Chapter 4: Roadtrip
Three days after my speech in the UN I leave New York City. The last few days everything got a bit too much with all the people and the attention. It feels like a huge relief to move out of the house on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and say goodbye to our host for the last month.
I’ve taken a sabbatical year from school to be able to travel to Santiago de Chile, where the UN’s yearly climate conference, the COP 25, is going to be held. I have no idea how to get there, all I know is that, in order to reach Santiago in time, I’ve got to get to Los Angeles by November 1st. So now awaits 5 weeks of constant traveling. My dad and I leave Manhattan behind us and drive north in an electric car that we’ve borrowed from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We travel through spectacular landscapes, past mountains, ravines, glaciers, prairies, deserts, swamps. We see the autumn coloured leaves of New England, the forests of Quebec, the lakes in Minnesota, buffalo herds in Wyoming, the redwood trees in Oregon, red rock formations in Arizona and the cotton fields of Alabama.
We switch between the radio stations. The choices are almost only Christian pop and country music. Most of the time it’s just the two of us, but sometimes we are accompanied by journalists or people we know.
Every Friday I continue to strike wherever I find myself to be at that moment. Denver, Iowa City, Charlotte, Rapid City, Edmonton, Vancouver, Los Angeles. Everywhere lots of people show up, people of all ages. But nothing beats Montreal where half a million people came out on the streets.
In South Dakota we are stopped by a policeman. He looks just like a caricature from an American movie, with mirrored shades, cowboy hat and all. He asks us where we are going. I say Santiago. Then he asks if we’ve got any large amounts of “dollars, weapons or dead bodies in the car?” We answer no, and continue across the Missouri river, over the prairies, the Badlands and the Rocky Mountains.
While the car is charging we walk around the alleys of small towns, shopping malls, suburbs, petrol stations, farms, industrial and residential areas. Wherever I go, people come up to talk and take selfies.
We wake up at 7 a.m. and drive until we get tired in the evening. We buy food wherever there’s food to buy, but it’s not that easy when you’re on the road and you’re vegan. It ends up being mostly canned food, beans, french fries, bananas and bread.
During the nights we either sleep in motels or with people who open up their homes. Activists, scientists, authors, doctors, journalists, hippies, diplomats, movie stars, lawyers. We travel through 37 states in total. Every state has got a slogan on the cars’ license plates, but I make up my own. Like for instance:
“North Carolina: Where not even the vegetarian salad bars have vegetarian options.”
“Alabama: Where the sunsets are pretty and the Christmas decorations are early.”
Through the car window I can see the neverending coal trains in Nebraska and Montana, the oil wells in Colorado and California, abandoned factories in Indiana and Pennsylvania, 16-lane highways, endless parking lots and shopping malls, shopping malls, shopping malls. Through the tiny vents of big livestock trucks I look into the eyes of cows and pigs on their way to slaughterhouses.
I’m stunned by the economic differences and social injustices which in many ways are an affront to all forms of human decency. I’m outraged by the oppression targeting especially indigenous, Black and Hispanic communities.
Every twenty minutes or so we pass fields where seemingly endless amounts of brand new RVs, motorboats, quad bikes and tractors are lined up for sale. Along the highways you see giant billboards with anti-abortion, anti-evolution and anti-science campaigns.
At night time the sky is lit by countless oil refineries sparkling in the dark, from north to south, from coast to coast.
Apart from a few wind power plants and solar panels there are no signs whatsoever of any sustainable transition, despite this being the richest country in the world. The debate is far behind Europe. We’re discussing free public transport and circular economy – here they don’t even have public health care or pavements for pedestrians to walk on.
In a petrol station in Texas I count to over 40 different kinds of coffee. I try to add up the number of different sorts of soft drinks as well, but I lose count around 200.
An older man in a cowboy hat comes up to me.
“I’m a big fan,” he says, before he walks across the parking lot, steps inside his giant pickup truck and drives on down the highway.
This is the transcript of Chapter 4 of the Sverige Radio program aired on June 20, 2020 with the title Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed.
The full transcript was published by Time magazine on July 10, 2020. Here it is offered in chapters to make it easier to read.