Climate youth: “it’s not your fault the world is the way it is”

Climate youth: "it's not your fault the world is the way it is"

(Photo: Xenia Klaus)

It’s always the same images that cause hot heads to spin after the open air season. Entire fields ravaged by discarded tents, beer cans and disposable barbecues. Although many festival organizers want to take action against them and pursue sustainability strategies: Mountains of waste are as much a part of festivals as unappetizing ToiToi toilets and overpriced food stalls.

While in the last years the festival visitors were blamed for the mountains of waste, this year the climate youth – representing all young people – has to take the blame. The "creative director" of a Zurich communications agency christened the climate youth in the NZZ on Sunday unceremoniously changed to the "damn dirty youth". The culprits are also quickly found in the readers’ letter columns and online comments: the hypocritical Climate Youth.

This has its positive sides. The young people from the climate strike have achieved what all civil society movements want to achieve – and so many fail to do: they are on everyone’s lips and have placed their issue in the public eye. This is not just a subjective impression. According to the Swiss media database, the term "climate change" appeared 8,448 times in articles in the Swiss press in 2018; in 2019, it will already appear over 13,000 times. Hardly a day goes by without writing about the importance of movement. No opinion page where someone does not comment on the latest demands of the movement.

This achievement should not be underestimated. It is difficult for civil society movements to generate publicity, i.e., to be included in media coverage. Especially for a movement like the Climate Youth, which has no famous faces in its ranks and addresses a global, complex and comprehensive issue. At most, it is helpful that Switzerland is recording record temperatures for the second time.

Sober climate youth, startled SVP

What is striking: Despite these difficult conditions, the young people of the climate movement do not act in a stubbornly ideological or unrealistic way. Actually, lurid demands and provocative actions are a proven way for civil society actors to generate attention. The climate youth mostly renounces it. The demonstrations are peaceful, the political demands are clearly formulated and are based on the scientifically supported Paris Agreement, which Switzerland has also ratified. The demands that the climate strikers are making of the Swiss financial center are derived from the findings of a 2015 study by the Federal Office for the Environment: "With its investments in the global financial markets, the Swiss financial center thus supports a global climate change scenario of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius."Whoever compares the often sober and even technical demands of the youth with the startled and schizophrenic climate discourse of the SVP, for example, may well ask who has received the democratic mandate to solve political problems here – and who is merely craving attention.

But not only the comparison with the SVP is useful, but also a look at the other big civil society movement that has been driving Switzerland for almost 5 years: Operation Libero. It was founded in 2014 and made its first real appearance with its campaign against the enforcement initiative. Since then, it has been involved in some successful campaigns, such as the No-Billag vote. Always with their own appearance, but in terms of content often identical to the established parties and organizations.

There is one striking and decisive difference between the two civil society movements: Operation Libero continues to ride a wave of advance praise, although it hardly represents any independent positions in terms of content. The young people from the climate strike, on the other hand, are also the subject of media attention, but in the editorials, commentaries and feature articles, more and more responsibility is being placed on them. If you read the demand to the climate strikers, you can’t get rid of the impression that they want to overload the cart. Or how can one explain that the climate youth should not only include nuclear disarmament in their political demands, but also finally take action against all the mountains of waste at the festivals and against cheap flights?? At the same time, it is supposed to be lectured by the same experts and think tanks and to distance itself from all organizations that the journalists consider too radical.

Where, on the other hand, are the interviews that finally pin Flavia Kleiner down on a definition of the term "country of opportunity"?? Where are the comments demanding from Operation Libero not only a tangible and broad-based solution to the framework agreement, but also the solution to all the problems of the EU?? Where are the journalists who demand from Operation Libero an unmistakable distancing from the radical neo-liberal lobby organization Economiesuisse??

The climate youth, on the other hand, seem to insist on such demands: ideology-free, non-partisan and socially acceptable solutions for mankind’s biggest problem, while at the same time acting in a consistently sustainable manner in all areas of life. In short: The climate youth should take the responsibility for the failure of politics and economy. Anything else would be hypocritical, says those who share much of the blame for the problems. If it does not live up to this puffed up responsibility or – God knows – even uses civil disobedience, the same media houses pin a crisis of legitimacy on it and already fear an imminent eco-socialism.

How can this inequality be explained? With their clear-cut and uncompromising demands, the climate strikers really do pose a challenge to politics and the economic system. Operation Libero, with its so far empty vocabulary of "land of opportunity" and "future-oriented change", rather less so.

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