Germany’s climate chasm becomes harder and harder to bridge
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When her turn came at an election event last week, Paula KrÃ¼ger, a bespectacled teenager in a tangle of necklaces, got right to the point: how, she asked, could the candidate justify policies that do not respect Germany’s international climate obligations?
She was not up against the center-right leader of the Christian Democrats, Armin Laschet, nor the Social Democrat, Olaf Scholz, whose climate activists attack activists as just as unambitious. The challenge was launched to Annalena Baerbock, candidate for the German Greens.
Anyone who has been surprised by this has missed the signals of a younger generation increasingly tired of German politics.
This weekend’s capital elections will decide Germany’s new course after 16 years led by Angela Merkel. Climate change is motivating a majority of young German voters, to the point that many believe the Green Party is not going far enough.
A new survey of 10,000 young people from 10 different countries may explain why: It found that 60% feared for their future. Some 56% believe humanity is doomed.
âI have days when it paralyzes me. I can’t go to class, I can’t even go to demonstrations. I’m afraid everything will fail, âPauline BrÃ¼nger, a 19-year-old Fridays for Future activist in Cologne, told me. “Some days I hope we can do it.” We met to discuss the devastating summer flooding in Germany and why it did not spark stronger demands for climate action.
Fridays for Future campaigners dispute the idea of ââgenerations at war, but the numbers almost make it up: Voters under 30 make up just 14.4% of the electorate. Those over 50 represent 57.8%, but less than a third of them say that the impact of climate change on young people affects their vote.
âIt’s not a generational conflict, it’s a power conflict,â Line Niedeggen, Fridays for Future activist, told me. âThe question is how to redistribute this power. “
They will try to claim some power – at least over public opinion – with a pre-election national climate strike on Friday.
What Line’s mother Barbara thought were occasional gatherings to paint posters and the protest turned into something far more serious. The young activists adopted a professionalism in their constant online meetings that Barbara, laughing, said her own colleagues struggled to master for much longer. “I am amazed, not only at the enthusiasm, but at the discipline of these children – well, ‘children’,” she said with airy quotes.
But while young people like Line channel their frustrations into activism, many more fall into segments that a More in Common study calls “The Disillusioned” and “The Detached” – nearly half of voters under. of 30 years expressed their disappointment vis-Ã -vis democratic institutions according to the NGO. could put German democracy to the test.
If one sticks to this election, the dissatisfaction of young Germans with the way politicians approach their concerns may be well founded.
Willy Schulz, 26, from the flood-stricken Ahr Valley, was still recovering from regular nightmares after surviving the flood when he went to mayor this month for the candidate for the CDU, Laschet.
He is not a climate activist, nor a member of the Green Party, but the floods have shaken him. He had a simple question: why trust Merkel’s party, after years of relative inaction on climate change? At one point, Laschet told him to “come down”.
âI was hoping he would offer his ideas on how to tackle climate change, but instead he just blamed the other parties and defended his party,â he later told me. “It was almost Trumpian.”
Just outside the Bundestag, a few protesters with more extreme demands for attention pitched green and white tents. Calling themselves the âlast generation,â six are on hunger strike. They want to speak with the chancellor candidates ahead of the election, but the demand is still not met. One was hospitalized.
Many young activists fear that some in their ranks will split up and adopt more radical forms of civil disobedience. âWe’ve had three years of Fridays for Future and decades of environmental protests,â Line told me. âPeople are already thinking: Well, what do we do now? “