored the mess we’ve still left behind.
Can the activists and critics not also be criticized if they don’t walk the talk? Perhaps I’m close enough to this issue, but with enough distance to see the full picture. I watched quietly as legitimate concerns about this event were shot down as “male chauvinist” and other blanketed statements that ignored the facts. Why are we so afraid to address and ultimately fix our mistakes?
What really hit me was seeing single-use, 17 full sets of sails with the UN Sustainable Development Goals printed on vinyl (PLASTIC!) just for this event. Allegedly they will be put on a tour, but really??
Upon further research, I found out that these sails with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were part of a bigger campaign produced by advertising agency TBWA\Melbourne, and even had a Cannes Lions category named after the campaign. Of course! I should’ve known, being a reformed MadMan myself. The whole thing screamed PR stunt, certainly there was an agency after some self-aggrandizing awards behind it.
I understand the concept of raising awareness, but why do we celebrate our strives but feign ignorance of our strifes? Could the same concept behind the sails not have been achieved with more eco-friendly material like cotton flags adorning the same message, but with less hypocrisy? Sometimes I fear that we get wrapped up in big ideas and presumably good deeds that we miss the point.
Moral of the story, if you’re going to preach, make sure you’re aware of all your potential sins. The congregation will put you on trial for your misdeeds and rightfully so. It is obviously really hard to live a truly environmentally-friendly life; so let’s be honest and encourage, not stifle, conversations about how we can ALL do better.
I am very happy that Greta did this trip, it is great for our sport and the greater cause. I don’t know if the net positive impact of this event would’ve even been possible if it weren’t a little bit controversial and sparked debate. That’s a good PR stunt for you! I just hope we can find great learning and activism in both our misdeeds and the good ones by having an honest conversation about them all.