Amidst a 500-000 strong march in Madrid, stirring speeches at the United Nations, and youth leaders getting arrested in Russia as they protested government apathy, the youth are joining arms in fortifying a movement to fight the greatest existential threat of our time: climate change.
The growing scientific evidence that a climate breakdown is upon us has pushed young people like Maximilian Reimers, the 20-year-old organizer of Fridays for Future (FFF) Germany, to devote their waking hours to building social movements. Young people, such as Maximilian, are demanding that governments take action to avert, minimize, and address the devastating impacts of climate change.
“It‘s fun being a climate activist because of all the things that I learn and the new people that I meet, but if I had a choice I would love to just play video games … I can postpone my education, but the climate crisis cannot be set for a later date,” he said.
Since his first school strike last year, Maximilian has become a full-time activist with the FFF, an alliance of young people with climate action and social justice at the core of its movement.
According to him, the urgency for the German government to act on climate change and repay its ecological debt to the world has never been more urgent.
Germany’s Carbon Tax: A Toothless Solution
While Germany presents itself as a “climate saviour” to the world, its policies in its backyard reveal a more sinister outlook on climate change.
Last December, Germany adopted a carbon tax that would penalize the emissions of corporations at 25 Euros per tonne from 2021 onwards. This amount will increase by 5 Euros per year until 2026. The parliament led by Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), touted this measure as an accomplishment. However, scientists, as well as, critics have pointed out that at this price, the tax measure will hardly make a dent in reducing emissions of the fourth most industrialized country in the world. It could even spur more emissions as the amount will barely have an effect on the profits of corporations since corporations will not be financially pressured to move away from their polluting practices.
But, even this minuscule achievement was marred by intense political debates as the CDU and SPD originally wanted to impose only 10 euros per tonne – a ludicrous amount that indicated that the ruling parties were willing to relent to the fossil fuel industry’s wishes.
“Our government is now actively denying science, [despite] having a chancellor who is a physician herself. And it is devastating because they are only doing it for tactical reasons, to keep power for themselves,” Maximilian said.
COP 25: A predictable embarrassment
The laggard pace of climate action extends well beyond Germany, just as the dismal outcomes of the recent Conference of Parties (COP) have shown.
The COP, which marked its 25th year in 2019, is an annual event where governments, multilateral agencies, and civil society representatives converge to negotiate global climate policy. Many civil society actors have noted that the arcane and highly bureaucratic summit has failed to deliver on its mandate of bringing urgently-needed, evidence-based, policymaking solutions to climate change.
“The outcomes of COP 25 were embarrassing, to be frank [about it]. They were predictable,” Maximilian said.
The disappointing turn of events at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain also pointed out the appalling disconnect between apathetic world leaders and an increasingly galvanized public that is demanding urgent and equitable solutions to the climate crisis.
Slow response to an existential threat
"The climate negotiations are moving too slowly, even though, the majority of people in that space already know what needs to be done—that every part of our way of life needs to change", according to Maximilian.
Scientists and experts agree that the window to act on climate is closing fast. In an article released in the journal Nature, scientists warned that the world has already breached a series of tipping points, which means that some impacts of climate change can no longer be stopped. Examples of these tipping points include the acceleration of ice loss in Greenland, droughts and fires in the Amazon rainforests, and permafrost thawing.
“This is an existential threat, ” the paper added.
A New Internationalism
In contrast to the inaction of governments; climate justice movements all over the world are gaining a critical mass.The involvement of young people, particularly those from rich, developed nations, is signalling the arrival of a new wave of internationalism, which is being eroded in our increasingly polarized world. We are not only at a critical point in the movement-building but also have a historical chance to scurtinize the privileges of the Global North.
This also means confronting the North’s attitude towards consumption. Despite a high awareness in German society on climate change, a willingness to confront Northern overproduction and consumption as one of the drivers of the climate crisis remains elusive. Germany— a car manufacturing country—for example, is still registering a growing number in privately-owned vehicles, suggesting that there is a preference for a private ownership in the public; despite the availability of an, arguably, robust public transportation system.
However, it must be noted that this behaviour is being aided by governmental policies and industry lobbyist, promoting a consumerist culture that is tied to the dynamics of economic growth.
Social movements in Germany, therefore, are called upon to criticize this purview of economic growth as the sole yardstick of development. Economic growth can only be achieved through the unabated exploitation of the resources of developing nations by governments and corporations, and routinely subsidized by the taxes of citizens in the North.
Forging Solidarity: A way forward
“The Global South was exploited by the North for decades, and this is still going on. A climate justice movement has to acknowledge and change that… we are fighting the same rigged monstrous system in which the goal is to destroy and exploit as much as possible. [Defeating this system] It can only be done together,” Maximilian said.
Forging solidarity, then, means reckoning with colonial oppression in the Global South and class injustice in the North. It means recognizing that socioeconomic cruelties exist in both the developed and developing world. And that by understanding our shared experiences, we can unite to fight the real cause of our collective suffering: Capitalism.
Maximilian believes it is imperative upon the youth, especially those coming from privileged backgrounds, to be more politically involved and to use these advantages to stand in solidarity with the people on the frontlines of climate change and repressive regimes in the Global South.
As the world reckons with the terrifying impacts of climate change and the intensifying political repression that is curtailing democracy, the youth are signalling a way forward.
We can forge solidarity by recognizing the similarities in our struggles, while also amplifying the voices of those who had, historically, been relegated to the margins of society. By dissolving these divisions, we can empower our movement to build a better world. It is not only possible but also worth fighting for.