Luisa Neubauer on the European elections: “Many small levers achieve big things”

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Written By Maya Cantina

Climate protection activist Luisa Neubauer is disappointed with the European election results. Yet she is convinced that people are still interested in climate protection.

German climate activist Luisa Neubauer

“Climate protection is a human right that should exist even if no one demands it,” says Luisa Neubauer Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

taz: Hello Luisa Neubauer, the European elections can be seen as clear Voters’ rejection of greater climate protection to be understood. The Greens have fallen, especially among young voters, while right-wing parties have gained significantly. What do the election results mean for the climate movement?

Luisa Neubauer: This is just a popular choice for now. Where does this interpretation come from? For four years now, people have been saying that the climate is no longer a problem. At the same time, we see that a large majority of the population wants to implement climate protection and is concerned about the consequences of the climate crisis. What has changed is that many new crises have arisen that also worry people. Now there’s a problem: if you are deeply concerned about the consequences of the climate crisis, but feel that no major party can do justice to it, voters find themselves in a democratic dilemma. When in doubt, base your voting decisions on other issues.

Many media outlets generally indicate that people are no longer interested in climate protection. It would be the job of the media conference to discuss the contradictions of such a choice and to recognize that people can care about multiple crises at the same time. I find the election results worrying, but above all we need to find a better way to deal with them and also lead debates on media ethics. By the way: climate protection is a human right and should exist even if no one asks for it.

That’s right, many people feel that their concerns about the climate crisis are not sufficiently represented in parliament. Can founding a party like Last Generation change that?

born in 1996, is a climate protection activist at Fridays for Future.

The last generation did not go to the elections with a serious idea of ​​​​founding a party, but rather with an activist motive. This is completely legit. What an absurd idea to reduce responsibility for climate protection to a single party. The climate crisis is the most existential crisis of our time. To think that we can solve the most complex and dangerous of all crises with the ideas of a single party is naive. We need all the suggestions and ideas from across the democratic spectrum. What clearly doesn’t work: one party is supposed to save the climate, and everyone else continues to destroy it.

Before the 2019 European elections Friday for the future Many people took action, millions of people took to the streets to demonstrate for more climate protection. The protests have now subsided and significantly fewer people are demonstrating for the climate. Can the success of the climate movement be measured by the number of demonstrators?

First of all, we managed to mobilize many people this year. Fridays for Future helped shape the democracy protests at the beginning of the year and, together with many others, brought millions of people to the streets. At the same time, we are experiencing overlapping crises that are straining everyone’s strengths. It is more difficult than in 2019 to motivate people to take to the streets for climate protection, precisely because the situation seems so hopeless.

The vast majority of children are very concerned about the climate crisis, but less and less hopeful. This is not just a private problem for our movement. The fact that there is such political hopelessness on the ecological front is a democratic complaint should give all parties food for thought. This also results in a major loss of confidence in the climate skills of politicians. If nothing changes, it will only be a matter of time before people come to terms with climate protection issues.

What was different in 2019?

You have to realize that in 2019 we lived in a completely different world. Equating the previous elections with the current ones makes as little sense as expecting an identical summer fairytale from 2006 during this year’s European Football Championship.

In 2019, there was not yet this form of anti-ecological populism that is now being pursued by large parts of the opposition, but also by parts of the FDP. And too many media outlets are joining in by spreading evidence-free, fabricated theories about the climate crisis.

Five years ago, we as a climate movement were able to surprise right-wing populist forces with mass protests. That is no longer the case. These right-wing actors are now mobilizing new funds and forces. Also because they have recognized how much we have already achieved as a climate movement. That certainly makes it harder to win. At the same time, we also have significantly more opportunities to participate. In 2019, street protests were the only way for many people to get involved in climate justice. The structural options have now been significantly expanded: there are more sustainable training courses, companies and opportunities to get involved in the neighborhood.

During the election campaign, the major parties mainly promoted peace and democracy, but climate protection hardly played a role. Shouldn’t climate protection and democracy protection be thought more closely together, as right-wing actors increasingly invest in anti-climate protection campaigns?

I think it is underestimated how much right-wing populists benefit from the climate crisis. In every crisis, these actors brutally play on people’s concerns and fears. They create a mood against ‘those up there’, against ‘the others’ or even against the climate group. We can currently conclude that the population’s confidence in the government is declining, precisely due to this instrumentalization of crises by right-wing populists. This, of course, also reduces the ability of democratic governments to implement climate protection. This means that the quality of democratic processes has a huge impact on how successful we will be when it comes to climate protection. It is a big mistake to even separate climate protection and democracy protection.

After the elections, there is a lot of talk about the impact of social media on the election results. Right-wing actors are especially successful on Tiktok and Co. What is the climate movement doing to keep up?

It is important to indicate exactly what we are actually talking about. There are heavily funded machines behind many right-wing radical influencers on Tiktok. These are not activists who do a little right-wing propaganda in their spare time. That means you can’t put it at the same level and say that left-wing activists should do a little more on Tiktok. These are expectations that in no way do justice to the power relations.

Fridays for Future launched a major campaign on Tiktok about four months ago that was unexpectedly successful. We encouraged people to advocate for democratic content on social media and showed how to show solidarity and resistance online. In some cases we generated more than 100 million views; many days we received more clicks on Tiktok than the AfD. But that alone is only combating the symptoms of right-wing populism. There is a huge fundamental democratic question behind this: how can we prevent platforms from being widely abused for right-wing populist and fascist content and climate denial?

How can young people who have lost hope for more climate protection find new motivation to remain politically active?

The question is already part of the answer: as long as I look for hope, I have of course not yet given up hope, I am not yet resigned or cynical and that is worth a lot. So asking this question is the first step. And it has been my experience that hope comes when I go out and take action instead of sitting on the couch waiting for hope to fall into my lap. You not only have hope, you create hope. You can now become active everywhere when it comes to climate protection: at school, at university, in clubs and initiatives. You experience radical confidence everywhere.

There is a certain norms dilemma in the climate crisis: it is easy to think that the climate crisis is so big and we are so small. This creates the misunderstanding that there is one lever that is as big as the climate crisis and must be changed. But the lever does not exist. Instead, there are many small levers that together can achieve big things. So we would now do well to get the many, many small levers moving.

How can this hope become more present in the media?

Frankly, I have rarely been as frustrated by the public discussion of the climate crisis as I am now. We also need to recognize that there is now more media competence when it comes to climate reporting. In many newsrooms I see fantastic people who want to be well informed so that the climate crisis is better reported. But the overall dynamics of media coverage of the climate crisis are unbearable. Behind this lies the, in my opinion, unresolved question of what ethical responsibility the media actually bears in the climate crisis.

So what would you want from journalism?

If journalism sees itself as a fourth force defending democracy, I would say that democracy cannot be sustainably defended as long as the planet is burning down. In my opinion, it would be a media ethical obligation to put climate reality at the center of one’s own work. From my own conviction, completely independent of politics and activism.

That would by no means be an uncritical approach to climate protection. But you would be honest and recognize that the greatest of all hardships on people and the greatest of all burdens on a democracy is protecting the climate, which is not happening. You would consistently intervene when politicians spread climate denial or repression. You would stop simulating a reality where the climate is waiting for us if we don’t have time.

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