The US president’s wholesale rejection of climate science may force people to “wake up” about the global warming crisis, the teenage activist suggested.
“He’s so extreme and he says so extreme things, so I think people wake up by that in a way,” she told AFP news agency.
Speaking as she prepared to sail across the Atlantic following a trip to the US, Thunberg added: “I thought when he got elected … now people must finally wake up. Because it feels like if we just continue like now, nothing’s going to happen. So maybe he is helping.”
The Trump administration last week formally began withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, making the US the only country in the world which is not signed up to the pact to keep the global average temperature below 2C above pre-industrial levels.
The president has repeatedly dismissed the existence of human-caused climate change, which he has branded a “hoax”, and has rolled back Obama-era policies aimed at tackling the crisis. His position has put him at odds with the overwhelming majority of scientists and his own government agencies, which have warned human-caused global warming is on course to have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.
Mr Trump has previously mocked Ms Thunberg for urging world leaders to take action.
The Swedish teenager set off for Europe aboard a 15-metre catamaran following a trip which saw her address the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.
The journey, as with her outward trip in August, will be zero-carbon. The 16-year-old is to spend weeks aboard La Vagabonde, a boat with green credentials including solar panels and hydro-generators.
Ms Thunberg had been due to attend another global climate summit in Santiago in December but the Chilean government cancelled the meeting last month.
The summit has since been moved to Spain, forcing the teenager – who chooses not to fly due to air travel’s high emissions – to seek a way back to Europe earlier than planned.
The catamaran’s owners, Australian couple Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, responded to her appeal on social media for a carbon-free ride across the Atlantic.
They will be joined by expert sailor, Nikki Henderson, for a trip expected to last two to four works and which takes place during what is considered the off season for sailing across the Atlantic.
“I’m looking forward to it, just to be able to get away and recap everything and to just be disconnected,” Ms Thunberg said as she prepared to leave Hampton, Virginia, in light snow and temperatures of 4C.
Unlike the boat on which she sailed from the UK to New York three weeks ago, La Vagabonde has a toilet.
“There are countless people around the world who don’t have access to a toilet,” Ms Thunberg said about the upgrade. ”It’s not that important. But it’s nice to have.”
During her three-month visit to North America, she took part in climate strike rallies and protests from California to Colorado to North Carolina.
She has become a symbol of a growing movement of young environmental activists after leading weekly school strikes in Sweden that inspired similar actions in about 100 cities worldwide.
Her activism has also made her the focus of attacks from climate deniers and some politicians, including Mr Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But she brushed off the criticism during her round of back-to-back interviews on the catamaran.
“It should be the adults who take that responsibility,” she said. “But it feels like the adults and the people in power today are not.”
Looking back on her time in the US and Canada, Ms Thunberg said the things that she will remember the most include a glacier in Canada’s Jasper National Park that is destined to disappear “no matter what we do”.
She also was surprised at how much she was recognised.
“There are always people who come up to me and ask for selfies and so on,” she said. “So, that really gives you an idea of how big the climate movement has reached.”