How often do you cycle somewhere – to the office, to school, to the gym? Have you ever used an electric scooter? Do you travel by electric train, metro or tram? These are all clean, green means of transport which more of us are choosing to use, in order to reduce pollution and help the environment.

James stands with a bike on the water's edge next to a tall sailing ship.
James has travelled by bike, electric train, and will now cross the Atlantic by tall sailing ship © Fiona Flores Watson / Lonely Planet

But can you imagine travelling 11,000km without using fossil fuels? That’s the “Race For Future” challenge set by film-maker and adventurer James Levelle, who is making his way from the UK to Chile for the OP25 Conference in December.

Levelle left Weymouth in Dorset, UK, on 26 August, sailing to France. Then he made his way by bike, train, and electric car through France and Spain to the southern Spanish city of Seville. On 20 September he set sail for South America on a Dutch tall ship, Bark Europa. After he docks at Montevideo, Uruguay, in November, James will travel to Buenos Aires and from there overland to Santiago de Chile.

Greta Thunberg walks down the street, surrounded by people and holding a sign.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, attending a youth-led protest in front of the United Nations in August © Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Another climate campaigner at the conference will be activist Greta Thunberg, who recently sailed to New York on a zero-emissions racing yacht to attend the UN Climate Action Summit. But for James, the fossil fuel-free journey, and the series he is filming along with a small production team, is only part of his challenge. It’s the message – taking the views of young people from all over the world about the climate change crisis to the politicians at the conference – that is key.

"We’re facing humanity’s biggest challenge – it’s a race to save the future,” says James. “And the younger generation is getting increasingly concerned about the climate crisis...my mission is to document the voices of young people I meet along the way - their dreams, fears and demands for their future,” he explains.

James, wearing a blue shirt, stands on board the tall ship.
James on board Bark Europa, one leg of his fossil-free journey from London to Santiago © Fiona Flores Watson / Getty Images

“I explore the realities of climate change through their eyes, understand what their concerns are, what they’re doing.”

So far he has filmed kids and young adults in the UK, France and Spain, giving their messages such as “act now before it’s too late!” and “it’s not just the future of the planet Earth, it’s our future!” and he will seek out more views on the South American leg of his trip.

“There are only so many kids I can meet on this journey, but I want the film to represent the global youth, and therefore I’m hoping young people will upload their video messages to the website.” On his Race For Future site there’s a link so that any child or young person can add their voice. He will then deliver the finished film to the conference – although he’s not yet sure exactly how – “so that’s another challenge”.

Indeed not all the trip is smooth-running – so far, an electric car he was driving near Paris ran out of charge; and he got lost while cycling in the Pyrenees because his phone battery died and so he had no GPS. Once in South America, James will need to get from Montevideo to Buenos Aires by water, to avoid a long land detour. “I have no idea how I’m going to get across the Rio de la Plata fossil fuel-free,” he admits. Then he needs to get across Argentina to Chile in just a few weeks – “the lack of time is exciting and frustrating,” he says. “It really is a race.”

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