Citizen-Led Climate Activism Is A Catalyst For Change

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The fact that a 16-year-old schoolgirl is the face of a new global movement is both a cause for celebration and a source of consternation. We should celebrate Greta Thunberg for having the courage and tenacity to not only start a movement, but the strength to continually build and grow it. We should be concerned that in the light of all we know about climate change, we still need a global campaign of citizen-led activism to force politicians and world leaders to take urgent and essential action.

Climate Protests in Berlin – Photo by CleanTechnica

The Fridays for Future movement has proven to be a lightning rod for the climate change crisis.

In the wake of the protests, we have seen six countries declaring a climate emergency. There is as yet no fixed definition of what the term ‘climate emergency’ means, but the general consensus is that the declaration acts as a starting point from which future decisions will be made. In order to mitigate the impending effects of climate change, local councils and governing institutions are into account the impact their policies have on the climate. Some regions have even set a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

The declarations started in the UK, with France, Ireland, and Canada following suit, and then in May of 2019 Konstanz became the first municipality of Germany to declare a climate emergency. These declarations have not been without criticism and controversy – the most damning being that four of the countries declaring a climate emergency are also heavily subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.

Some detractors have claimed that school children should stick to attending school instead of getting involved in climate strikes. In a cutting rebuttal to a journalist who asked: “Don’t you just want to be a kid?” Greta Thunberg said: “The older generation are the ones who are causing this problem [of the climate crisis] and they should not be saying to us ‘just be a normal kid’. Because they are the ones that caused this and we are just trying to clean up after them.” It’s also hard to argue against the Fridays for Future movement as the momentum appears to be generating results.

Of course, we have to acknowledge the hard work of everyone involved in addressing climate change and the years of effort that have already been invested. Citizen-led activism is not a new phenomenon and nor is people coming together to effect change. The involvement of citizens in the issue of climate change has a long and diverse history.

In Germany, citizen-participation has been a core factor in the success of the Energiewende, going beyond activism and debate. The Energiewende is rooted in the ecological and anti-nuclear movements, predating the current wave of activism by decades and giving it a different flavor. The role of citizens has changed from being mere consumers of energy into one that involves the generation and supply of energy. Across Germany, there are now numerous projects where citizens own or have shares in wind farms and solar plants. This can come in the form of individuals private ownership or as part of cooperatives, and through investments into renewable energy on the stock market. Renewable energy cooperatives have proven to be very successful and popular and there are almost 900 such cooperatives in Germany today.

Graphic from Agentur für Erneuerbare Energien

Germany has also became one of the focal points for Fridays for Future, with the protest events drawing huge numbers. They are yet another example of the amount of support that environmental protests can achieve in the country. For example, the recent high profile protests to save the last 200 acres of the Hambach Forest attracted thousands of people in an effort to prevent the remainder of the 12,000 from being felled for mining.

The Fridays for Future movement has even inspired the founding of a spinoff group, Scientists for Future, which is a grassroots initiative of students and scientists pushing to raise awareness of the consequences of inaction. Overall, there is a sense that the people power of Fridays for Future has helped to push the climate crisis into the mainstream consciousness. The perception of environmental activism is no longer that it is an extremist and fringe activity, but one that everyone can and should be involved in.

As a result of Fridays for Future, we have seen environmental issues rise to the top of the political agenda. In the recent European elections, climate change was the single most important factory for a large percentage of voters. We saw the Green party make big gains throughout Europe – in Germany, they received 21 percent of the vote, becoming the second biggest party nationwide, in France, Greens placed third in the results, and gains were made in countries such as Ireland, Finland and the UK. Now, more and more political parties are making addressing the climate crisis part of their mandate. As Markus Söder of the CSU (the bavarian sister party of the conservative CDU) said: “The biggest challenge of the future is the intensive debate with the Greens.” It is no longer a marginal interest issue for voters, but a vitally important one. Yet there is still a huge way to go, and the climate crisis needs action more than it needs political lip service.

Citizen activism is leading the way ideologically, and German citizen participation in the Energiewende is providing a practical example that others can follow. Now we just need more of the world’s politicians to get on board before it’s too late.

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Jonny Tiernan

Jonny Tiernan is a Publisher and Editor-In-Chief based in Berlin. A regular contributor to The Beam and CleanTechnica, he primarily covers topics related to the impact of new technology on our carbon-free future, plus broader environmental issues. Jonny also publishes the Berlin cultural magazine LOLA as well as managing the creative production for Next Generation Living Magazine.

Jonny Tiernan has 65 posts and counting. See all posts by Jonny Tiernan