One of the most pressing issues of our time is the ongoing and accelerating climate crisis that will significantly change life on Earth as we know it within the 21st century. But how can we, in cultural studies, think and communicate about the climate crisis in ways that matter? If language, stories and metaphors have power, then how do representations of climate change issues shape the way we think about, talk about and act in regard to the climate crisis?
These were the central questions for the block seminar “Confronting the Climate Crisis: A Writers’ Room for Cultural Scholars” in February 2020. The seminar’s goal was for everyone to write a blog post about an issue related to the representation of the climate crisis to raise awareness of the urgent need to change the way we talk, and hence think, about the causes of humanity’s ongoing self-destruction.
Go back to Student Activities.
An Argument to Carefully Choose
The climate changes, scientists know, effect every part of the earth – of ‘our’ planet. There are a lot of concerning questions focused on the future of the earth and humanity we can’t answer yet, like ‘What will the earth look like in 100 years?’. Other questions, scientists are pretty sure about. One certainty being that the earth will be just fine. She lived through times way more devastating than humans – endured heat, ice, rain and meteorites for millions of years – and whatever happens because of the human-made Climate Crisis, she will live through as well.
This means that we, against the popular opinion, don’t have to save our planet, we instead must save humanity and find ways to cope with the devastation we brought. We are our own biggest threat for extinction. So, what do we have to do? Is there still hope for our selfish species? Maybe, maybe not – I can’t tell you. This depends on us, you and me, and every single person on this planet. What are we willing to do in order to keep this planet in a state of human-friendliness? One of our measures could be to reflect on and change the way we talk about this Crisis.
Change vs. Crisis
What exactly has saving humanity and coping with the changing climate to do with the choices of word-use we make? Changing the way, we talk about the Climate Crisis is one possibility to underline its importance for everyone living on the earth today and all following generations, however many that will be. It is neither overly complicated nor time-consuming to consider our choice of words when talking about the future of this planet. But why does this matter you might ask. I’ll give you an example.
Your best friend texts you ‘We should grab a coffee this week, there have been some changes in my life’. What do you think your friend will tell you? Did she finally get this one job? Did she sell her car? You don’t know, but it is probably something she was able to influence, and she likes. She will adapt to the change that happened in her life. But what about a text saying: ‘We should grab a coffee this week, there has been a crisis in my life’. As soon as you read this you are alarmed and worry what might have happened to your friend. Maybe you even call her directly to find out whether she is fine. Something drastic must have happened, which she couldn’t influence.
Why do you act differently? Because you know that Change doesn’t necessarily mean something bad has happened, but Crisis does. You know this because you learned from an early age on what words mean and that they produce different images. Change and Crisis simply don’t mean the same thing. That’s why your friend doesn’t use them interchangeably, but chooses carefully, to fit the word she uses to the message she wants to bring across. This also protects her from being misunderstood.
Change can be positive or at least something we can adapt to. The proverb ‘The only constant in life is Change’ suggests that Change can also be something to trust. Crisis however is neither positive nor hopeful. When someone has a Crisis in life you know, this person needs help and is not having the greatest time of her life. Still after a Crisis something good can happen, but the Crisis itself is always devastating in the first place, and whether there will come something good out of this, we can’t know – there might not.
The Words of the Stories We Tell
With the knowledge of the connection of word-choice and meaning, it might not be surprising that many people working in the business of publishing and writing are very aware of the power the considerate choice of words has. There exists a whole lot of theory behind the meaning-making processes of language but for this purpose it is enough to know that different words have different meanings, and as obvious as this might sound, as important it is for the words we choose to tell a certain story. Titles of newspaper articles are not chosen coincidentally, neither are the words to report of a certain phenomenon, political act or decision.
Whatever register and vocabulary we use, it is – undoubtfully – charged and never neutral or without connotation. No newspaper article is ever free of the evaluation of the author, even if it is only in small words or the choice to include a certain piece of information and exclude another. This fact we can use for our good. We can purposely choose to use those words, which underline the urgency of acting in the Climate Crisis. We can decide from which angle of perception we tell this story.
Let me give you one more example. The story that an oil pump is leaking can be told in completely different ways. The oil business owner, whose wealth depends on the existence of these oil pumps, will assure you that this is not a major problem, and that the leak will be repaired in a few days anyway. There is nothing to worry about, accidents like this just happen from time to time. A conservationist who tries to free a pelican from the oil it has been caught in will say that this is a crisis, and that animals are dying already, even if the leak that pumps oil into the ocean is only there for a few days. This is a big catastrophe for the ocean and things need to be done now, to save the ocean and the already suffering animals. Look at the words the two people use, they differ immensely. This shows that the use of vocabulary and the narrative of a story are not coincidental. We use specific words to tell a story in a way that convinces others of our own perspective.
‘Climate Science Denier’
The Guardian did something exceptional and published a newspaper article in which they reflect on the word choices they have made when reporting about the Climate Crisis so far and decided that they needed to change the vocabulary they were using to do justice to the huge problem this Crisis means for us. They for example decided to use ‘Climate Crisis’ instead of ‘Climate Change’, ‘global heating’ instead of ‘global warming’ and ‘climate science denier’ instead of ‘climate sceptic’.
Why are they doing this? Because these new terms carry a different meaning. A meaning that says: this is important, if we don’t act now, it will probably be too late. They also give the readers the opportunity to apply their new knowledge on how newspapers choose vocabulary to other articles and other publication websites, by making their choice transparent.
All this meta-knowledge of how and why we use the words we do influences the way we think about a matter. We will pay attention to this the next time we read an article about the Climate Crisis and we might even start to use different words, because we know that they do justice to the importance of what we are saying.
Little Goodbye to the Illusion of Objectivity
You might already know, but this is not a neutral report, it can’t be. I write in favor of keeping this planet a place which makes breathing possible and I strongly advocate for using words consciously and letting people know I do so. I prefer using the word Climate Crisis, because this is a Crisis, and if we don’t treat it as one, we will soon no longer be able to do anything against it. The earth will not provide us with the perfect conditions for life to flourish everywhere anymore and we will suffer under one Climate Catastrophe after the other. The words we choose matter – today more than ever.
Since forever rhetoric’s and choice of words have played a huge role in media and politics; Say the right thing at the right time and people will believe maybe even follow you. History has proven this fact countless times. Ask the Germans about it. One of the most controversial discussions of our time is definitely the one about ‘that climate-thing’. There are few issues that split the masses in such an extreme and wide manner.
In this blog I want to shed some light on one phenomenon I think plays a huge role in creating so many different opinions and political camps:
What exactly is Labeling? Basically, it is nothing more than giving something a name with an inherent meaning. What it does on the other hand is so much more. Why do different political camps use different labels for the same issue? The answer is as easy as it is frightening; they want to manipulate their audience and push the behavior and perception in a specific direction.
You probably have noticed that I talked about ‘that climate-thing’ instead of being specific. That is because there are many different names for the same phenomenom by now.
‘Global warming’ ‘Climate change’ ‘Climate crisis’
A study by Jonathan P. Schuldt showed that US Americans, especially republicans, strongly differentiate between ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’. Results revealed greater belief in the ‘climate change’ than the ‘global warming’ condition (74.0% vs. 67.7%), an effect that was even more drastic among Republican respondents in particular (60.2% vs. 44.0%).
A very prominent example of the power of labeling is the memo that Republican strategist Frank Luntz send George W. Bush in 2003. He advised the administration to use the term ‘climate change’ instead of ‘global warming’ because the former one sounded less frightening. Later on, there even was a myth that liberals created the term ‘climate change’ because ‘global warming’ wasn’t happening anymore and the planet stopped getting warmer.
Still ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ were topics that came up occasionally for some time in media and politics only to disappear in the void again. Media and politics mostly used them for their campaigns, to sound green or defame their opponents.
That luxury is gone now! It is officially a full grown ‘climate crisis’ now. Ever since activists started bringing more attention to the problem this new label got stuck in people’s heads. And of course a word like ‘crisis’ has power. Suddenly politicians and media can’t ignore it as they did before. It is omnipresent. But sadly, that is not always used for good. Don’t get me wrong. Its great awareness has been rising globally and people start acting towards a better future, which is great news after all. As we all know fear is a powerful weapon and people start fearing the consequences for themselves or their children. There are many good things happening right now, just because the label ‘climate crisis’ is becoming more common than ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. Suddenly people seem to care, be it only by using their bikes more often. On the other hand, large companies use these labels to sell products in a matter that they promote their product as one that will save the planet and guilt people into buying and using it.
Now we have three different labels for one phenomenon, used by different lobbies at different times to force different perceptions and behaviors. It’s obvious that this is highly problematic because that one phenomenon is most likely going to fuck up humanity really bad if we don’t act on it very soon and very fast. And as long as people are still trying to guide others into wrong directions by using biased labels, we will have a hard time working out solutions.
While we are talking about people anyway…this is another gigantic problem with labels. Candice C. Howarth and Amelia G. Sharman investigated issues with labels used in the public discourse. Often, if not always, people publicly participating in the climate discussion get labeled by others as soon as they express their opinions. You just say one or two sentences and suddenly you are an ‘alarmist’ or a ‘denier’ and everything you say from that point will be judged subjectively and biased. This kind of labeling is even more dangerous to open and solution-oriented discussions. These climate labels often serve to isolate, exclude, ignore and dismiss claim‐makers of all types from constructive dialog and therefore devalue important objections.
I can’t stress enough how alarmingly dangerous all this labeling is to the process of solving that ‘climate-thing’. We spend resources and time to form labels, giving them meaning, (ab)using them, even though all this time could also be spend actually, actively working on the problem. We label people one way or the other just to harden the fronts and make constructive dialogue more complicated. How are we supposed to talk about a problem if we can’t even decide on a name for it? Our planets well-being shouldn’t be something we fight and argue about, but for. You wouldn’t argue that you need to fix your roof, if it has several holes and you get wet every time it rains. The only question to argue about is which carpenter to call and not if the holes are really holes or just small leaks. In the end you will get wet, no matter what. So do something about it!
What is it with names that they always draw attention?
Words carry meaning. As do names. So, we should be careful in using them, right? Well, apparently when it comes to public figures and politicians, this unspoken rule does not apply. They are excluded because they themselves have a way of using language that we, the ordinary people, might not find quite as charming. So, when uncomfortable topics are being discussed in a manner that people do not like – what happens?
People strike back by using the same weapon: language. But not just arbitrary words or insults, that would be too easy. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry want to distance themselves from the Royal Family? A Megxit. Christian Lindner departs from his word? Lindnern. Greta Thunberg wants the whole world to stop global warming? By doing so, she is not, as other media sources have named her, being great, greater, Greta! The superlative here has changed into a verb: gretern (ger.). But what do these actions mean? The term Megxit clearly has its roots in the already existing term Brexit, which describes the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. So, exiting the Royal Family is compared to losing certain privileges but also gaining personal independence. In short, not nearly as terrible as leaving the EU.
Another neologism that works similarly is the German verb “lindnern”. “Lindnern” has not always been part of the German vocabulary, it has gained national attention during the German regional elections in 2017. The gist of it is: better to not do something at all than doing it wrong. However, since its emergence, its meaning has changed. Nowadays, lindnern means to cancel at the last possible moment. This altered meaning is coined by Germany’s younger generation. Each year, the youth can vote from a list of very frequently words that are used among youngsters and that have very specific meanings for them. Although the term lindnern did not win the title of “Jugendwort 2018”, it was on the Top Ten list to choose from. A similar connection between name and action was made during 2019 involving climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“Gretern” has not yet made it into our everyday vocabulary but there is a good chance it will. Apparently, it describes the on-going process of saying something important, of demanding actions that will initiate change but deep down knowing that all efforts are, in the end, in vain. Depressing, isn’t it? Especially since it is connected to the internationally overarching movement in favour of climate change. Over a year ago, Greta Thunberg has started Skolstrejk for klimatet – missing school on Fridays to instead strike for effective climate change measures in front of the parliament in Sweden. Since starting her campaign, she has been faced with a lot of criticism that goes far beyond her speeches and actions. Instead, she has become the centre of attention due to her looks, her language, and maybe more importantly, the fact that she is on the Autism spectrum.
As The New York Times writes:
“She [Greta Thunberg, TB] dislikes crowds; ignores small talk; and speaks in direct, uncomplicated sentences. She cannot be flattered or distracted. She is not impressed by other people’s celebrity, nor does she seem to have interest in her own growing fame. But these very qualities have helped make her a global sensation. Where others smile to cut the tension, Thunberg is withering. Where others speak the language of hope, Thunberg repeats the unassailable science: Oceans will rise. Cities will flood. Millions of people will suffer”.
So, for people who do not yet see a connection between these three terms, I will repeat my opening sentence: Words carry meaning. By using terms like Megxit, lindnern and gretern, we are not just voicing our criticism towards a certain person. We are purposefully using a representative figure of a certain political and social standing as a means to ridicule a whole movement. And regardless of whether or not they “deserve” to be ridiculed, realizing that language is a powerful tool and is constantly used to influence us in one way or another is especially valuable when it comes to important social and political issues such as the Climate Emergency.
Greta Thunberg, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela and Simone de Beauvoir, these are names probably the majority of people connect with some kind of event or memory. When you think of Mandela, what is the first thing you think of? For me it is how my teacher in philosophy told me that he was not as a good human being as everyone told me in previous classes. Quite unusual right? Or pretty usual? You may be thinking about something so different from me, that it seems unusual for me. Let’s see, let us try the same thing with Beauvoir. On three we are going to say the first thing that comes to our mind. Ok ready? One, ...... two, ....... three: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Every event, every movement has one representative figure, one “Sinnbild”. But why is that important or is it even? I feel like every generation has its own challenges to battle with. In times, where Mandela had to have a strong opinion and make clear that the protests against Apartheid have to be peaceful and respectful to get to a solution or where people like Malcolm X “have a dream”, where people of color have equal rights, there are new challenges for our generation. And our generation, generation Z, seems to have also a “Sinnbild” and a battle to fight against.
Climate change, climate crisis or global warming – same, same but different. Just like previous movements the climate crisis has its own “Sinnbild” and that is Greta Thunberg. But how is that even possible? A 16-year-old girl from Sweden, Stockholm, who makes headlines daily, who seems not to be scared from stating her opinion, her fears and hopes, who seems to make presidents so uncomfortable that they make fun of her. Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, one of the most powerful men in the world makes fun of her on Twitter: So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill! What makes Greta a target? Is it her opinion, her appearance or the power she holds? Donald Trump’s Tweet underlines everything that speaks against feministic views, everything girls and women have to face daily. Throughout history women were always called hysteric whenever they stated opinions that were against the norm. Is that why Greta seems to be so successful, because she seems not to fit the norm? But why is she the “Sinnbild” of generation Z? I think that every movement needs a spokesperson. One person who can convey the intention. In that case the spokesperson, whether he or she decided it to be, becomes somehow whether glorified or crushed.
A “Sinnbild” is more than just a person, it is what the person represents. It is bigger than just an opinion. A “Sinnbild” represents the present, the action and the process. How can that not be important? Having one person representing what all of this stands for, gives everything more importance. As Goethe said: “Die Symbolik verwandelt die Erscheinung in Idee, die Idee in ein Bild, und so, dass die Idee im Bild immer unendlich wirksam und unerreichbar bleibt und, selbst in allen Sprachen ausgesprochen, doch unaussprechlich bliebe.“
 “The symbolic transforms the appearance into an idea, the idea into a picture, and so, the idea in the picture is forever effective and unattainable, even in languages, that are unspoken”
Every newspaper you open, every news report you see on TV, every tweet, every Instagram post, every conversation nowadays focuses on Greta Thunberg. And there is something seriously wrong with that. Greta is going on people’s nerves, which is understandable, but that is not the main reason why it is wrong to talk about her. Let me specify what I mean with that: It is wrong to ONLY talk about her. It is not helpful, it is not productive and, by all means, it does not help in solving the climate crisis at all.
Everybody knows Greta by now. Everybody talks about the Swedish girl who skipped schools on Fridays to protest climate change. And everybody knows that she has Asperger’s, that when she used the trains in Germany she had to sit on the floor and everybody knows that she sailed to the US which resulted in skilled sailors being flown in to bring the ship back. But nobody seems to be interested in why she is doing all of this. At least that is the way the news coverage suggests this.
Greta wants a better future for herself and all future generations. And can we really blame her for that? She tells us that the way we do things now does not work. The way we procrastinate goals regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions, regarding the closing of coal plants and the change in plastic usage is harmful to our planet. And while the people in power right now might not have to live with the changes their behaviour results in, Greta and all the other children will have to face the consequences. And they will have to live with them. Because climate change is irreversible. And they know this!
We tell them to stop skipping school, we tell them that they should be learning instead of protesting. But that is exactly what they did. They learned that every action has consequences. Which seems to be something we have forgotten. So they strike now in order to have a liveable future. Because it affects them directly, and not us. We do not have to live with the consequences our behaviour results in. At least that is what we keep telling ourselves.
A whole continent is burning. Australia is on fire. And we keep talking about the coal mines on said continent and how we need to invest in them. We keep talking about the poor koalas and kangaroos that were burned in their homes. We keep talking about tennis stars not able to play during the Australian open due to coughing fits caused by the smoke of the fires. We keep talking about the beautiful landscapes and buildings burned down. And then we collect some money and feel better because we did something.
Can you see a pattern forming here? We keep the narrative going that we are doing something. We are talking about the bush fires. We are talking about Greta Thunberg. We are talking about plastic getting stuck in birds and turtles. Our children are protesting, we give some money to charities and everything works out. That is one nice story. It is a story that could have a happy end. Except it doesn’t.
We keep talking about the symptoms we see and how we can deal with them. But we avoid talking about the actual problem: climate change is real. And it is not even just a change anymore, it is a crisis! A crisis that needs acknowledgement, a crisis that needs action, a crisis that needs change. But we keep talking about Greta and how she bought a snack in a plastic wrapper. We can keep talking about that, but then we miss out on the whole point she is making.
We should not be talking about her; we should listen to her and start talking about what scientists have been telling us for years: We need to change! But not only do we need to exchange our plastic bottles, cups and cutlery for reusable alternatives, or use our cars less, but we need to change on a bigger, higher scale. We need to change our way of thinking; we need to change our understanding of the world; we need to change the stories we tell about the world. And we need to change not only individually, but on a world-wide level.
We need to imagine a new world. A world where cars are not the main method of transport, where planes are not funded by governments, where we do not rely on coal energy. We need to think of a world that before thinking about profit thinks about what is good for the environment, for health, for humans and the planet. We need to think of a world where the slogan ‘growth is good’ does not exist, where instead of focusing on growth we focus on sustainability. A world where we do not focus on material wealth and efficiency no matter what, but a world where we focus on climate-neutral living and breathing. We need to think about this utopian version of human living to make it possible. We need to think about the possibilities of radical change in order to move into a direction that does not harm future generations’ place on earth.
And I get that this is scary. I get that we would much rather talk about how Greta does not fully live up to what she is saying. About how her Asperger’s makes her only see and black and white and dramatize everything. About how Greta is just a kid that skips school with other kids because they are lazy. But the only thing these kids are telling us is that we should listen to the scientists. However, if we ridicule and defame them, then we don’t have to think about what they are telling us, then we don’t need to change our habits, then we don’t need to leave our comfort zone. And that is good. We don’t want to change. We worked hard to get where we are, we have a right to live the way we do right now. We built up this economy, we built up the industry, we created the future for our kids. And who are they to tell us that everything we did is wrong?
We keep spinning this harmful narrative around a 17 year old girl who listens to scientists and tells us to do the same, who does everything in her power to live what she preaches, who wants to have the chance of having a liveable future, just because we are afraid. But fear is good, fear is a means to survival. However, we refuse to look into our fears. Rather we project all this fear, all this hate onto a girl, who is just the messenger. ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ we say, but we do everything to make her stop talking. And by talking about her we create so much noise that we can't hear what is important anymore.
So, stop talking about Greta, and start talking about something else! Start talking about the climate crisis. Start talking about the scientists, start talking about how our planet is on fire and we keep building coal plants. Start talking about how we need to reduce our carbon emissions but keep building bigger and bigger cars. Start talking about how fossil fuels are harmful but we don’t use renewable energies because the wind turbines do not look good in our beautiful landscapes. Start talking about changes, not about flaws. We all know what is at stake, we all know what will happen if we do not act now.
Instead, keep talking about the changes we need to make, keep demanding that politicians, governments and leaders do everything in their power to bring on these changes. And do everything we possibly can to change ourselves. Because we might be able to live our lives peacefully and without consequences, but the next generations won’t. And it is in our responsibility to make sure that we leave them with a planet that offers a home for them, and not a planet that is not inhabitable for humans any longer because we fucked up.
A Look at Germany and the U.S.
During the past years, young people have become the face of protests. Whether it be Greta Thunberg leading the Fridays For Future movement, or a group of teenagers that upon surviving a school shooting in 2018 led the March for Our Lives, a movement for improved gun control in the USA.
Teenagers are taking to the streets, demanding to have their cries for a future of higher safety and living standards heard.
Even though it might sound cynical, the group that became known as the parkland teens subsequently becoming the target of verbal attacks by the right-wing media and in turn finding themselves at the center of online hate and harassment, came to no surprise for me. They were calling for gun reform. In the United States of America.
During all this, Greta Thunberg went on a school strike that would turn into the FFF movement which gained serious traction in 2019, when 1.4 million people in Germany went on to participate in a coordinated Fridays For Future protest. Naturally there were attempts to belittle the movement and even prolific liberal-party leaders felt inclined to make derogatory remarks about protesting children. In spite of this, I never imagined it possible that there were to grow a sentiment among a large part of the German population that justified genuine hatred towards teenage activists. This is Germany after all. There is no genuine Fox News channel equivalent over here, with the potential to enable and strengthen hatred directed at politically active teenagers. I did not even think about the possibility of this ever becoming an issue. This changed later in 2019, when I was directly confronted with it.
It was some time around Christmas when I eventually directly witnessed some genuine animosity towards Greta Thunberg in a real life, personal setting.
I was at a Christmas market with my girlfriend and parts of her extended family, folks that I've gotten to know during recent holidays. We were invited by this one particular couple who are best described as conservative, nice people. They are recent retirees who raised two daughters and enjoy life in their comfortable home. A year prior during the summer holidays, this 60-something wife was oddly fixated on and seemingly in genuine awe about my then longish hair. I remember her friendly and cute comments about it, remember her saying that she loved the way it looks. My point being: this is a nice woman.
Back at the Christmas fair in 2019, me and said woman are waiting in line for some Christmas-themed drinks as a person in front of us goes, "No I don't want a plastic straw, because of Greta." As it became our turn ordering, this nice woman, seemingly out of the blue and with a stern and angry voice says, "Oh and I DO want a straw with that, also because of Greta!".
Just like that I found myself in the midst of this phenomenon. Angry adults where rebelling against teenagers trying to improve the living conditions on this planet, right there next to me during a harmless everyday situation. Gone where the days where one could sarcastically comment “’Murica” while simultaneously finding comfort in the belief that this behavior was mostly to be found exclusively in the USA.
Turns out, all that is necessary are the right ingredients, a few requirements to be met and people feel legitimized in their hateful actions towards teenagers they do not share political values with
This left a lasting impression on me and I have been asking myself ever since, how and why it has come to this sorry state of affairs and I have been trying to come up with some answers.
In an effort to understand this further, I went on inspecting the site where it all mostly happened. The scanning of internet comments such tweets or the comments section of center to center-right leaning online newspapers quickly revealed just how much online harassment and threats were and are being posted under every article concerning Swedish activist Thunberg or the Fridays For Future movement in general. It also became evident how most of the commenters are white men above the age of forty.
Since these are adults lashing out this suggests that part of the reason they are freaking out to such a degree is that they simply feel threatened and belittled. One journalist suggested that it might be simply because of the fact that Greta Thunberg speaks in remarkably direct and authoritative ways.
In an effort to understand (adult) animosity towards FFF one might have to look no further than towards one of the largest counter-movements of the Fridays For Future, the Facebook community Fridays for Hubraum.
Created in September of 2019, the founders of the group proclaimed that it was their goal "to counter the overwhelming climate-craze with fun" and that even though "everyone should protect the environment to the best of their abilities" and "Germany can not save the world at the expense of thousands of workplaces". More than half a million people had joined the group.
The newly formed online community became a cesspool of vitriolic verbal assaults and genuine threats its users posted and aimed at FFF founder Thunberg. Facebook user Ulli N. - posting under what is presumably a real name, explained that he would like to bury her in the woods, while Milon H. asked about the costs of a contracted killing, with Maik H. suggesting crowdfunding as an option to gather the funds required.
The founder of the group – a car enthusiast and father of two teenagers himself – has since strictly changed the participation rules of the FFH community, working with a team of twenty moderators in an attempt to systematically rid the groups comment section of hateful members and comments such as the ones displayed. He has since set opening times for the group and further expressed regret over how what he intended to be a joke turned out to become a platform where extreme threats were being posted and encouraged.
One is left with the impression that for some people, restrictions aimed at their automotive freedom seem to trigger and legitimize extreme, hateful behavior, that they have no problem aiming at teenagers.
While these are extreme examples, what is most striking to me is that these people are not some anonymous internet trolls of the certain conviction that none of the hate and verbal attacks can be traced back to their actual person. Instead, an inspection of the screenshots of so called best-agers commenting under their real name, feeling legitimized in wishing death and rape on a young girl and her young fellowship.
There are also less extreme comments, with people merely expressing how the children should rather go back to school than to protest about something that they do not know anything about, suggesting that at the core of these phenomena lies a conflict of age groups, between adults and teenagers. This can be explained by taking into the account the behavior that is known as Adultism.
According to Wikipedia, adultism is defined as the "behaviors and attitudes based on the assumptions that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without agreement".
Adults thinking and acting in accordance with this mindset stemming from a falsely perceived moral and intellectual feeling of superiority feel justified in their actions towards youth protesters. To them, these young people must in turn be morally and intellectually inferior, making the legitimization of these extreme threats, directed at minors, possible to begin with.
While this does offer some explanation, it does take nothing away from the impression that on this particular issue, the climate crisis in combination with adultism, a portion of people active in online discourse has become unhinged.
Upon looking for further factors of legitimizing effect, the name of Dieter Nuhr – one of Germanys most popular comedians – pops up. Nuhr made national headlines during the end of 2019, when he repeatedly made fun of and mocked Greta Thunberg and the FFF movement during some of his nationally broadcast shows. While he is of course entitled to exercise his right of free speech and comedy is certainly subjective, his words undoubtedly have the potential to strengthen the already existing hate and resentment towards young climate protesters. It is no surprise that part-time Nestlé lobbyist and Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner recently announced that she was big fan Nuhrs’ comedic programming.
The public is clearly being signaled: Go on, discredit and attack young people however you see fit. Who are they to question the status quo? It’s Adultism working it’s magic.
In a continued and final effort to further make sense of why a significant amount of people seem to be rallying (online at least) against the Fridays For Future movement, a closer look at Germanys relationship with cars might provide some insight. It is quite telling that whenever some government affiliated group or political party announces plans that involve enforcing a more restraining speed limit on the German Autobahn, this dominates news outlets and the public discourse. Surveys consistently show the population to be equally divided by close to a 50/50 split on this issue. Naturally, stricter speed limits on the autobahn are part of the FFF agenda. The fact that the hate incising community Fridays For Hubraum was founded and aimed at car enthusiast is quite telling.
It is a cynical conclusion to draw, but evidence suggest that just as much as the U.S. remains the country of guns and triggered gun-owners and advocates, Germany is the nations’ equal when it comes to cars. At the center of this lies a generation of white males who appear to be quickest to call (young) people snowflakes and other expletives, who appear to be the ones triggered the most and hardest.
Some time ago I found myself sitting at a table in the university’s main hall, near the food court. With me were six people I was varyingly familiar with, very close friends to barely acquaintances. Topics ranged from how good this vegan cake that one of them brought was, how peculiar the designated cake-cutter was cutting the cake, to how much sugar one of them dumped into their coffee. And then we talked about the crises of our time. Pretty normal stuff for a Monday afternoon. The conversations I have often drift into this direction, how awful the last German election was, how awful the next German election is going to be, how awful it is that this very university we’re sitting in is deliberately ignoring the needs of its scientific staff. But this Monday afternoon we got to the core of it. Cultural events that defined a generation’s consciousness, events that shook the figurative ground on which we live. The crises of our time.
The oldest of our group began recounting his memories of when the radioactive disaster of Chernobyl changed life in Germany. How he was forbidden from playing in the forest, on playgrounds and in sand-pits. How produce was now canned and never fresh, how milk was now artificial instead of “normal”, meaning: it was now different from how it’s always been. He recounted memories from when the world was on the brink of disaster during the cold war, at least many people his age felt this way. How from one day to the other, an invisible and imperceivable force changed their way of living.
The second oldest person remembered how she came home after school one day to her mother crying in the living-room. The TV was running and showed the face of a woman similar to the one of her mother, Lady Diana had just died in a car-crash. While on a different scale than the Chernobyl crisis, a singular event was enough to make a lasting impression on her. How an idol to her mother was first ostracized publicly and then killed.
And then it was my turn, as the third-oldest person at the table. Whether I like it or not, the event that I still remember best is 9/11. At the time I was 8 years old and I remember coming home from school and my parents were home. They were never home when I came from school, plus they were glued to the TV just like they always forbade me because it would make my eyes become square. I also remember the people on the news-program being at a loss for words while the short clips of the planes hitting the twin towers were playing on repeat. I remember feeling uneasy because the people on the news-program were never at a loss for words. They used to be serious and in control, even when there were videos of terrible things on the news. But this time it seemed to be different. And my parents were also anxious, which in turn made me anxious as well. I might not have understood the full gravity of the situation at the time but I could feel it. And how the others talked about their experiences, I could identify myself with them.
At this point, the conversation came to a halt. The next person at the table was old enough to be alive during 9/11, but too young to remember it. She tried to come up with an event that defined her childhood and youth, and we tried to recount something too but were at a loss. What is this generation’s crisis? We thought it might be the election of Donald Trump, socialists and leftists that we are. Possible, but not quite. We landed on another crisis though: The climate crisis.
A crisis destined to destroy the planet eventually if we don’t change the way our society operates immediately and radically. A crisis so omnipresent for young people everywhere that it’s difficult to escape its grasp anywhere you go. And we agreed, the climate crisis is this generation’s defining crisis, the thing that threatens the way we live now and how we’re going to live in the future.
If I sound overly dramatic to you, this is how I really feel, too. I have become cynical enough to firmly believe that we’re heading towards a global catastrophe without a way to stop it and that makes me very, very sad and hopeless.
But it also makes me angry and I know I’m not the only one who is angry. After all, there is no one singular moment like with Chernobyl, the death of Lady Diana and 9/11. The climate crisis is ongoing, it is not only this generation’s crisis, it is the crisis of all of us. We are very privileged to live in a region of the world where the extreme effects of climate change are not immediate, yet. That means we don’t fully understand the repercussions of the climate crisis, yet.
Now, conversations like this put me in a certain mood. And when I’m in this certain mood, I tend to not seek out things that lighten up that mood, but I specifically seek out media that is of the same mood I am in. And whenever I feel like this world is fucked beyond any repair, I watch Akira.
For a bit of background, after World War II, Japanese media was censored from portraying anything related to the disasters at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, barring the Japanese people from dealing with their trauma. When the Americans left after imprinting their idea of society, Japan had a boom in exactly these types of media. 1954 saw the rise of Godzilla, a monster born from nuclear radiation and a direct allegory to the bombs that hit the country. While the series later adopted a less serious tone, the parallels still remain. WW2 in a post WW2 Japan played a huge role in the nation’s self-understanding and the media continued to try and cope with it.
The early 1980’s saw one of the most prolific incarnations of this coping-technique in Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga-series Akira, which release continued into the 1990’s and perhaps climaxed in the anime-adaptation in 1988, which Otomo himself directed. The movie combined themes and ideas explored in the original manga and delivered, with a before unseen budget for an anime movie, perhaps the most important piece of Japanese animation to date. Because of the production value, the movie was brought to the west, where it was a huge success and helped the whole genre in crossing the Pacific Ocean.
How a Japanese animation-movie that dealt with the fallout of WW2 found huge appeal in the west is a story of how themes and motifs combined with fluid animation and visceral storytelling create an atmosphere of hopelessness and futility that still echoes into today’s society facing the climate crisis.
The story of Akira takes place in the, at the time, distant future of 2019, 31 years after World War III and the following fallout destroyed all of Tokyo in a massive detonation. From these ashes, Neo-Tokyo is born, a massive city-scape engulfed in neon lights, skyscrapers and advertisements. The protagonists are a group of youths, the post-war generation, unscathed by war but trapped in a bleak world of corrupt politicians, societal unrest, student-protests and religious fanatics. These youths themselves are delinquents, skipping their crumbling school staffed with cruel teachers and racing rival motorcycle-gangs with little regard to human life and personal property. It is this carelessness and perhaps cynicism that characterizes the younger generation of Neo-Tokyo best. A world that offers no perspective for them and that is headed into a certain collapse.
From this group of youths, one rises to usher in the total re-destruction of Neo-Tokyo and with it its broken society. Instead of fearing annihilation, the people in Akira practically long for the collapse of society, awaiting and celebrating the return of war.
Although born from the same collective consciousness, Akira is a distinct shift from Godzilla. Whereas the early Godzilla might be manmade by nuclear experimentation, it in an outside threat, to be fought by a collective Japan. There is a clear sense of belonging and a clear enemy. Akira poses a different threat, one born from within society, thereby fragmenting a unified force to fight the threat of societal collapse. Akira wears its nihilism on its sleeve.
But why? How broken must a society be for its members to embrace its collapse? In my, albeit cynical, opinion, it’s not even that far-fetched. The parallels to today’s generations facing the climate crisis are obvious. The “me vs. you” narrative in today’s political discourse mirrors the fragmented society in Akira, the younger generations try to make themselves heard only to be ignored and mocked by those in power, late capitalism and corruption sacrifices the well-being of many for the enrichment of a few.
Then I find myself back at the table in the university’s main hall, near the food court, thinking that Chernobyl, 9/11 and the death of Lady Diana probably mean jack shit in comparison to the climate crisis. That yes, thousands of people died of radiation-poisoning and cancer, that yes, a person publicly shamed and bullied is obviously morally bankrupt, that yes, 5000 people died in a terror-attack that marked the beginning of the war on terror, killing hundreds of thousands more. But all of it pales in the face of climate change, which is going to make this world uninhabitable for all of us, is going to cause war and death and famine, killing billions of us.
My generation and the one after me were born into a world where conflict only happens in the distance, both spatial and temporal. Where an attack on our “home-turf” is such an impactful event that it changes policy and politics for decades to come. Where policy is too slow and halted by the ones still foolishly denying anything’s wrong or headed in the wrong direction. We’re still not quite at the boiling point, we’re not on the verge of collapse like the world in Akira, but it’s not a big leap anymore. Youth protest is rising throughout the world, the ones inheriting a broken world raise their voices against government corruption and inefficiency and as soon as immediacy reaches us, we’re hopefully going to see some societal unrest as temperatures and water rise. And who knows, maybe we’ll reach the climax as the world in Akira did and then we can only hope to maybe rise from the ashes with lessons learned. Or maybe it’s for the better if we don’t.
Extended literature I’ve drawn from/that inspired me.
Napier, Susan. “Panic Sites: The Japanese Imagination of Disaster from Godzilla to Akira.” The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 19, No 2, Summer 1993, pp. 327-351
Lamarre, Thomas. “Born of Trauma: Akira and Capitalist Modes of Destruction.” Positions East Asia Cultures Critique, Vol. 16, No 1, March 2008, pp. 131-156
Bolton, Christopher. “From Ground Zero to Degree Zero: Akira from Origin to Oblivion” Mechamedia, Vol. 9, 2014, pp. 295-315
Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke University Press, 1997
In 2018, Brazil elected a president whose agenda had the power to put the whole world in jeopardy. Jair Bolsonaro has been in charge of the Amazon since then - the world’s largest rainforest. His policies, however, are poised to destroy it. He has called global warming nothing more than “greenhouse fables”, and his chosen foreign minister believes it is a “Marxist plot to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China”. We are not even that far in the story yet, but already at the point where we ask ourselves “what kind of joke is this?” If it were a joke, we could at least all laugh about it. But this is not a joke. It is a (arguably) seriously democratically elected president. And it only gets worse. Bolsonaro’s promises during his presidential campaign were clearly not based on the environmental agenda:
Needless to say, all these catastrophic measures would lead to catastrophic results. But if you ask yourself why that is, I can tell you why: because the Amazon acts as a giant sponge for the planet’s C02 emissions and as a giant air conditioner for an increasingly burning world. Literally burning – look at the wildfires in Australia and in the Amazon rainforest, as well as the droughts which have affected almost every region in the U.S. and in Brazil in the past years. Every year, the Amazon sucks up 600 million metric tons of carbon pollution. Without it, the earth’s climate would spin out of control. Nonetheless, President Bolsonaro doesn’t even acknowledge that the Amazon is of such great matter for the planet. 15 years ago, Brazil moved aggressively to protect the Amazon. It became a role model for the world’s other tropical forest nations. It became a role model for the whole world to follow regarding climate matters. Brazil built up capacity in satellite monitoring and on-the-ground enforcement. It granted land rights to indigenous Brazilians who have lived in the amazon for centuries and know best how to preserve it. Brazil even committed to zero deforestation and pledged to reduce its carbon emissions economy-wide. But Bolsonaro wanted to undo all that progress. Not only die he want to eliminate Brazil’s environmental ministry and fold it into the ministry of agriculture, like I mentioned above, but he also wanted to reduce penalties against those who violate environmental laws. Bolsonaro says all the environmental regulations that protect the Amazon are “suffocating” his country. But without them, we would see what “suffocating” really looks like.
Because of a deep recession, Brazil has become even more dependent on soy and beef exports. That puts pressure on the country to cut down more of the rainforest. To make room for ranches and farms. If Bolsonaro carried out his campaign promises, it would pave the way to slash and burn the rainforest. Worldwide, deforestation is already responsible for about as much greenhouse emissions as all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships on the planet. Without the Amazon, there will be no way for the world to prevent catastrophic global warming – or better said, the catastrophic global climate crisis. And the policies of one man could determine that course for us all.
Now, after one complete year of Bolsonaro’s government, one fact can be verified: he has really fulfilled his wants, vows and promises:
We are starting to suffocate. For the sake of economic growth. On the costs of the poor.
Maybe in Europe the consequences of these capitalist actions in detriment of the planet and of life are not yet felt or noticed in people’s everyday life, but in the whole of Latin America, Capitalism is in a new state of violence and this is related to the climate emergency. Each country has its specificities. In each manifestation one could investigate how the climate crisis is a determining cause. It is necessary to comprehend that these mobilizations are connected to the water matter, to the everyday life, to poverty, to women, to the black and the indigenous population. It is very important to comprehend this relation, because we are living a decisive moment. Since his electoral campaign, Bolsonaro and his “troop” made clear that his main governmental project would be to explore the Amazon Forest. He made a grave mistake – which was actually his promise during his campaign: he dismantled the environmental relations and policies built up over several decades of Democracy in the country. With Bolsonaro, there has been a very rapid process of destruction of forests, directly related to the forest fires which consumed the Amazon in August 2019. Although the global demand trails the opposite path from the president’s aggressive and retrograde posture, Bolsonaro is doing exactly what he said he would. If this goes on, the Amazon will get to a point of no return and, if this does happen, life on the planet will be very hard. For some, especially in poor countries, it already is. This is not one of Brazil’s problems, this is a global problem. The Amazon is the center and the lungs of the world.
The environmental question is a process which permeates everything. Hopelessness is a very delicate question, because in previous generations hope was a very important value. Adults and politicians like to let out beautiful words and thoughts about hope, but we are now living in a moment of the human trajectory which we had never lived before. Therefore, we cannot be people spoiled by hope. Trusting the future to hope is not understanding life, because there are people who have been living the catastrophe for several years already, whether we can see it from Europe or not. Hope alone will only suffocate us further, and take away the future, hopes and dreams of the younger generations.
Although science speaks for the facts and the facts speak for science, Bolsonaro and other like-minded politicians (such as Donald Trump, U.S. American president) remain deniers of the global climate crisis emergency. Their excuses? Sovereignty. Fallacious journalism. Lies. Economic growth. And what role do we, as individual citizens, play in all of this? Well, we put those people where they are. It does not matter if you are German or French and have got nothing to do with the Brazilian and the U.S. American voting, or with the poor condition of post-colonial countries where the majority of the population cannot afford worrying about the future because they are too busy surviving day by day (but yet, those are the people who suffer the most consequences of the climate crisis). It is unfair to withdraw yourself from responsibility. We are all responsible for our future. Politics has proven itself ridiculous and useless decade after decade and century after century. That, in turn, makes societies ridiculous, because life has been revolving around politics since the first great philosophers from Ancient Greece lived. Look at where it has brought us. What are you going to do before you, too, start suffocating?
Over the years it was brought to my attention – multiple times – that I have a so called ‘resting-bitch-face’. Apparently, I look unfriendly and grim when I am relaxed or unaware. When being told so I felt offended, but mostly laughed anyways. I was being friendly while someone told me I looked the opposite. It took me some time until I realized that being diagnosed by people of having such a ‘resting-bitch-face’ is very sexist and a result of ideals about femininity that I apparently do not align with. And when I say people I mostly mean men.
I started to become aware of a pattern that hides behind this seemingly harmless invitation to smile or light up. Men telling women or girls to “crack a smile” has a long history – I bet most of us have heard one of those phrases before or often have tried to live up to this ideal of the friendly, polite woman. Maybe even while being unaware of doing so.
I recently started to imagine how it would feel to be sixteen and being told this not ‘just’ occasionally by some people, but if my facial expressions were ridiculed all over the media. While I was trying to convey a message of existential value to a room full of world leaders – just like Greta Thunberg. Being online a lot, I was shocked by the mass of ridiculing memes and hateful comments that people produced about this one phenomenon – Greta Thunberg not smiling – which additionally does not have anything to do with the actual topic of climate change. One meme shows her with an angry facial expression. The caption says: “I want a Pony!”. Another meme displays a picture of her looking grim next to a picture of a goblin from Lord of the Rings, saying: “The age of men is over. The age of the climate goblin has come.” After Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s person of the year, Donald Trump tweeted that she (only using her first name, respectful as he is) should work on her anger problem and “chill out”. Other conservative media representatives have called her mentally ill and her emotional speech “chilling”, going so far as to comparing her narrative to Nazi imagery. And these are just a few examples.
Although it is shocking how mostly male adults ridicule Greta Thunberg in public, negative reactions to girls or women being serious and angry in public are not a new or singular phenomenon. After the 2018 school-shooting in Parkland, Florida, teenagers from all over the United States started a protest movement with the then eighteen-year-old Emma Gonzalez as one of the front women. She gave an emotional speech confronting the American National Rifle Association with their lack of taking responsibility regarding the school shootings. Leslie Gibson, a male republican candidate for the Maine State House, then publicly referred to her as a “skinhead lesbian”. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was accused of not smiling throughout her political career - when she was smiling, she was accused of being fake and robotic. Not to forget about Angela Merkel’s infamous facial expressions which probably made it into every online Gif selection there is. It seems like nothing triggers right-wing conservative men and hobby ‘resting-bitch-face’ diagnosticians more than women or girls being angry, outspoken, serious and public.
Why? And what does this mean for confronting crises like the climate crisis?
To get an answer to these questions one must think about smiling for a second. A study from 1987 suggests that smiling is perceived differently in women and men. Due to established gender ideals women are expected to smile more often than men and therefore are seemingly more connected to the characteristics of being carefree, happy, friendly and relaxed. So, when women don’t smile and act contrary to this expectation, it has more weight and leads to more judgement about their personality as when men don’t – because they are not expected to. It seems as if smiling and the associated feelings are more often expected of women than of men and are therefore considered a ‘feminine trait’.
So when I sit on a train and look out the window with my ‘resting-bitch-face’, when Greta Thunberg gets angry in front of world leaders or when political figures like Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel refuse to smile, people notice and feel the need to correct our “unfeminine” behaviour. And when they do that it is not only terribly sexist, but it also pulls the media’s and the people’s focus away from the reason why the women are angry and serious in the first place. Even now when we are in crisis – when our planet is in crisis – or maybe precisely because of that, patriarchal ideals about femininity and the unequal distribution of power is ever present. When people tell Greta Thunberg to smile and relax, when they ridicule her for being angry, it tells me that people are three things: apparently still stuck in misogynist ideals about how a woman or girl must behave, ignorant of the climate crisis and probably frightened. They want her to smile because a woman or a girl smiling is perceived as happy, relaxed and convenient – but she isn’t. They want the climate crisis to be harmless – but it isn’t.
I doubt that many old, privileged, powerful men (and women) are seriously concerned over the climate crisis – because their age and status protect them from the consequences. But I believe that one reason for their ridiculing and embarrassing behaviour towards Greta Thunberg is rooted deep down in existential fear. Because slowly but steadily they must realize that an angry sixteen-year-old girl was able to mobilize hundreds and thousands of people for the fight against the climate crisis who are just starting to unhinge their privileged corporate thrones they have been sitting on for way too long. They must realize that she, like many other women and girls, will not start smiling when encouraged to do so, just because it makes them more ‘feminine’ in the eyes of (old) men. Especially not when facing a crisis like this. That we will not stop being angry. And maybe all these privileged, powerful people should take a good look in the mirror and lose their self-righteous smiles because nothing of this is funny.
 Zraick, Karen. “Greta Thunberg, After Pointed UN Speech, Faces Attacks from the Right”, The New York Times, 24 September 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/climate/greta-thunberg-un.html.
 Stevens, Matt. “Skinhead Lesbian Tweet About Parkland Student Ends Maine Republican’s Candidacy”, The New York Times, 18 March 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/us/politics/maine-republican-leslie-gibson.html.
 Matei, Adrienne. “Men Have Been Telling Hillary To Smile for Years. Here’s What Happened When She Finally Did”, Quartz.com, 27 September 2016, https://qz.com/793051/hillary-clintons-smile-at-the-presidential-debate-did-not-go-down-well-with-the-men-who-originally-asked-for-it/.
 Deutsch, Francine M., Maury March Fryer and Dorothy LeBaron. “What Is in A Smile?”, Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 11, 1987, pp. 341-352.
In our daily lives, we come across both gender issues such as pay gaps between men and women and the climate crisis as separate issues. Though these issues are both critical in society, they are rarely brought to the table as a connected topic. In my opinion, climate crisis has overshadowed the issue of gender, we cannot forget that these two issues correlate and exist at the same time and are even linked due to intersectionality. It even worsens the not yet eliminated issue of gender inequality.
Especially women of colour who live in rural and poor regions do not become part of the climate crisis discourse and are invisible. This is one of the results of imperialism and colonial white male power. Already in imperial narratives written by white privileged men, women of colour are deliberately invisible. Oyēwùmí, in her book The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender in 1997 states that “[t]he histories of both [the coloniser and the colonised] [...] have been written from the male point of view — women are peripheral if they appear at all”. African women innately became known as “The Other”, not only losing their status in society but also their female and human identities as a whole. Still today women of colour are invisible and this becomes clear when it comes to climate change.
When connecting this topic to the climate crisis, it becomes clear that African women who live in poor rural regions are having massive issues in their daily lives. While the climate is changing, drought, floods, and thunderstorms have ruined crops and left waterholes to dry up completely. This, among other issues, leads women to have to walk even further to find water for themselves and their families.
The climate crisis is a modern issue in which these women are also not publicly given a voice and are unseen around the world. When researching further into the topic of the climate crisis in regard to gender, I found that women of colour are the main group (together with Asian poor women who live in rural regions) who are not only discriminated against due to their race but also due to the fact that they are women and thus suffer the most exponentially.
Making Women Visible in the Math of Climate Change
Asking the question as to why climate change and gender are important it becomes evident that this has rarely been brought to the table. While global warming takes place, many regions in Africa suffer from drought and with it the economy is beginning to change and food supplies shrink. Women in these poor regions are feeling this burden the most.
According to Nitza Rao, who is a professor of gender and development at University of East Anglia, women are needing to “make strategic decisions about their livelihoods, take agency over their financial situations, and work to improve their social and economic positions". As a result of climate change, regions are overcome by bad weather such as drought, floods and storms. This often leads to the loss of crops and the need of male family members to migrate and take on jobs elsewhere for the family to be able to survive. Women are then left alone with the children, the household and hard labour to survive.
Rao says, that women even endure hard labour such as mining and construction work. This then leads to a large amount of medical costs due to the lack of access to health infrastructures and safety in the poor and rural regions. Even when women take the same jobs as men, they only earn a fraction of what a man would earn in the same job.
Only a small fraction of land is owned by women in Africa. These women, who seek loans from banks for new crops which have been destroyed by climate changes, are denied money. This leads to women loaning money from private lenders who, as a result, take higher interest rates. Women risk financial corruption due to the fact that the climate is unpredictable and they may lose the crops and which brings with it a financial crisis. These are only a few obstacles women are going through, a solution needs to be found! One of the main solutions to this topic is: Women of colour need to become visible in order for their issue to be heard. Few organisations and foundations aim to aid and empower women to raise their voices.
Finding Solutions of Empowerment
Many countries are coming up with solutions such as in 2010 Mozambique. A Climate Change Gender Action Plan was created, here the strategy for gender equity and equality found its foreground. As a result, few countries followed. The issue of gender has officially been brought to the table within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For instance the improvement of participation of women in climate negotiations was created in 2012.
The Mary Robinson Foundation aims to ensure that women participate in international fora and thus to strengthen women’s leadership roles. The page of the foundation claims that “this specifically includes promoting gender equality and improving the participation of women in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and, in particular UNFCCC process as set out in the Lima Work Programme Gender […], and the ‘Doha Miracle’ gender decision".
The International Institute for Environmental and Development has issued a blog entry based on the “missing voices” and marginalisation of women in the global South. Here women of colour are given a platform to speak and are encouraged to talk about their issues in regard to climate change. At the end of the post Huq, the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD) since 2009, argues “I would argue that COP will not be truly inside out until women like Sheela are no longer at the bottom of the list waiting for their turn to speak, but involved throughout with their voices recognised to be as valuable as those of the asset managers”.
What has become clear during my research on this topic is the necessity of finding the gaps of inequality and finding a solution to close them. Although this may seem like a good start, up to today gender gaps still exist and are still a crucial topic. It is important to empower and encourage women to become part of the conversation when it comes to climate change and finally make themselves visible to the world. Further, all countries around the world should take their time to listen to their voices and understand the crucial issue at stake.
Why is it that our generation has so many feminist-climate activists and climate activist-feminists?
Melena Sophie Billerbeck
--- German version below ---
There are still many out there who won´t consider themselves feminists, either because they don´t want to be “one of those extremists” or because they are not doing enough to feel worthy of that term. In both cases I met a lot of great personalities who I would for sure call feminist. Think about it:
“Feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define, establish, and achieve the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.”
Wow, what a long sentence, thanks Wikipedia. So basically, feminism is a lot of movements joined to achieve equality for all. I like that. How can you not want everyone to be treated equally and with equal rights? It is needed so much in times where the world basically falls apart. Just a little bit of awareness, standing behind your opinion et voilà: You´re a feminist. At least a little bit.
There are so many feminists out there who spread the(ir) word. It is through every age and gender somehow represented; especially young people use the internet to blog about it. The hashtag feminism has 9,339,855 results on Instagram - stand: 5th February 2020, 1:40 pm. The time stamp is most likely not up to date the second you´re reading this, because the number keeps growing and growing. Where some are blogging about political events related to their understanding of feminism and its impacts, others share in a diary style their experience as women*, homosexuals*, transgender* … in our society. All blogs are united in the effort to reach an audience and raise awareness.
On the other hand, nearly as neatly described,
“The climate movement [which] is the collective of nongovernmental organizations engaged in activism related to the issues of climate change”.
On a more subjective side; it means to take action against the problems created through the climate crisis by aiming at its roots, resulting in change for society and politics. Which it is, a crisis, not a change.
How are the seemingly different topics related nonetheless?
Now, why should anybody think about climate activists like Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion or the local German group Ende Gelände when feminists are mentioned? Let´s focus on Greta Thunberg, who initiated the weekly school strikes that turned into the worldwide Fridays for Future movement. Well, probably because it is an incredibly powerful move of a young woman, at the time merely 16 years, to stand up against the hideous climate politics of mostly old, white men. That became possible thanks to many feminist achievements before, like equal education for women*, at least in many parts of the world. Fourteen out of nineteen youth climate activists you should be following on social media are female*. Something here hints at the power young women* can have.
When researching the connections, I stumbled upon the term “ecofeminism” on the blog feministcampus.org which is the “World's Largest Pro-Choice Student Network”. I have been immediately like WOW that’s what I was looking for. A young people’s network with a huuuge follower basis giving me a new term. Except, it is not new, just newly trending. And its meaning adapted over the last forty-five years, ending up without the “one” definition. I´d like to understand it as feminism that not only includes all the humans but also all the whole biosphere.
To be fair, a ton of stuff on the Internet is trending all the time because there are just so many voices online. Just revise the FFF Movement, which started with one girl and has now, after 89 thousand strike events, grown to 13 Million strikers. But some of these trends start to connect with each other because they reach the same kind of humans. In so many feminist blogs on every possible website the contents are not only feminist but just self-evidently also about the climate crisis. How it affects women*, when a nature catastrophe strikes in a poor country (-> the Instagram.com/themujerista). What it means for transgender* to need new documents after a hurricane. How an infection like Corona supports stereotypes and racism. Like, seriously, stop avoiding Chinese restaurants because you are being completely irrational and afraid.
Nothing is a stand-alone in our multi-technological connected world, globalization is more than an annoying term from school. And perhaps especially feminists tend to connect and interact with other oppressed groups. Having a history which includes more and more aspects, like going from LGBT to LGBTQ+* takes something, especially open minds and hearts. It´s just logical to develop empathy for our wildlife and nature as well. In other terms, to be a feminist-climate activist.
Importance of representation and of privilege in both movements
Privilege is so important to discuss in context of feminism and it is equally important in the context of the climate crisis. From my perspective, privilege means, (amongst other things) being someone who gets represented and benefits from that. Easiest bingo ever: Are you male, white, at least middleclass and cisgender, as well as heterosexual? Ding ding ding, you just won. Nobody else is represented as much as this group. One good example why the importance of representation connects both movements: The problem for indigenous (women*) regarding property stealth by corporations for monetary exploitation. Why should I think of natives when it´s about burning more fossils (which is a real problem in itself)?
Well, because even in official agreements, they are ignored. The #dapl threatens sacred grounds and the water quality on those lands. Nobody cared about it until the youth started the hashtag to raise awareness.
Just look at Flint, where leaking pipes led to tap water looking like the chemical waste it is, for 6 years now. Nobody cares, because money. Remember how the Notre Dame burned? That funding for one BUILDING, historical or not, would have been more than enough to give all the PEOPLE clean, accessible water. That is a basic human right, even though Nestlé said differently.
And now, feminist blogs support the movement of #dapl, making it stronger and trying to help. Lending each other a hand and holding onto it. This is, what we need, in times where the world basically falls apart.
Fun fact: Girls are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change as the daily inequality they face is intensified.
I consider myself a feminist and would like to say the same about being a climate activist, even tough I am unsure if I can do so. What I can say for sure is that I uphold the values of movements like Fridays for Future and sympathize with Greta Thunberg and other young humans who chose to fight. Being invested in both leads to a lot of online contact with others also interested in th e two. Most of them are very young, a big number female, from my subjective perspective. I am equally impressed and proud by strength with which my generation, Millennials, Gen-Z´s and everybody in between, works together. In big and tiny acts a lot of compassion is shown and it should only be supported and strengthened by everybody living on this planet.
All of this affects each and everyone of us. None of you can tell me they don´t know a woman, for sure everyone has somebody around them who is not straight and even though you might not know it yet, you are under the influence of the deeply ingrained sexism of our societies.
Maybe you can´t tell the difference between weather and climate, no need to worry, just go google. (Like, for real, there are awesome beginner explanations.) If you don´t know what´s happening yet, it´s up to you to change it now. People who already did the research know for sure, humanity f*cked up and we need to act, before the environment decides to hurt us back. If each and everyone of us does a little bit, it is great. Our four biggest factors regarding Co2 emissions are having children (yes, really), driving cars, flying and meat consumption (oh surprise). We just shouldn´t forget, who is in power and too comfortable to act against the climate crisis instead of for wealth; our political leaders.
P.S.: If you asked yourself why I used these annoying stars * after most gender nouns, think about the representation part. When I didn´t use it, I meant cisgender persons or those who stated it clearly. It doesn´t do shit to you, if you are cisgender and all. But it includes everybody else, without much effort. Because it´s the right thing to do.
Interesting pages to look at:
Not so interesting but I used them for my research:
--- German version ---
Die Kinder haben erzählt, dass sie nicht nur zu "Fridays for Future" gehen, sondern jetzt auch noch "feministisch" sind..
Warum gibt es in unserer Generation so viele feministische Klimaaktivist*innen und Klimaaktivistische-Feminist*innen?
Bild Inhalt: Eine Umfrage auf Twitter
Was ist die größere Bedrohung der Menschheit?
A Feminismus (80%)
B Der Klimawandel (20%)
Es gibt immer noch Viele, die sich nicht als feministisch bezeichnen wollen. Entweder, weil sie nicht "einer dieser Extremisten" sein wollen oder weil sie nicht genug tun, um sich des Begriffs würdig zu fühlen. In beiden Fällen hab ich viele tolle Menschen getroffen, die ich mit Sicherheit als feministisch bezeichnen würde. Denkt mal drüber nach:
"Feminismus ist eine Reihe von sozialen Bewegungen, politischen Bewegungen und Ideologien, die darauf abzielen, die politische, wirtschaftliche, persönliche und soziale Gleichheit der Geschlechter zu definieren, zu etablieren und zu erreichen.
Wow, was ein langer Satz, danke Wikipedia. Im Grunde genommen ist Feminismus also eine Menge Bewegungen, die sich zusammenschließen, um Gleichheit für Alle zu erreichen. Ich mag das. Wie kann man nicht wollen, dass alle gleich und mit gleichen Rechten behandelt werden? Das wird so sehr gebraucht in Zeiten, in denen die Welt im Grunde auseinanderfällt. Nur ein wenig Aufmerksamkeit, hinter der eigenen Meinung stehen et voilà: Du bist feministisch. Zumindest ein bisschen.
Es gibt so viele Feminist*innen da draußen, die die Message nach draußen tragen. Es ist über jedes Alter und jedes Geschlecht hinweg irgendwie vertreten; besonders junge Leute nutzen das Internet, um darüber zu bloggen. Der Hashtag Feminism (Englisch, Feminismus) hat 9.339.855 Ergebnisse auf Instagram - Stand: 5. Februar 2020, 13:40 Uhr. Der Zeitstempel ist wahrscheinlich schon überhaupt nicht mehr aktuell, sobald du das liest, weil diese Zahl immer weiter wächst. Wo einige über politische Ereignisse bloggen, die mit ihrem Verständnis von Feminismus und seinen Auswirkungen zu tun haben, teilen andere im Tagebuch-Stil ihre Erfahrungen als Frauen*, Homosexuelle*, Transgender* ... in unserer Gesellschaft mit. Alle Blogs sind in der Bemühung vereint, ein Publikum zu erreichen und das Bewusstsein für diese Thematiken zu schärfen.
Auf der anderen Seite, fast genauso eingänglich beschrieben:
„Die Klimabewegung ist ein Kollektiv von Nichtregierungsorganisationen, die sich für den Aktivismus im Zusammenhang mit dem Klimawandel einsetzen.“
Aus meiner subjektiven Perspektive heißt das, gegen die durch die Klimakrise entstandenen Probleme vorzugehen, indem man sie an der Wurzel packt, was Veränderungen für Gesellschaft und Politik verursacht. Was es ist, eine Krise, keine Veränderung.
Bildinhalt: „Kollaps“ auf Englisch, CO2 über dem Wortanfang; CO2 Kollaps
Wie lassen sich diese scheinbar unterschiedlichen Themen jetzt verbinden?
Also, warum sollte jemand an Klimaaktivist*innen wie Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion oder die lokale deutsche Gruppe Ende Gelände denken, wenn Feminist*innen erwähnt werden? Konzentrieren wir uns mal auf Greta Thunberg, die die wöchentlichen Schulstreiks initiierte, aus denen die weltweite Bewegung der Fridays for Future entstand. Naja, wahrscheinlich, weil es ein unglaublich beeindruckender Schritt einer jungen Frau, damals erst 16 Jahre alt, ist, sich gegen die erbärmliche Klimapolitik der meist alten, weißen Männer zu stellen. Das wurde nur möglich Dank vieler feministischer Errungenschaften zuvor, wie z.B. gleiche Bildung für Frauen*, zumindest in vielen Teilen der Welt. Vierzehn von neunzehn jugendlichen Klimaaktivist*innen, denen du in den sozialen Medien folgen solltest, sind weiblich*. Irgendwas hier deutet auf die Macht hin, die junge Frauen* haben können.
Als ich die Zusammenhänge recherchiert habe, bin ich auf dem Blog feministcampus.org, dem "Weltgrößten, studentischen pro-choice (für das Recht auf Körperautonomie und Abtreibungen) Netzwerk ", auf den Begriff "Ökofeminismus" gestoßen. Mein erster Gedanke war WOW, das ist, wonach ich gesucht habe. Ein Jugendnetzwerk mit einer riesigen Follower-Zahl, das mir einen neuen Begriff gibt. Dabei ist der gar nicht so neu, nur neu im Trend. Und seine Bedeutung hat sich in den letzten fünfundvierzig Jahren angepasst, so dass die "eine" Definition fehlt. Ich finde es am besten, ihn als Feminismus zu verstehen, der nicht nur alle Menschen, sondern auch die gesamte Biosphäre umfasst.
Fairerweise muss man sagen, dass im Internet eine Menge Dinge im Trend liegen, weil es einfach so viele verschiedene Leute online gibt. Man muss nur über die FFF-Bewegung nachdenken, die mit einem Mädchen begonnen hat und jetzt, nach 89 Tausend Streikevents, auf 13 Millionen Streikende gewachsen ist. Aber einige dieser Trends beginnen, sich miteinander zu verbinden, weil sie die gleiche Art von Menschen erreichen. In super vielen feministischen Blogs auf allen möglichen Websiten sind die Inhalte nicht nur feministisch, sondern wie ganz selbstverständlich, auch über die Klimakrise. Inwiefern es Frauen* betrifft, wenn es in einem ärmeren Land zu einer Naturkatastrophe kommt (-> Instagram.com/themujerista). Was es für Transgender* bedeutet, nach einem Hurrikan neue Dokumente zu benötigen. Wie eine Infektion wie Corona Stereotypen und Rassismus aufbauscht und unterstützt. Ganz im Ernst, hört auf, chinesische Restaurants zu meiden, nur weil ihr auf einmal komplett irrational Panik schiebt.
In unserer multi-technologisch vernetzten Welt gibt es keine Einzelfälle mehr, die Globalisierung ist nicht nur ein lästiger Begriff aus der Schule. Und vielleicht neigen eben besonders Feminist*innen dazu, sich mit anderen unterdrückten Gruppen zu vereinen und mit ihnen zu interagieren. Eine Vergangenheit und Historie zu haben, die immer mehr Aspekte umfasst, wie z.B. von LGBT (Lesbisch, Schwul, Bisexuell, Transgender) zu LGBTQ+* (eine Erweiterung, die jeweils das komplette mögliche Spektrum umfasst und u.a. auch Asexualität inkludiert) zu gehen, erfordert einiges, vor allem den Willen, dazu zu lernen und ein großes Herz. Es ist nur logisch, dass wir Einfühlungsvermögen für unsere Tierwelt und die Natur entwickelt wird. Mit anderen Worten: eine feministische Klima-Aktivistin zu sein.
Die Bedeutung von Repräsentation und Privilegien in beiden Bewegungen
Es ist so wichtig, Privilegien im Rahmen von Feminismus zu diskutieren und es ist ebenso wichtig im Kontext der Klimakrise. Aus meiner Sicht bedeutet Privileg (unter anderem), jemand zu sein, der „öffentliche“ (z.B. In Romanen, Fernsehen und Wissenschaft) Darstellung erfährt wird und davon profitiert. Das einfachste Bingo überhaupt: Bist du männlich, weiß, mindestens Mittelschicht und Zisgender (Sagst also, dass dein bei der geburt eingetragenes Geschlecht richtig ist) , dazu auch noch heterosexuell? Ding ding ding, du hast gerade den Hauptpreis gewonnen. Unsichtbare Privilegien. Niemand sonst wird so häufig repräsentiert wie diese Gruppe. Ein gutes Beispiel dafür, warum die Bedeutung der Repräsentation beide Bewegungen verbindet: Das Problem für Indigene (Frauen*) hinsichtlich Grundstücks- und Eigentum Raubs durch große Unternehmen zur monetären Ausbeutung. Warum ich an Ureinwohner denken sollte, wenn es darum geht, noch mehr Fossilien zu verbrennen (was an sich schon ein echtes Problem ist)?
Ganz einfach, denn selbst in offiziellen Vereinbarungen werden sie ignoriert. Die #dapl, also Dakota Acces Pipeline, bedroht heilige Gründe und die Wasserqualität auf diesen Gebieten. Sie wird auch Bakken Pipeline genannt und ist eine weitgehend fertiggestellte Erdölpipeline in den USA mit einer Länge von 1.880 km. Niemand hat sich darum gekümmert, bis die lokale Jugend anfing, auf sozialen Medien mit dem Hashtag #NoDAPL Aufmerksamkeit zu erregen.
Schaut euch mal Flint, an, wo undichte Rohre zu Leitungswasser führten, das wie der chemische Abfall aussieht, das es ist. Und das schon seit 6 Jahren. Niemand kümmert sich darum, weil Geld. Erinnern ihr euch, wie der Notre Dame abgefackelt ist? Die freiwilligen Spenden für ein Gebäude, ob historisch oder nicht, hätten mehr als gereicht, um allen Menschen in Flint endlich wieder Zugang zu sauberem Wasser zu geben. Das ist ein grundlegendes Menschenrecht, auch wenn Nestlé das scheinbar anders sieht.
Die positive Folge: jetzt unterstützen feministische Blogs die Bewegung von #dapl, machen sie stärker und versuchen zu helfen. Hier reicht man sich gegenseitig eine Hand und hält daran fest. Das ist, was wir brauchen. In Zeiten, in denen die Welt praktisch auseinanderfällt.
Lustiger Fakt: Mädchen sind unverhältnismäßig stark von den Auswirkungen des Klimawandels betroffen, da sich die Ungleichheit, mit der sie täglich konfrontiert sind, verschärft.
Ich betrachte mich als Feministin und würde dasselbe gerne über mich als Klimaaktivistin sagen. Auch wenn ich mir nicht sicher bin, ob ich das ´schon´ machen kann. Was ich mit Sicherheit sagen kann, ist, dass ich die Werte von Bewegungen wie „Fridays for Future“ schätze und mit Greta Thunberg und anderen jungen Menschen, die sich für den Kampf entschieden haben, sympathisiere. Sich für beides einzusetzen führt zu vielen Online-Kontakten mit Anderen, die sich ebenfalls für diese beiden Bewegungen interessieren. Die meisten von ihnen sind sehr jung, eine große Anzahl Frauen, zumindest aus meiner Perspektive. Ich bin ebenso beeindruckt wie stolz auf die Ausdauer und Stärke, mit der meine Generation, Millennials, Gen-Z´s und alle dazwischen, zusammenarbeiten. In großen und kleinen Aktionen wird viel Mitgefühl gezeigt und das sollte von allen, die auf diesem Planeten leben, unterstützt und gestärkt werden.
All dies betrifft jeden einzelnen von uns. Keiner von euch kann mir erzählen, dass ihr keine einzige Frau kennt, mit Sicherheit hat jeder von euch jemanden in seinem Umfeld der nicht hetero ist, und auch wenn du dir dessen noch nicht bewusst bist, stehst du unter dem Einfluss des tief verwurzelten Sexismus unserer Gesellschaften.
Vielleicht kennst du den Unterschied zwischen Wetter und Klima nicht, kein Grund zur Panik, googlet einfach ein bisscchen. (Es gibt wirklich großartige Erklärungen für Anfänger.) Wenn du noch nicht weißt, was los ist, liegt es an dir, dass zu ändern. Die Leute, die sich bereits schlau gemacht haben, wissen mit Sicherheit, dass die Menschheit versch*ssen hat und wir handeln müssen, bevor unsere Umwelt sich dazu entscheidet, uns den Dreck final zurück zu zahlen. Wenn jeder* und jede* von uns ein bisschen was macht, ist das schon gut. Unsere vier größten Faktoren bezüglich der Co2-Emissionen sind: Kinder bekommen (ja, echt jetzt), Autofahren, Fliegen und Fleischkonsum (oh, Überraschung). Dabei sollten wir nur nicht vergessen, wer an der Macht ist und zu bequem, um gegen die Klimakrise, statt für den Wohlstand zu handeln: unsere politischen Anführer.
P.S.: Wenn du dich gefragt hast, warum ich diese lästigen Sterne * nach den meisten Personalpronomen verwendet habe, denk über den Teil mit der Repräsentation nach. Wenn ich sie nicht benutzt habe, meinte ich Personen mit explizit dem Geschlecht oder diejenigen, die es klar und deutlich gesagt haben. Es tut dir einen Sch**ßdreck, wenn du Zisgender bist und all das. Aber es schließt alle anderen ein, ohne viel Aufwand. Weil es richtig ist.
Interessante Seiten zum nachlesen (leider alle auf Englisch):
Nicht ganz so interessant, aber da hab ich auch nachgeschaut:
Plant a Tree and then you're free
There we stood. For the first time after the storm Friederike hit Germany in January 2018, we walked along the way where suddenly a huge part of “our” forest was gone. I felt wonder and sadness and my horse looked in wonder as well. I’ve never seen him like this before, with an expression that showed he wouldn’t trust his eyes as well.
It had been a place occupied by spruces. Many of them between 50 to 70 years old – we found it out later on that year when counting tree-rings – which made me realise that this place will probably never look the same again in my entire life. The issues that caused this part of the forest to break down (besides the storm) were discussed over months in our village.
It was always a magical place. During the winter it was silent and sometimes very dark, because just a little bit of light came through the needles. During the summer it was a fresh and cool place, where sunrays hit the ground like little spotlights. It gave shadow, you could hear the wind hissing up in the treetops and it smelled wonderfully all year round. Now that place is gone and it was the first time I realised that climate change wasn’t something that only brought drought, made the soil dry and left us with winters without snow. Slowly but steady it became visible.
The Image of Forests
The way I described “my” forest at home – which mostly contains beeches and only had this small part inhabited by spruces – also shows some parts of the culturally coined image of forests in general.
From early childhood on stories like Grimm’s fairytales created the picture of forests as dark and dangerous places. Witches and wolfs who eat you are thought to live in there. Forests are mysterious places. Later on in our lives, novels like Harry Potter told us about Forbidden Forests and The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings had dangerous places like Mirkwood, where you get lost, but also about magical (but still dangerous and old) places like Fangorn or Lórien.
Still forests are also connected to positive imaginations. Often we link them with family trips on weekends, with shadow and coolness during the summer, with animals we usually hardly see and with oxygen produced through photosynthesis which creates the air that makes us live. Its positive image even grew during the last years, when Japanese scientists found out that regularly spending time in forests pushes our immune system, reduces stress and even the likelihood of getting cancer. While outdoor sports are already popular, forest bathing is the new big thing.
It’s dying – isn’t it?
Remember the last summers! Hot and dry are the major words to describe them. In 2019 newspapers not only reported about the missing rain, the heat, and the wildfires that appeared in some parts of the country. Suddenly, it was also about dying forests – “Waldsterben”.
A devastating picture was created through the media and for people like me, who often spend time in the forest – going on walks, being out with my horse – it became visible in real life. The climate crisis, the change it brought, was directly at our feet. In the midst of summer trees got brown, tops died and needle beams lost their needles and were dead.
But what is the story told behind all those newspaper articles that give us an overview? Why did a study published in the Journal Science in July 2019 by scholars working at the ETH Zurich raise such a huge awareness? Was it only, as Thomas W. Crowther – one of the members who published the study – said, because “now, we have positive actions we can take.”?
The newspaper articles told us stories about dying trees / “Waldsterben”. The forest “suffers”, “is doing badly”. Now we have a “patient” that will possibly die. It’s not only the picture of the earth being sick; no, now our trees die as well. The enemy climate change makes us lose our past, as trees, which our grandfathers planted, got killed. Bark beetles, whose population grew a lot, led to damages that hadn’t been there “since the Second World War”. Agricultural magazines painted an equal picture, only adding the economic and financial difficulties that need to be faced, explained in numbers that most people can’t even imagine. Millions and Billions of Trees and Money. Lost. Needed.
The Hero and the Enemy
Fridays for Future raised awareness about the climate crisis, demanded change and made the climate crisis the most urgent topic of our times. The climate change and with it the climate crisis became the enemy that needs to be fought against and now it isn’t only an enemy that heats up the earth and lets ice, being far away, melt. Now it has become the enemy that lets insect populations grow and kills our forests.
The story is about the green lungs, our recreation place. When this place is attacked and slowly dies, this enemy also threatens our green, healthy lung. We, as human beings that need oxygen to breathe, that – as people who live in a moderate climate area - are used to the view of fresh, green forests, can’t recover anymore.
Then, in July 2019, a study by scientists from the ETH Zurich seemed to reveal astonishing findings. Trees and replanting could be used against the climate crisis. It – surprisingly – proofed: Tree growth and oxygen are helpful!
But what did we have? An already struggling hero, an almost dying hero. The one who could save us, needed to be saved as well. Many articles not only created the image of a dying forest, but also put humans and society in the position of the ones to save them. “We need to act.”, “The trees need us.” were frequently used sentences.
So the happily ever after story at first became a medical TV show. The sick hero first needs to be cured and then can do its magic against the overarching enemy.
But wait. Whose story is this? Who profits and who is in which position?
Behind the Curtain
The tale appears to be easy. The enemy is humanity threatening, but majorly and for most of times ignored issue. It challenges our daily way of life and dealing with it would mean changing the way we live, changing our dear habits and foremost putting our eyes at things that hurt. Because they make us realise that we created the enemy ourselves and tried to be the three wise monkeys for years. In the easy story painted in connection to forests the enemy is often only the appearance called climate crisis - something that just happens.
In an equally easy story the hero would be the trees. They start growing everywhere, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and produce healthy oxygen. World saved. Humans saved. Life can go on. As easy the tale is told, as easy it is painted. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Just planting a whole awful lot of trees, not needing to change anything, just by clicking one’s fingers and the enemy is destroyed? Wouldn’t we be great heroes and heroines?
Media (or we for ourselves?) has created a wonderful story in which we get off very well. No one needs a sick hero. So why not put ourselves in the position of one? We are needed to replant. While next to all the Don’ts we created for ourselves (Don’t use your car, Don’t use plastic, Don’t eat meat) and because it is easy to refuse Don’ts – they make us feel limited in our doings, restricted in our freedom, which we won’t give up – we finally found a way of being active. Changing the perspective doesn’t work. “Use your bike, Use reusable material, eat vegetables” isn’t the perspective we want, right?
Instead, all those articles, posts, news reports etc. tell the story of us as heroes and heroines. Climate change threatens our lungs. Our ability to breathe and recover. It threatens our past and our childhood stories. It threatens a mystified place we never really got into, but still is very dear to our hearts.
Anyway, it is always about only one thing that we can do, which saves us from changing our daily life, our habits and our businesses. It makes our lives easier to forget that we created the enemy that now destroys our magical place. If we plant trees we can go on as always AND forget this bad thing that once happened. What a bright future!
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
(Dr. Seuss, The Lorax)
Forests are a place of myth and wonder. Trees outgrow generations of humans and we appreciate their company. The climate crisis challenges our daily life, our business, our habits. Often it feels too big to be completely enfolded in our heads; daily life is much closer to us. To keep what is closer to us and to avoid the complexity of something as big as the global climate, it has always been impossible to find THE solution.
Then trees and forests appeared and there it is. Articles, posts etc. narrate the same story hidden far away between the lines. The easy way: Staying in our daily bubbles, keeping our life style, planting a tree and forgetting that we messed things up.
Maybe it’s time to change perspectives, to realise and to find a way to tell the real story.
 “Science”, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/76 , accessed 06.02.2020
 “Science”, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6464/412, accessed 04.02.2020.
Around three years ago I was desperately looking for a way to get more out of my garden and with more I mean less loss of vegetables that I planted previously. So I browsed the internet, watched videos and even purchased a couple of gardening magazines, which there were a remarkably high number of new ones. So I gathered all the alternatives for pesticides, biodegradable helpers like horse dung or channeling the inner carpenter in me to build a raised bed. But then I came across an interview with a gardener whose advice felt absolutely unsettling.
She explained that when she planned her garden in the beginning of the year that she always planned for triple the amount of produce she expected to have at the end of the season; one third that would probably rot, another third for the animals, and the last third for herself. At that time I did not know why I was so startled by this. I admit, my initial thought was “why is this woman wasting so much produce?” and then “nope, sounds stupid. I want all of the vegetables that I planted in my garden.” I desperately tried not to judge her, but her simple technique of minding her garden made me (curiously enough) furious.
Three years later, I came across Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine’s Dark Mountain Manifesto. Kingsnorth and Hine, who were strongly opinionated environmentalists most of their lives, founded the Dark Mountain Project as a reaction to their increasing feeling that the work they did at that time of their lives, which was more or less to inform people of the damage they were doing to nature and demand them to stop doing aforementioned, was rather pointless. Their new take on the reoccurring conflict regarding the exploitation of nature by human kind, was to publish a manifest that radically challenged current believes of environmentalists all around the world.
The Myth of Nature
In the heart of their manifest they talk about stories (or in their case myths) that led us to the catastrophic scenario we are facing in form of global heating. And one of them is the myth of nature:
The very fact that we have a word for ‘nature’ is evidence that we do not regard ourselves as part of it. Indeed, our separation from it is a myth integral to the triumph of our civilisation. We are, we tell ourselves, the only species ever to have attacked nature and won. In this, our unique glory is contained.
For them, the main reason why we behave in such destructive ways towards nature is based on stories that we are told to be true. They point out that it is not a fact that humanity controls nature or ever has. The climate crisis is the best evidence that we are not in fact superior to nature, it is just one of the stories humanity has lived by for many years now.
But do stories have such a power that they form what we perceive as ‘facts’? Arran Stibbe published a work on Ecolinguistics, where he explores how linguistics and ecology correlate. He defines stories “as in the minds of numerous people in a culture which influence how they think, talk and act.” In that case, believing that we won against nature, that we defeated nature, we shape the way we treat nature. So naturally (pun intended), I expected the garden to provide me with everything it had to offer.
But if a lot of the ‘facts’ we believe in about nature are merely stories that we inherited rather than actual conditions, makes stories a powerful tool. And that is, what Kingsnorth and Hine claim. There should be distributed new stories, which shape the relationship between nature and humanity in a different way, so that subsequently humanity changes its behavior. Stibbe describes it as “the act of framing a concept in a way different from its typical framing in a culture.” And in my opinion, Kingsnorth and Hine are not the only ones who are able to tell new stories.
A Chinese Woman in the Mountains
Li Ziqi, a Chinese woman of 29 years from Mianyang. Sichuan, rose to fame on YouTube over the last year and now has about 8.73 million subscribers. But her videos quite differ from the loud, attention seeking videos, which collect subscribers under the motto of faster, higher, further.
She started out with cooking videos, where she prepared traditional Chinese food. But when she cooks, she does not buy her groceries in a supermarket. She steps out of the door into her garden and harvests the produce she needs for her meal. Her home is a small farm, which she manages with the help of her grandmother. They farm chickens, plant rice fields and breed silkworms. She makes shoes for her grandmothers, builds chairs from bamboo or goes on a mushroom foray. Listing those things, there seems nothing glamourous about them. But what is it then that makes viewers watch her videos over and over again?
When one goes through the comment section, you can get a glimpse of the reasons for her ongoing success. People write that watching her doing simple stuff is relaxing for them. When she puts her hand in the mud, they feel reminded of days, where they were children coming home in dirty trousers. Or they say living in the city and watching her videos made them realise their own longing for nature. And then, over and over again, she becomes a mythical creature from a story herself. Then people write how she reminds them of a ‘fairy’, a ‘forest nymph’ or even ‘forest goddess’; how she seems like a part of the nature surrounding her and not as an intruder.
Changing the Story
Of course, the videos are not showing the plain reality of having a farm in a Chinese mountain area. Nowadays, her videos are highly produced and planned, with one photographer and an assistant to support her. Of course, probably no one would ride a horse in a red cape to collect fruit, and probably no one would wear a long white dress to harvest mushrooms. And the photography is so good, that when it rains, it does not seem like an undesirable occurrence, but like the only way the weather should be in that moment.
I do not think her videos in try to depict reality in any way, but her videos are one way to tell an alternative story of our relationship towards nature. And by applying mythical and fable-like phrases to her, people are already perceiving her videos as a story, as a new myth with a forest goddess as the main character. A story, where you see a woman, who uses all the vegetables, ugly or not, where parts of her garden are left to rot, where a tree is never robbed of all its fruits. So I think her story is a good indicator that there are alternatives stories, where humanity is perceived as part of nature and her storytelling is quite successful one.
It is not possible for me to say if the people, who are watching her videos, are actually changing their behaviour. And I am in no position to tell if those people are aware of the stories that direct their thinking and understanding of the world around them. But if we look at Stibbe, Kingsnorth and Hine again, they do think it has an important influence on all of us and I think simple videos like that can do their part of maybe even creating a new story.
On a personal note, my story is still changing. I do not feel entitled to all of the produce in my garden anymore. Still, I feel a short burst of anger about any carrot with bite marks in them, or the cucumber plant that simply stopped growing without an obvious reason. But at least I am now able to stop myself and be grateful for any little piece that the garden actually offers me Hopefully, I am not the only one whose story begins to change.
Li Ziqi’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoC47do520os_4DBMEFGg4A
Paul Kingsnorth’s and Dougald Hine’s Dark Mountain Manifesto https://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/
For more on Ecolinguistics read Arran Stibbe’s Ecolinguistics: language, ecology and the stories we live by
Can Shaming help changing the world or is it just a possibility for some people to get attention?
Probably everybody has already heard about online-shaming. Someone is posting a picture of food or of their body on Instagram, for example, and other users are commenting on it. This is the moment when shaming can start. Body-shaming as well as food-shaming are known quite well. Comments on social media are not always nice. On the contrary, they can be mean, offensive or even downright aggressive on criticizing someone’s body or food because the person is not thin enough or the food in the picture is not healthy enough.
But what does shaming have to do with the climate? A newer trend is the so called flight-shaming. Using the plane for traveling is one of the worst ideas due to Co2 emissions. It is one of many factors that has a bad influence on our climate and is also responsible for the climate crisis. So everybody who books a flight is a bad person because they do not help to save our world. Right? Many posts on Instagram which are connected to traveling by plane are commented negatively on. People are using flight-shaming to put a label on people who are not living as “climate neutral” as others do. But is it okay to shame them to raise awareness for the climate crisis?
And the shaming process goes further. People are attacked online because they are eating meat or using non organic make up because the production of those things is bad for the climate as well. It is a fact that the production of meat or flying increases global warming and other problems which go along with warmer temperatures all over the world. Something has to be done! Shaming can help to raise awareness of the climate crisis because people are talking about the things going on in social media, especially younger persons. By shaming someone you can give a user who posted his flight proudly, a feeling of guilt. But often it does not end there. It gets much further and sometimes it definitely can be categorized as mobbing.
However, what potential does the concept of shaming offer regarding the climate crisis? I already mentioned raising awareness. People can possibly be shamed into not using the plane as public transport anymore or into eating less meat. They are getting criticized and named on the internet. On social media all their friends can see those comments and perhaps they are influenced positively as well. I found an article where the influence of Shaming on people and the climate crisis is discussed. Here the authors are reflecting on the possible impact shaming could have on companies if they are shamed and publicly named. They think that the pressure imposed on those companies could move them to change essential things, like their techniques of production.
In my opinion, it has to be made public when big companies are not doing anything in order to work against the climate crisis. Especially, when they have a big influence on our environment and can perhaps help changing our future to the better. But in this case whole companies are being named and shamed, not individuals who are posting their pictures on Instagram. Of course individuals have to be made responsible for the state our climate is in. Everybody has to do their part to save our world but I do not know if shaming is the right way to make individuals aware of their flaws. Thinking that only the way of the people who are shaming others is the right one, does not help the shamed persons to do their part in the climate crisis.
So, shaming or not shaming, that is the question. Shaming someone because of their actions is something which should be seen critically, even if the outcome is supposed to be good. In addition to that, there is a difference between shaming an individual or a company for their doings. Shaming someone on Instagram for example can end in a shit storm and does nothing good in my opinion. But we all have to raise awareness for the climate crisis and give ideas how to fight against it.
Climate Crisis is real. And still, Climate Crisis is a controversial matter. Person A says: “Well, no! It’s as clear as day and if you don’t get how urgent it is you must either be really ignorant or completely stupid.” And Person B says: “If the activists didn’t try to force everyone to live their way, I’d probably be more willing to change. But I don’t let other people dictate a lifestyle to me.” Person C says: “I just don’t want to think about it because it stresses me out so much.” And lots of other people say lots of other things, too. This is exactly what the Climate Crisis is about on a social level: polarization. Or to phrase it in the imagery of the Climate Crisis: polarbearization.
Polarbearization , noun [U]
UK /pəʊləbeəraɪzeɪʃən/ US /poʊləberəzeɪʃən/
(Neologism) the fact of opinions concerning the Climate Crisis being divided into two opposing groups1
So how does polarbearization work? At the very beginning stands science. It delivers the crucial information which is used to tell a narrative that reaches the public. It’s not necessarily the science, though, that has the biggest impact on our lives; it’s what evolves from the discourse that is spun around the narrative that is told with scientific information: questions of fair distribution, of social justice, animal welfare and moral responsibility are raised. At the same time our status quo, our lifestyle, our values are being questioned and renegotiated.
The discourse around the Climate Crisis, then, is not necessarily about the Climate Crisis/ -Emergency/ -Change as such, but about how we want to live with each other. It’s about our future; and this is a controversial topic, indeed.
Values influence our motivation
This discourse has different effects on people: some become scared, some angry, some ignorant, some selfish, some become active. Although all of these reactions are natural - considering the very individual mental constitution of each human being in this world - these inherently different reactions spawn the polarbearization.
The polarbearization is not only about reactions, but also about values and our individual motivation to engage with the Climate Crisis. All are linked reciprocally: the values we hold influence how we interpret information and how we react to it. At the same time the information we receive shapes our values. From both information and our values our motivation derives. Thus, our motivation to act or not to act in the Climate Crisis is directly linked to our value system.
Why we should start changing ourselves first
Let’s take a look at what shapes our values: the ‘microsystem’, which consists of family, friends, neighbours and other immediate social connections, has the major influence on our values. To a lesser degree the ‘exosystem’, such as the media and political institutions, has an impact on our values. Last but not least, the ‘macrosystem’, which is the general cultural context in which an individual lives, plays a role2.
This insight suggests we start making a change in the people that are closest to us. Later, campaigns and policies will eventually address the social shift and will thus change the cultural context as a whole. We and our surroundings are the starting point for change.
“Every man/woman for him-/herself.”
So, who are you closest to? I suggest: “Every man/woman for him-/herself.” It doesn’t really seem helpful in this context, I admit, but why not start with changing ourselves? Let’s look at our very individual motivation.
Following the model of the social psychologists DeGroot and Steg3, there are three “universal” values that everyone of us holds to a different extent:
Thus, someone who mainly holds egoistic values is mostly concerned with self-enhancement. Someone who, to a very high degree, holds biospheric values, would for example be an ecologist. Someone who is truly concerned with helping people holds strong altruistic values.
This differentiation is important because the set of values we hold determines how we react to the Climate Crisis. It determines our motivation to act or not to act. Once we understand where we stand and where the person we are talking to stands, it can help us choose the right strategy to have a meaningful conversation; one which respects the pre-set situation of both parties. To understand ourselves and others can prove much more helpful than fighting each other.
The polar bear in the room
Now, let’s dive deeper into the polarbearization and imagine two opposing parties: Pip is a climate activist. Pip is vegan, engages in demonstrations, recycles, avoids flying, does not have a car, buys clothes almost exclusively on the flea-market and fights food waste. Pip does whatever Pip can to avoid causing a negative impact on the environment and the people on this planet.
And there is Tat. Tat hates being patronized but loves eating meat. Tat grew up in a butcher’s family and goes on holiday at least twice a year by plane. Tat owns both a car and a motor bike and doesn’t think that it’s Tat’s responsibility to change anything. “It wouldn’t have an impact if I did anything differently. It’s the big companies that are responsible for saving the planet.” How on earth should these two have a meaningful conversation?
“Are you the egoistic kind of person?”
First of all, it’s important to have a good understanding of each other. Pip has strong biospheric and altruistic values and feels affected by the Climate Crisis. Pip is capable of doing so, because of the values Pip has developed throughout Pip’s whole life. These values make Pip engage actively in the change.
Tat, on the other hand, holds egoistic values to a much higher degree. Tat doesn’t want or cannot think about other people at the other end of the world every time Tat goes shopping, because Tat’s main concerns are directly linked to the present. This is a result of a different upbringing, different experiences and different encounters with people.
“I’m not better than you. Just different.”
Now, is one “better” than the other? Who defines what is okay and what’s not? The fact that one type of personality is more desirable than the other is a product of the social context we live in. This context is mainly concerned with rationality. We tend to ignore emotions, so people who are scared are perceived as weak. People who are angry aren’t necessarily taken seriously. People who have a restricted imagination and can’t think of much apart from what they experience directly are perceived as ignorant. From either side of the spectrum the evaluation of people on the basis of (oftentimes unconscious) beliefs leads to polarbearization.
How to talk to someone who doesn’t care
What helps the world more? Well, it seems like altruistic and biospheric values are helpful, indeed. Research shows that people who endorse high levels of altruistic and biospheric values are more likely to engage in sustainable behaviour3.
Does this mean that there is no way to convince Tat to engage in sustainable behaviour? Well, probably not through the notion of guilt or moral responsibility. It simply doesn’t fit the way Tat’s mind works.
But there are different ways to frame the Climate Crisis: there is, for example, the fear- and guilt-based moral approach of NGOs like Greenpeace. This is where our polar bear comes into play as the epitome of human ignorance. But Tat doesn’t care much about polar bears. With Tat, Pip should rather focus on aspects of the Climate Crisis that directly affect Tat.
Sharing is Caring
Pip could argue, for example, that public health is at stake. Safe water, clean air and a reliable food supply are at risk. This would directly be linked to Tat’s personal experience and could cause a minor shift in Tat’s perception of the crisis. Showing people that Climate Crisis is not abstract and directly impacts every one of us is the first, and crucial, step towards change.
As to Tat’s argument that Tat couldn’t change a thing anyway, Pip could focus on strengthening Tat’s sense of self-efficacy. Pip could, for example, introduce Tat to foodsharing. Tat would have a direct advantage because Tat could save money on food and also experience that a tiny little change in the present is possible.
Acting little, thinking big
Because all this takes time and effort from people who already are aware of the scope of the impact the Climate Crisis has, we can only focus on ourselves and on a restricted number of people in our environment. The big part of the job must be done by those who have the power to change things on a broader scale. We, the people with limited political power, should still use it to induce the big changes. Remember? The cultural context will eventually change when people change their attitudes.
Mind the gap: the discrepancy between thinking and acting
Once a minor shift in our friends’ and families’ mindsets is accomplished, there is still another hurdle to take: the discrepancy between thinking and acting. There are several barriers that keep every single person on this planet from acting the way we think. To only name two: direct vs. indirect experience and normative influences. Learning about effects of the Crisis theoretically is one thing; experiencing the Crisis by seeing dead fish or flooded houses is another – more effective – one. Normative influences (social norms and cultural traditions) can also prevent us from adopting a sustainable lifestyle. If the people we surround ourselves with propagate a lifestyle that is unsustainable, we are very likely to do the same4. This is, why it’s so important to connect with the people who don’t care about the Climate Crisis yet: usually they are surrounded by people who also don’t.
“At its heart, climate change is a human problem. Humans caused it, and humans have to be the solution.” (APA Member Reuven Sussman, PhD)5
There are a million and one reasons not to do anything about the Climate Crisis. There are a million and two to still try and work on changing attitudes each and every day. Not through moral superiority and not through disrespecting others for their attitudes, but by respecting each other for who we are at this very moment. We must start accepting that every person we talk to has a different set of internal strategies and patterns to deal with problems. We must stop fighting and start collaborating because the worst that can happen is that we treat each other with respect.
1 I’d like to thank Merel Borggrewe for providing me with this idea.
2 Fuhrer et al. “From social representations to environmental concern: the influence of face to face versus mediated communication.” Oekologisches Handeln als sozialer Prozess. Birkhaeuser, 1995.
3 De Groot, J.I.M., Steg, L. “Value Orientations to Explain Beliefs Related to Environmental Significant Behavior: How to Measure Egoistic, Altruistic, and Biospheric Value Orientations.” Environment and behaviour, vol. 40, no. 3, 2008, pp. 330-354.
4 Agyeman, J. and Kollmuss, A. “Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What Are the Barriers to Pro-environmental Behavior?” Environmental Education Research, vol. 8, no. 3, 2002, pp.239-260. DOI:10.1080/1350462022014540 1
5 as quoted in an article by Kirsten Weir. “Confronting the climate crisis.” American Psychological Association (APA), vol. 50, no.10, 2019. apa.org/monitor/2019/11/climate-crisis
Corner, A., Markowitz, E., Pidgeon, Nick. “Public engagement with climate change: the role of human values.” WIREs Clim Change, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 411–422. DOI:10.1002/wcc.269
Lina Marie Hansmeier
Let’s go on a journey together – a journey through time. It is an icy sunday morning in winter and you are five years old again. Your bare feet touch the cold kitchen floor while you hastily pour cornflakes into a giant bowl. You balance it into the living room and wrap yourself in a warm and cozy blanket. With your sticky fingers you grab the remote and push the red button. Enthusiastically, you watch your favorite cartoon characters appear on screen while you try your best to get this delicious mountain of cornflakes under control.
These good old times...When the greatest worry was to snatch the nicest sticker for your wardrobe hook in kindergarten and your biggest problem was a fight about the swing on the playground. And the worst punishment was a ban on watching TV because staying up to date with Heidi, Wickie and all the others was incredibly important. These animated characters were so much more than that: Friends, good-night’s-sleep-protectors, comforters, healers – heroes!
As we grew up, it was not only us who changed but also the world that we live in. Suddenly our greatest worries and biggest fears do no longer concern stickers or swings but the real existential stuff: Our lives, our climate, our Earth! In years of detail work we managed to muddle things up to a degree, that we could really need some heroes. But would they trade their animated paradises for our messed up world? And if they did, would it still be livable? For some of our faithful companions, time is almost up. Here are three childhood heroes, for whom it looks bad in times of Climate Crisis.
“There’s an old bee saying: Stay in the hive, stay alive“ (- Willy the Bee, Maya’s best friend)
When looking at the mass death of bees, probably even the friendly German-Japanese bee Maya would lose her optimism. Almost half of the 560 species of wild bees is in danger of extinction, 38 of them are already irretrievably lost. During the winter 2016/ 2017 numerous beekeepers registered losses of up to 50 percent of their colonies. An appallingly high number compared to the usual amount of 10-15 percent. It is impossible to pinpoint the one cause for this unbe(e)lievable situation. Scientists rather think that it is the result of various factors coming together. Poisonous pesticides or fertilizers afflict the bees just as much as the destruction of their natural habitat.
Even though the word ‘bee’ and terms like ‘mass death’ or ‘extinction’ are often used in the same sentence, the public awareness is by far too low. Though, bees play a way more important role in humanity’s existence than most may think. While the striped insects are often postmarked as annoying ice cream thiefs or allergy triggers, they are at the same time the main upholder of the (agri-)cultural industry. Simply spoken, they do not only cater for our scrumptious honey bread for breakfast but also for the strawberries in our jam and the apple in our porridge. During the foraging, which results in the production of honey, Maya’s and Willy’s relatives do at the same time pollinate about ⅓ of our agricultural crop plants. Honey and food? A classic win-win situation!
“If this is some kind of joke, it’s not funny, and I know funny; I’m a clownfish.” (-Marlin, Nemo’s father)
The dramatic search for the most famous clownfish in cinematic history would have been a rather short-lived fun if the ocean would have been portrayed in its current condition. Without a doubt it is much easier to make hungry sharks look like the evil predator than some old plastic packaging. Though, the animated depiction of a waste-continent in the size of middle Europe might have also been quite frightening. For scale: That means an amount of more than one billion clownfishes aligned (given that the average clownfish is eight centimeters long). Regarding the fact that this popular species is close to being endangered, we can wholeheartedly claim that there is probably more garbage than clownfishes in the sea. An all-embracing scenario actually. The Deutsche Umwelthilfe asserts that only 30 years from now, in 2050, the amount of waste in the oceans will finally overtake the number of sea dwellers.
With a half-value time of 250 years, the plastic which is disposed into the ocean today will still cause trouble in 2520. Trouble in the shape of entangled animals which starve while their stomachs are full of granules. And in the shape of humans absorbing poisonous particulates with every fish dish they eat. However, it is not only the pollution of the oceans which causes irreparable damage in the aquatic realm. Increasing temperatures of both the air and the water turn coral reefs from colorful magic worlds into inanimate still lifes. The Great Barrier Reef offshore Australia, which also serves as the setting of ‘Finding Nemo’, is especially known for this phenomenon. There, the coral offspring dramatically declined by up to 95 percent. Sounds like we might sooner or later detect “Finding Nemo” in the fantasy section...
“Man village? They’ll ruin him! They’ll make a man out of him!” (-Baloo the Bear)
When it comes to the impact that climate change and human behavior have on forests and the jungle, it is truly not advisable to “just try and relax” like Baloo the Bear suggests. Otherwise it will not be long until there are no more “bees buzzin’ in the tree”. The increase of agriculture and the meat industry takes a toll. About 300 thousand square kilometers of rainforest are being untimbered or burnt down worldwide every year. Especially Brazil and Indonesia are afflicted. Annually, their forests shrink by an area half the size of Germany, 158 thousand square kilometers. Mainly, the natural habitat of thousands of species has to give way to meadows for farm animals or plantations. Also, the cutover trees are being processed to extravagant tropical wood furniture. Animals, which lose their age-long habitats often become extinct. So roughly speaking, some people decorate their living rooms with living rooms.
There is also another reason for disappearance of entire forests: Wildfires. We cannot claim that this cause is less in human hands than deforestation. Here is a simple calculation: Many forest fires arise due to drought, which is a consequence of Climate Change, which again 90 percent of climate researchers consider as man-made. The current example, Australia, lost an area the size of the Netherlands since September 2019. Given that the fires do not differentiate between forests and settlements, reams of people lost their houses or even their lives. Still, these numbers are nothing compared to the amount of defenseless animals. The animal rights group WWF assumes that number of animals killed in the fires exceeds one billion.
The moral of the story? Learning a lesson from Baloo the Bear and contenting oneself with “the simple bare necessities.”
Let’s go on another time travel together. It is a sunday morning in winter but there is neither ice nor snow. Your great-grandchild is already up and sneaks into the living room. The little girl curls up on the couch and secretly switches on the TV. Your son, her grandfather, appears on the door sill, a computer in his hands. “Switch that off“, he whispers while he views the pictures of another natural catastrophe flickering on the TV screen. “I have something better for you.“
When he pushes play, your great-granddaughter curiously eyes the events on the computer display. An animated white fluffy animal with four legs romps around on a bright texture. “I know what that is“, the little girl notes precociously, “it is called snow. I have seen it in Daddy’s old pictures.“ Your son smiles. “But do you also know this animal?“ Your great-granddaughter thoughtfully bites her fingernail, then she shakes her head. “It’s a polar bear. This used to be my favorite cartoon when I was your age, that bear was my childhood hero. But that was long ago, now all the polar bears are gone.“ “What a pity“, the girl says halfheartedly. Her interest in things which do not exist, is rather low. With an irritated gesture, she switches the TV back on.
Coral reefs dying:
The climate crisis - just a new way to make money?
October 2019, the “Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit“ published a revised version of their brochure called „how eco-friendly are electric cars? – an entirely record”. An entirely record? I was curious to see what they might be telling me.
At first, the author(s) of this brochure explain very briefly in how far the electric car is more eco-friendly than the normal combustion engine, how much greenhouse gases they emit especially in consideration of the whole production process. They state that the electric cars will bring more quietness and calm into our big cities, and that they will be much better for our health since they do not pollute our air as much as a Diesel would do. Their fifth chapter talks about resources, which was quiet disillusioning for me. I was expecting some information about the needed resources about the way they are produced.
But no Information was given.
Nevertheless, they are honest about the high number of sources they need, and that the electric car (at the moment) is still in need of more sources than a combustion engine. However, they will be developing more ways to be more effective and sustainable. The authors are also sincere when they say that the electric car is no magic bullet, solving all our emission problems, even when it sometimes sounds like that when politicians or people of the car industry talk about it. “In Deutschland muss das Ökoauto der Zukunft gebaut werden. Das wird über unseren Erfolg im Wettbewerb und beim Klimaschutz entscheiden.“-
Andreas Jung, CDU-Abgeordneter aus Konstanz, Februar 2018.
It is interesting that regarding Health they published a statistic which shows that the electric cars have no direct/local emission but instead have a lot higher emission in the production process. When looking at the effects the emissions have, we should look at the picture globally. It might be good for our German society, good for our German economy but it is not true for other places in the world. These new electric cars might reduce the pollution and make the streets less loud in Germany, but do we ever think further than our countries boarders? What about the people who live right next to a lithium factory complex? What about the people who suffer under the bad working conditions? What about the children who have to work in mines?
“The conversion to electric cars will kill us”
Pure fear of those who suffer under the living conditions they now have to accept because of the booming lithium industry in Chile or Bolivia. In Germany activists go on strikes against the coal industry, our politicians want to have the “Kohleausstieg” for Germany but then we support companies who go into other countries and destroy their nature, their basis of life and don’t even ask them or even care?
“Today Lithium, tomorrow hunger”. In Chile and Bolivia more than 60.000 natives live in a region where most of the lithium reserves of the world are. Most of the cobalt reserves is in Kongo. In Bolivia most of the people who live right next to the factories are natives. People who mostly make their living with farming. They need space and water to live and feed their animals. To get enough lithium for one batterie (10-15 kg) the companies use between 6000-30.000 liters of groundwater - water the people need to live. Water that cannot be retained. According to estimations, ten thousand of liters of water evaporate each hour. Many lakes dry out, lakes where animals like flamingos would usually live. Natives also worry about toxic dust (which is probably alkaline caustic soda), which is harming their animals to an extend that they are dying. Alpaca babies are being born with deformities and some are not even able to survive anymore. Other animals like the wild Vikunjas die or are forced to move away.
At least our air is clean?
So, let me come back to the “Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit“ and to the emission the electric cars allegedly do not have. Especially the Chinese and Australian companies are using techniques which are not resource-saving. While a German company wanted to open a new mine in Bolivia, with new technology and with less usage of water, the Bolivian government decided against the contract and stopped the joint work. It is important that we use our knowledge for the good of every man on this planet. It is important that the companies take responsibility for what they do and how they treat their workers and the people surrounding the factories. How can we influence other countries to think more about other countries and their people as well? The index of CO2 emission worldwide is shocking, top scorer is China, right after the USA and followed by India. According to an article by ADAC, the car concern VW has published that they made contracts with manufacturer like LG Chem, Samsung SDI (both Korean) and CATL (China). Those contracts about the deliveries of lithium-ion cells are worth more than 20 billion euro. So how do these companies like VW justify their contracts with the top scorer of CO2 emission? Becoming a CO2 neutral Germany does not save the world, it does not make everything better, it seems like that it just releases the guilt that politicians might have. It just makes “us” feel better about the high standard of living that we have and do not want to miss out. How does it help the world climate if Germany is CO2 neutral and other countries get into a worse state?
Not only a climate change!
A lot of these companies bring social and environmental problems into countries which already are in a poorer state and less developed than Germany or other European/ western countries. They bring health problems because of the mining and working conditions, because of the poisonous substances which are set free during the process of mining. They bring social problems kids have to work in mines under bad conditions. So, what price do we pay to have our electric cars? What price do we pay to be climate neural? How can we justify being climate neutral if we destroy other parts of the world? And how can the “Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit“ publish a brochure where they only tell us half about the truth and claim it to be entirely?
We all know that the car industry is one of the flagships of Germany, that we need to be one of the global market leaders. Now the climate crisis offered them a whole new spectrum and branch to invest and make money with.
One ton of Lithium costs around 12.295 USD. People make a lot of money with this, but not the people who live there.
The EU or someone/something else wants to kill us, we all know…
Jan Marc Morawe
I came up with the idea for this blog entry mostly because I got into some new materialist theories in 2019. New materialism questions the norm that humans are the most important beings on earth, and claims that nature and humans are more connected than it is believed by most – usually formulated in easily misunderstood ways. In a seminar on new materialism, two students argued that some texts we read by scholars are about decimating human populations. This sounds like some populations have to be eliminated, genocide-style. It doesn’t help that, according to Fabian Henning, Karen Barad, one of the most famous new materialists, “sounds” like she is relativizing former genocides, which is part of the post-humanism of new materialist thought.
I was immediately reminded of some people I know personally who believe, or at least don’t doubt, that there is a plan, e.g. by the EU, to decimate the number of humans through e.g. wars or other aggressive means. Would theorists think more about how their claims may sound to a few people, at least, prevent some of them to believe conspiracy theories about violently lowering populations? Or is it even the job of scholars to consider whether people will twist their words and construct the argument, that the elite wants to kill us all so that they can sustain their lifestyles?
Inspiration for “Alternative” Theories
New materialism seemingly affected discourses around me for some time without knowing it. Theorists such as Donna Haraway and Karen Barad have argued that in order for the ecosystem (and humanity) to survive, there should be fewer people. James Lovelock, a non-new materialist, has gone as far as to say that 300 million people is the maximum. Others use figures up to 3 billion to be manageable. This definitely correlates with something that we regularly hear: we would need two planets if we don’t change our ways of using resources.
Obviously, those hypotheses that we need to reduce the number of people populating earth were taken for granted by some people and informed conspiracy theories – partly because new materialists are easily misinterpreted, especially if it serves your intentions. After all, which easier way is there, to lower a population, than killing them? At least it is the way we know best. Lie the hunter takes care of “too many animals” of one kind in a certain area, if they threaten other populations some people envisioned other people taking care of the “problem” in a violent way, be it genocide or a forced one/no child policy. Banu Subramanian claims that scientists “are not bearded rationalists plotting the latest bomb!” Of course, this stereotype of scientists creates fears.
Instead of letting people come up with conspiracy theories, how the human population can be decimated, we as a species seem to need new narratives, in which procreation is not the most important thing for humans anymore. First, we should care for those who are already there, especially those living under precarious conditions, be it the working class or unemployed in richer countries or the majority of those living in the 3rd world.
What (not) to do?
Of course, taking people’s right to have children is not the way, but how can e.g. cultural scholars help to create a society, which as a first step stops discriminating against people who intrinsically choose not to have children? The next step would be to get rid of the norm right away…if only it were that easy. How many lives have been fucked up, only because means of contraception are demonized by certain parts of society? Before creating a new life, we should care for those who are already there and create a world where everyone has equal rights and access to resources.
This completely different way to lower humanity’s destruction of nature to a tolerable extent could be the abandonment of hyper-capitalism. Less meat consumption, less waste and all those examples everybody knows, are important, too. But just like abandoning the narrative that people have to procreate, getting rid of the narrative of everything having to get bigger is, seemingly, not possible. Nonetheless, many things which were contrary to norms at some time, seemed impossible until people have done them, like e.g. single mothers or relationships without marriage. Of course, a mixture of both, a little fewer births (voluntarily) and a little less capitalistically driven overexploitation of our planet could be sufficient.
We’re not Dead…yet!
The EU (most likely) does not want to kill us all. Several theorists just came up with possible solutions and some people have come across them and (mis-)understood those as real plans, which would lead to mass killings of humans, but it doesn’t. I mean, if “they” really wanted to, wouldn’t a third world war already have killed most of us by now? New materialism is only about challenging the perception that the growth of the human population is important and even dangerous. And finally, we need new narratives of a post-(economic-)growth society.
Seeing Greta Thunberg sail across the ocean, thousands of people who are demonstrating an eco-friendlier behavior at Fridays for future, politicians who are overwhelmed by a 16-year olds voice. These events have been going through our news for months now. If the reader of this blog is anything like me, you must be just as clueless, afraid, angry and frustrated. I feel very much helpless at times and I also often times don’t know what to do. However, with this blog I intend to take a look at what each and every one of us can actually do to improve our current climate situation. You will notice that I will focus on animal consumption and the agricultural problematics of our world. That is, because I am a vegan. Don’t worry, I don’t want any of my readers to become vegan (not that I would mind) I am not trying to promote a lifestyle, I am trying to raise awareness on something that we all should be very much concerned about and I am telling you that I am a vegan to clear of my own bias.
Let’s take a look at this statistic of the United States Environmental Protection Agency website by the economy sector in 2017. It is a statistic about the things and the human activities that pollute our earth the most. So, if we had to create a list of the top five things that pollute our planet with the help of this statistic, it would look like this:
Those five problems are the top reasons why we are harming everything and everyone on earth. We are all responsible for this crisis and therefore it is also our responsibility to fix the mess we have made. We know that. We know that all of us have a responsibility to fix the damage done through changing our lifestyle and as people living in the first world rich country, leading by example. So, why don’t we stop driving by car, when we could take the bike to work? Why don’t we stop buying things from which we know that they are harming our environment? Why don’t we stop eating meat, if we know that it is that harmful?
I will not be able to answer each and every one of these questions specifically. Yet, if I had to give one reason it would be that we have been manipulated into thinking that what we are doing is our right, in order to help the market, grow in many ways. In order to explain this thought, we are going to take a look on how we in our society view meat eating and agricultural business, to be able to understand why we act that way and how we could actually change this behavior.
Many of us remember the image of Chihiro from the movie Spirited Away, where her parents turn into all eating pigs. Whenever I think about this movie in retrospect, this scene is definitely on the disturbing part of the spectrum. But why is that? and what exactly was the intention behind this scene?
First of all, I would like to clear off that although many of perceive the movie as a children’s movie, it in fact is not. In our western society, animated movie has the tradition to be for a younger audience, whereas in the east animated movies are much less perceived as children’s movies and much more for adults than we might think. That is why the idea that “it’s just a children’s movie with no real intention behind” is wildly mistaken. As is the view that children’s movies are unpolitical with no intention, but we’ll come to this later.
The scene from Spirited Away shows how Chihiro, a young girl loses her parents. As she finds them again, they are eating and asking her to eat from this nice buffet that seems so delicious. Chihiro, however, denies that offer. As she turns around, she can’t believe her eyes because her parents have turned into big, fat and ugly pigs, who can’t stop eating. Chihiro is of course absolutely disturbed by this, as where we when watched the movie in our childhood or maybe even nowadays.
Studio Ghbili had a clear vision on what that scene was supposed to mean. This scene is supposed to illustrate our modern day capitalist society. We are so greedy for more material, wealth and a certain well-being, in the movie analogically used as food, that we don’t understand how damaging it is and that this greediness turns us into the metaphorical pig that does not know when to stop eating and that disturbs our children in many ways, in this case Chihiro herself. , https://www.boredpanda.com/spirited-away-chihiro-parents-become-pigs-meaning-studio-ghibli-hayao miyazaki/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic
When reevaluating this point of view, I started realizing how manipulated we are into greediness. We don’t even realize what we are doing to our future generations and to the earth, that we think of as an unlimited resource for our hunger and for our needs, rather than the privilege that it actually is.
Having this in mind, let’s take a look on how we are actually being manipulated into thinking that it is alright to consume without thinking about the consequences.
As children, most of us will have thought of farm animals as illustrated in the first picture. Quirky, happy animals that most certainly were not there to be eaten but that loved living on a farm and having happy lives with their friends. Seeing an animal that was eating a hot dog was more than normal because they were so humanized that it would only make sense if they ate human food as well. So, what we would maybe see, would be a pig eating a pig but as children of course, it would have never occurred to us to question this picture in any sort of way. Instead of thinking of animals, the way the third picture is showing it to us. Real beings who are being tortured, we connected farm animals with these happy pictures that would most certainly detach us from the reality of things, namely the torture of animals. Therefore, it would become so easy for us to not question the consuming of animals because even these animals were consuming the way we did. In cartoons animals were quirky humans that just looked differently. They were not at all connected to the actual worth of an animatic being. Surely, they had some of the animalistic features, however, there characteristics remained human, and so was there consumption.
One could of course argue that those cartoons are humanly illustrated in order for kids to grasp the concept of an animal in a better way. Yet, it is so far from reality that it seems rather unrealistic that children’s literature and that portrays animals that way has a mere educational purpose. Quite the opposite, as most of children’s media, it is highly political and there to advocate a mindset that pushes our economy, the agricultural market and therefore capitalism.
This sort of political manipulation can of course also be found in our adult lives. The first picture on this page shows a steak advertisement that displaces a beautifully cut and seasoned steak. Most of us will also associate that sort of thing when thinking about a steak when in reality a beef steak that you can buy at a supermarket is better represented in the second picture than in the first. We think that it is our birth right to treat animals that way because we were made to believe that animals are there to be eaten and treated a certain way. But if we take away the ethical question of that debate, treating animals that way and polluting our earth the way we are doing it at the moment, will cause more damage than we could ever imagine because we, to that day, think of animals as steaks and chicken nuggets rather than actual beings.
So, what should we do? I am not arguing for any of us to stop consuming meat, if that is not of ethical concern for the people who consume meat. I am arguing that it’s time to become aware of what we are doing to this earth and its beings. Become aware of our top five climate issues and do something about it. Because all of our voices and actions combined can be much more powerful and strong but we have to start with ourselves.
Download a pdf version of the blog post that includes pictures.
When we think of climate change, a lot of different pictures come to our minds. Long-lasting bushfires in Australia, a record heat summer in Europe, icebergs breaking down in the Antarctic, and many more. While some of those phenomena might be very relatable to us, others seem rather distant. Climate change, however, is not a topic for itself. It is related to a variety of different topics and has many different sub categories. Today, I want to share my findings with you about the discourse surrounding climate change and food production security.
What the discourse on climate change and food production security is missing
The discourse about climate change and its consequences for food production security is not as diverse as I would have expected. First, only two of the ten sources I looked into, which were mostly American and British newspaper articles, two articles published by news agencies and texts for academic magazines, discussed the role of consumption on food production security. Every text refers to the report published by the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC) which emphasizes the need to change the way cultivation areas are worked. The whole discourse focuses on the producers and not the consumers. Why, in the first place, are cultivation areas degenerated and exploited as they are? Is it because of the changing climate or the ever growing demands by consumers which cause climate and landscapes to change? Decide for yourself.
A problematic relationship: Newspapers and their coverage of the consumer’s role in climate change and food production security
The question is why such topics as food consumption, food waste or our food production nowadays are not mentioned at all, besides on a short note in two articles. Surprisingly, both are linked to consumerism. I am aware that this may be a very provoking statement for some, but there is certainly an economic interest which prevents the discourse about climate change and food production security raise to its full potential. Welfare is a desire many people are trying to pursue on this planet. Consumption, in a sense, is a sign of welfare. Producers and governments relying on economic activity would certainly not be in favor of newspaper companies or scientific magazines promoting less consumption. This is why, instead of recommending less consumption, lifestyle magazines, for example, promote healthy food trends. The question remains, whether these are more environment-friendly or just used to make more profit out of the production of respective goods. Avocados are such an example, they are rich in nutrients, the water use for their production is, however, anything else than sustainable and environment-friendly.
We also have to consider that newspapers do not want to lose their customers by insulting them. This would certainly be a danger to the customer-retailer relationship they are trying to establish or maintain. The way food production security and climate change are discussed, however, creates different problems. The discourse allows the consumer to distance from the topic, at least for now, until food production security is something that is affecting his or her daily life.
Distance instead of closeness: How the discourse is distancing us from the topic and the underprivileged!
Although some of the articles may point out that some of the consequences of food production on climate change and vice versa climate change on food production are already visible for consumers in industrialized countries. Less wine in France in 2019 or wheat just drying out because of less rainfall, the problem is displayed as something distant. But for many people on this planet, food production insecurity is something they have to deal with on a daily basis. The British and American newspaper articles rarely mention the fact that areas in underdeveloped countries which are highly reliant on agriculture are fighting a constant battle against food production insecurity. Food production insecurity is not a fairytale they once read, but a real threat. Something which is not distant, but touchable, not a problem of the future, but an ongoing threat to their life. The newspaper articles lack the depth to depict the problem of food production security on a global scale. Possible consequences are only discussed for the respective part of the world they are embedded in, the industrialized world.
A careful choice of words
The words in the newspaper articles are carefully chosen, “climate change may be a threat to future food production security”. The words “may” and “future”, once more show the distance which is created by the discourse of the topic. People, who are already suffering under any of the consequences of climate change and its impact on food production security, are completely left out of the picture. The discourse divides the world into two groups, those who are privileged enough to be not affected by food production insecurity so far and those whose life is affected by it today. The previous paragraphs were dedicated to show which elements the discourse on climate change and food production security is intentionally or unintentionally missing.
The aim of the following paragraph is to illustrate which benefits could potentially evolve, if the discourse about climate change and food production security would be linked to other topics.
Possible benefits of changing the discourse and taking action
The topic food production security would become way more relatable, if respective articles concerned with this topic would focus stronger on such aspects as the impacts of mass consumption on global food production security and on climate change. Why do we expect some goods to be available all year around, although they are just seasonal products? Couldn’t we also be satisfied with less? Our current dietary preferences are determining whether future generations will also get a piece of the diversity which can be found in our stores nowadays. If we are going to continue consuming or, lets use another term, demanding goods to be available all year around, just to throw half of them away, food production insecurity is going to hit us sooner as we might expect. This is a fact we should be reminded of, if not daily, then at least in articles concerned with the impacts of climate change on food production security. The discourse should make us aware of our misbehavior, bring us together and not divide us and most importantly make us change.
For the future, lets try to be more critical of what we read or hear in the media about the connection between climate change and global food production security, lets be more critical about our consumption patterns. Lets make a difference so others may experience the same privileges we have. Let us be the thoughtful generation, the generation that has really changed something for the better.
Khor, Martin. The food crisis, climate change and the importance of sustainable agriculture. Third world network (TWN), 2009.
Beddington, John R., et al. "Achieving food security in the face of climate change: Summary for policy makers from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change." (2011).
Rickards, Lauren, and Stuart Mark Howden. "Transformational adaptation: agriculture and climate change." Crop and Pasture Science 63.3 (2012): 240-250.
Vermeulen, Sonja Joy, et al. "Options for support to agriculture and food security under climate change." Environmental Science & Policy 15.1 (2012): 136-144.
Fashion statements as part of our global social status competition
Due to globalization, today’s population struggles with an omnipresent urge to virtually compete with anybody in terms of social status. While people used to only compare themselves to their direct personal environment, we now compare ourselves to strangers of whose lives we see only a very edited, highly curated and potentially staged part, which fakes an illusion of a perfect appearance.
The creation of the new job of influencers, who earn money through paid partnerships with brands, which they often fail to disclose as advertisement, or through affiliate links, such as swipe up links on Instagram, constantly marketing the newest products to us, add to an unhealthy discourse of unrealistic expectations of a desirable lifestyle. Even though they seem more approachable and relatable than companies themselves, they are often times just as self-centered and profit-oriented.
Companies have tapped into our human desire to fit in with certain groups and exploit it by further limiting the accessibility of certain goods by creating limited edition items. These are so hard to get your hands on that it’s more likely for you to win in the lottery. There are websites on which you can sign up just to maybe get access to certain websites at specific times, when for example the new it-sneaker will be released or you could camp in front of specific stores for days leading up to the awaited “drop”. If you then manage to “cop” the item of interest, you will be able to resell it for an increased price, which is something lots of people have turned into a business by now.
Suffering the negative effects of our superficiality
All of this has resulted into a hypebeast nation constantly hustling to be part of the new money group by fetishizing toxic productivity in order to afford excessive status symbols, to “flex” on their surroundings and better their reputation: fake it til you make it. In a world in which we have been taught to judge authority, power and dominance by someone’s outer appearance, apparel has become the most important medium for poseurs to mimic parvenus without the actual means, in this case money, to afford it, which has developed overconsumption, especially of optional items and not-necessities, and has led to an accumulation of debt. This overall change of consumption habits and behavior is furthermore encouraged by brands by offering split payments to customers.
But not only we as individuals suffer from the negative effects of our own superficiality, the planet has taken most of the beating. We are producing 80 billion pieces of clothing each year – 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago (The True Cost movie). The fashion industry contributes to about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions –that is more than aviation and shipping combined. By 2050, it is estimated that clothing production will account for 25% of the world’s carbon budget (The UN), even though a huge proportion of our produced clothing already ends up in landfills. The amount of wear we get out of our clothes dropped by 36%. There even are single-use fashion items. All of this, while companies constantly greenwash their products as “ethical”, “conscious” or “sustainable” – which often times turns out to be nothing more than PR-strategy and could not actually be further from the truth.
The actual power in purchase power
But what can we do about this? How can we prolong or even reverse our time left on Doomsday Clock? It starts with our own personal thinking and individual responsibility! We should all do some more reflecting to recognize our own long term instead of temporal desires and priorities and question playing and therefore contributing to the vicious cycle of our social status game.
A healthier financial discourse needs to be achieved – money should be discussed much more openly. Upcycling of old or secondhand textiles and creativity should be advocated. It is not only for environmental reasons but also for financial and mental reasons that a change in our power discourse needs to happen. Don’t buy into the hype! Don’t go broke pretending to be rich.
Use your actual purchase power in NOT purchasing certain items or from certain companies that do not align with your personal ethics – choose wisely! We need to hold companies accountable for their claims and efforts or attempts at being more sustainable or conscious. Demand more transparency! (But there is a fine line to shaming – more on that? Read up on climate shaming)
Challenge yourself to a no-buy-month/quarter/year and get more use out of what you already own! Donate what you do not use anymore or if you’re not sure about it, you can lend it to a friend and see if you miss not having it.
The climate crisis is inevitable. There´s plenty of scientific proof out there to support that fact. Or simply take a look around. What do you see and feel? Bushfires!? Rising temperatures!? Melting ice!? A 17-year-old activist trying to be heard and make the “grown-ups” understand that NOW is the time to get active!? And still, what I hear on the news almost every day is people declaring that it´s high time kids stop protesting and go back to school or that Greta Thunberg needs to keep her anger in check. Evidently, the climate crisis is situated in a discourse of whataboutism which takes away any kind of self-efficacy from kids and teenagers engaging in climate activism. In this post, I´d like to debunk certain recurring red-herrings in the rhetoric surrounding youth climate activists so that we can stop discussing compulsory school attendance and instead talk climate crisis.
“What about school, though?”
Let´s get right on with one argument I hear over and over again: “What about school? These kids should go back to school and get some education. What do they know about the environment anyway?”. It´s always adults, i.e. people no longer part of the educational system and its institutions, who express this sort of supposedly well-meant “advice”. One prominent advocate of this argument is Christian Lindner, federal chairman of the German liberal party FDP, who tweeted that, although he appreciates the political engagement of pupils, he thinks that children and teenagers lack understanding of global connections, technological sensible- and economically feasible options. That, he states, is a matter for experts. Alas, a powerful rhetorical stunt to distract from what really matters: Activism! Climate crisis advocates who care about our environment and who aren´t afraid to call out politicians on how they intentionally dismiss activism by exclaiming “But what about school?” and instead follow their own agenda.
Though powerful in its rhetorical persuasiveness, let´s pull that herring out of the water: Lindner fails to mention who these experts are. Or how, following his logic, children and teenagers are supposed to learn about the environment and climate crisis instead. Maybe by going back to school? That´s the answer I get to hear a lot. Easier said than done though: simply staying in school is not the solution. It can´t be because only rarely is school the place where pupils actually learn about matters of climate change or how they can get involved in activism. Rather it renders them docile non-participants in an institution that sets out to discipline deviance. It´s a farce to pretend that school is the place that prepares children for a future that´ll be so drastically different to what we are used to right now. Sure, as a red herring the argument works as it makes Christian Lindner and anyone else arguing in a similar fashion seem to be honestly concerned about the future prospects of children. Too bad they all ignore the fact that these prospects will go down the drain eventually if children are told to stop protesting and speaking their minds in order to go back to school. A drain then filled to the rim with melted-ice water and ignored calls for action.
Anger Management Issues
Calls for actions, speeches, advocacies that are often connected to one name: Greta Thunberg, 17-year old Swedish environmental and climate activist. Travelling the world – sometimes by boat – to spread the message that now is the time to act. One such speech she gave at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September 2019. Thunberg pleads: “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, [the] remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years”. I was utterly moved by her speech because of how her words made me feel; angry, hopeless and desperate regarding the ongoing and blatant ignoritism the climate crisis is treated with by many people in positions of power. People like Linder who deliberately ignore the concerns of youth-activists to distract from their crucial questions and demands.
Thunberg feels this anger, too, as she goes on to say: “You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that.” The activist herself draws on a you vs. us- binary that constructs not only climate protestors and crisis deniers as polar opposites, but also children and adults. Different to Christian Linder, Thunberg however isn´t out to declare young climate activists as non-knowledgeable but instead shows that it´s about whether the scientific proof for the climate crisis will go on to be ignored by governments and big companies. Actants that also fob off kids and teenagers protesting for a better, more sustainable future every Friday.
While I believe that Thunberg´s emotional speeches are exactly what is needed to show the importance of her message because, yes, destroying the planet bit by bit is terrifying, this display of feelings also brings about people telling her off for that or for getting awarded the “Person of the Year 2019”- title by Time Magazine. Most prominently so Donald Trump, as evident in this tweet. The president advices Greta to “work on her anger management problem” but fails to see that Thunberg is managing her anger. She uses it to make clear to people like Trump that it´s not enough for politicians to only say they hear climate activists and scientists if no real change, e.g. big polluters having to reduce their fossil fuels output, comes from it. I believe that displaying emotions like anger, sadness or desperation doesn’t contradict a scientific approach to the topic but strengthens it because we can´t all be scientists but we can all feel that the future of our environment and planet is more than bleak if we don´t act now.
About Future Citizens and Combined Efforts
So be angry, be mad, and don´t let politicians of whatever country lull you in with red-herring arguments. Instead, pull them out of the water, that is debunk them when you notice them, and let them dry out so maybe they´ll feel the despair, too, and finally acknowledge that the climate crisis is impending. If children are the future citizens, why not let them save the future? I´ll tell you why: because the future of our planet is not on the curriculum. So why not save our planet with combined, passionate, angry efforts!? Everyone a little bit by listening to each other and then getting active!
“I need vacation!” is what comes up in your dad’s mind after a long workday. Of course he wants vacation - everybody does. So, what is he going to do? He opens his Laptop and starts scrolling through some trending trip deals. He decides for Thailand.
I know from my own personal experience, that flight costs are much higher than the actual living costs there.
After investing some time into planning, there are still some details that need to be discussed, in which diving is one of the top priorities. Why? Why not is the question? It is THE extraordinary experience, that e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y. is entitled to.
Thailand made some huge progress in the past decade. It moved from a low-income to an upper income country by agriculture and textile farms, although the country is still considered as poor and very much dependent on tourism.
“Great” thinks Dad. Impulsively, he looks up the best offer with the loveliest place. What pops up immediately on his display after googling: “Scuba Diving resorts”? Ads. Ads. Ads. And unbelievable cheap prices.
The photos that are shown picture the astonishing ocean at its best side. Crisp blue water and bright, colorful corals adorn themselves in the background. People swim side by side with cute, little yellow fishes and nature seems to be unbothered. The advertisements portray not only a healthy lifestyle, but also the type of adventure an Individual is loathing for.
Well, unfortunately the thrill you gain through the pursuit of your needs comes at the expense of your environment.
First, the constant flow of tourists requires a large demand of diving equipment, which most of the diving industries are happy to accommodate. It is becoming one of the largest sectors of tourism, according to a scientific study, with a global value and distribution of 36 billion per year, whereby ten percent of Thailand’s GDP is based on diving related tourist activities. Inexperienced divers are often not aware of the consequences such as touching or stepping on the fragile corals or disturbing other wildlife. Not only is this highly dangerous, it is detrimental to the balance of the ecosystem since tourists are usually not educated properly and tend to touch the corals which in turn causes permanent damage such as coral bleaching. To prevent this, some diving shops try to restrict the access of diving equipment, such as gloves. I mean, it may protect you from sharp things, but that’s basically the problem. People are supposed to observe but that’s just often not the case. That’s why many organizations dedicate themselves to the problem like the Green Fins, in order to help recreational divers, influence the marine life in a positive way. The corals are one of the biggest habitats for underwater species and are indispensable to the ecosystem.
The impact became so great that certain groups and even the sport were suspended by officials while some areas seized all operations and closed off to the public.
However, people get even more frustrated when they arrive at their place and see that nature is not the way it was portrayed at all. At least that was the case for me back then. Whenever I did the diving tour, I thought: “Well, it’s cool and pretty” but compared to the pictures that have burned in my imagination, the experience didn’t come close to it, at all. There was just not a lot going on under the water, not to mention that it was packed with people and boats.
Unfortunately, the marketing industry controls our perception of the imagery so strong that it makes it hard to resist. And let’s be honest, we have all been there - it’s just so convincing. The pictures are vibrant and dynamic, which gives a closer feeling to the experience.
A family will rather plan their trip to a nice resort with a beautiful forest and a jogging track behind the hotel than just to stay at home, especially when there is no ocean nearby. I also can’t deny thinking sometimes “I should have done that at least once in my life!” The moral of the story is – Dad will do a better research on the location and their current situation and be more aware of what he gets to see on the internet, and maybe try to resist to the one or other thing?...
 LiveAboard.com. “How Climate Change Threatens Marine Tourism.” Scuba Diver Mag, Scuba Diver Mag, 1 May 2018, www.scubadivermag.com/how-climate-change-threatens-marine-tourism/.
 McVeigh, Karen. “Diving Force: Experts Join Forces to Save the World's Coral Reefs.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Nov. 2018, www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/diving-force-experts-join-forces-to-save-the-worlds-coral-reefs.
Imagine you have a child waiting for you to read a tale before it goes to sleep. Which tale would you choose for that purpose? Obviously, you want the child to feel comfortable and secure. Probably, the tale should have clear villains and heroes. There should be funny elements in it, and some cute animals and adorable fairies. The good people should succeed, the villains fail and, of course, there should be a happy ending for those who deserve it. But what if you choose a tale that’s rather realistic and doesn’t fit such expectations? What if the tale is about one of the most controversial and sensitive issues of our time – the climate crisis?
If you turn on the TV, you’ll see more and more ads dealing with the climate crisis. TV commercials are placed just so often in–between thrilling movies we might watch and thus stay with us as well. When TV advertisements seek to call for action in the context of the climate crisis, several questions need to be answered. How can the producers reach a broader audience? Is there a common sense or feeling in the audience they can address? What is the proper way to display such a sensitive and controversial issue like the climate crisis?
Two haunting TV commercials
I found two TV ads from different countries of different continents that chose a similar approach to address the climate issue. The “UK Act on Co2” ad from 2009 and the Climate Awareness ad from South Africa uploaded in 2013 on YouTube both address the maternal/ paternal instincts of the adult world. In the ad from the UK a father with a soft and narrator – like voice reads a bedtime story about the climate crisis to his daughter before she goes to sleep. The young girl already lies in bed and seems to listen carefully with big, curios eyes. She can see the pictures in the book and as soon as she sees them, they begin to change. The young girl sees crying bunnies, drowning dogs in flooded areas and distressed cats holding on to wooden sticks in dirty water. The CO2 emissions transform into a big ghost that is lingering in the air. In between those images we can see close–ups of the girl’s eyes which seem glassy and confused. At the end of the ad the child – apparently feeling a bit uneasy – asks the question “Is there a happy end?”. Instead of the father providing an answer a voice from the off re–directs the question to us.
In the second TV ad produced in South Africa a young female teacher reads a children’s book about the climate crisis to her pupils in class. All children are gathered around her and seem to be very involved in the story. The children cannot see the pictures in the book. However, the ad shows cartoons relevant to the story. The story begins describing the climate damaging habits of the people in so–called Mzansi. As in the previous advertisement, the emerging Co2 gases form grumpy looking monsters flying through the sky and causing droughts and floods. We get to see close–ups of the children’s eyes and once again, you can see some sort of fear or uneasiness. The tale concludes saying that the adults saw their guilt and found out that they need to use clean energy and reduce electricity to make the monsters disappear. This way “they could save Mzansi for their children”. As the teacher finishes reading one child asks: “What happened then”? For a couple of seconds, the camera shows the eye contact between the teacher and the young boy. The young boy – in anticipation of a happy ending – looks at the teacher, but the teacher does not hold eye contact and looks away. Once again, the teacher does not give an answer, a voice from the off instead re–directs the question to us viewers.
What the commercials tell us
The implicit assumptions in these sorts of TV ads are heavy, innocent children have to deal with a crisis that is not their fault. The climate crisis, which seems in most of its representations very remote to the average consumer, is, in the first ad, brought to the private realm of family life. Instead of polar bears surrounded by melting ice floes or droughts in rather rural areas the climate crisis is now represented as a part of everyday life and not only this: It has a crucial impact on family dynamics. When the child asks, “Is there a happy ending?” it reminds the parents of the responsibility they have towards their children. They get confronted with the child’s innocence and need for protection. It also foreshadows follow–up questions if they do provide an answer. Realistically, they can’t tell where the whole climate issue is going to end up. But if they express the uncertainty or a rather pessimistic view, the child is going to ask “Why”? And this provokes questions like “Why did you let this happen?” or “Why didn’t you do more to protect me”?
The UK TV ad is directed towards adults but also accessible to young children because of the “tale–format”. It makes us feel guilty and responsible for the children, even if we do not call ourselves parents because everyone can identify with the role of the child and understands the expectations it puts on its parents. The child can also reflect upon the climate crisis and might get – at least – a vague idea of the pervasiveness of the issue. The TV ad informs us: It is not only about the health of the earth, but also about the health of the relationship to your child and the upcoming generations. If parents fail their child in providing a life worthy future, how can the child – once it has developed a deeper understanding of the issue – forgive them their ignorance?
In the second ad, the climate crisis appears in an educational setting. The children seem to be pre – schoolers because they are still very young. The parent – child dynamics are missing, but what you can see is a teacher having to make the climate crisis for a larger group of young children accessible. The tone here is a little less haunting, the colors are brighter and the voice of the teacher who reads the story sounds less serious. However, since there’s a greater number of children waiting for an answer it gives the open question more weight. The tale sounds like a promise of adults to make up for their mistakes and the question of the young boy in the end seems like a demand to hold onto that promise.
Addressing the parental instinct
Both advertisements make me feel pity for the children und anger towards the adults who apparently know the causes of the climate crisis but still don’t do enough. The close–ups of the confused, anxious looking children show the innocence of childhood and make you even more aware of the vulnerability of younger generations. The ads do not only show the emotions of children, but also those of animals and plants. Even the clouds and Co2 gases are humanized and smile or look angry. All of them are seemingly passive beings in the whole climate crisis context, which cannot cause much influence on the climate crisis and are rather exposed to the decisions of the adults. Their emotions display their pain and frustration, but also disclose their dependency and vulnerability. The adult is the narrator of the tale and is also in control of the story. They have the ability to control the way the story is perceived by adjusting voice, gesture and tempo and could possibly even leave some information out. The same way they must become active regarding the climate crisis. The adult is in control of how to deal with the issue and the children can only react to what they hand to them.
The word choice in those TV ads make the whole issue appear kind of odd, too. The vocabulary is quite contrary. In the first ad, for instance, the consequences of the climate crisis are described very vaguely in child – directed language: “There was once a land where the weather was very, very strange [and] some place could even disappear under the sea”. But shortly after, the tale provides exact information on the CO2 emission: “40 percent of the Co2 was coming from ordinary everyday things like keeping houses warm and driving cars”. This way, the ad makes the impacts of the climate crisis on the weather accessible for the child, but also shows possibilities to do something against it. In other words, the rough consequences the child is going to face are put mildly, but the actions against the climate crisis the child must do are realistic and based on facts. The picture in which a child turns off the light also implements that the video is supposed to teach children to behave climate friendly and doesn’t consider the adult side. The ad prepares children for the inevitable future that is going to face them, but we could also grasp the meaning: “Adults know how to live in a climate friendly way, and they don’t need more lessons about it”.
The responsibility we have
We could also take from the TV ads that adults do not take the climate crisis seriously. The consumer might ask: Why do parents read narratives about the climate change to make their children sleepy? Do they themselves believe the climate change to be a tale/surreal? The TV ads reminds us of the responsibility WE have by showing the effects on the vulnerable like children, plants, or nature in general. If we treat the climate crisis as a tale, we also have to deal with the expectations of a happy ending. It is up to us to provide it. For us, but for our children even more.
WARNING! This is not about Greta Thunberg! It in fact is about climate change, just not about her person. Yes, it is possible to write about the climate crisis without including her or even having to think very highly of her. There, I said it. Now I am giving you a moment to be absolutely furious with me for saying that, but after that you may want to continue reading because while this post is not about a polarizing 16-year-old, this is also not about mocking her cause.
In fact, this is about everything that is going on in our world right now (or at least on the internet, which nowadays basically IS the world) regarding the environment and especially climate change. As you cannot analyse a topic without comparison (or at least I can’t. I f*ing love comparisons, it’s almost unhealthy), I am going to do one in this post. And here is what you are going to get (that is, if you have already stopped being furious and got to this point):
I am going to take apart my own list of people I follow on Instagram. As a fitness trainer, I obviously am especially interested in the fitness industry and- dare I say it?- fitness influencers. The fitness industry is booming right now. People flock into gyms all over the world to improve their health and bodies. Fitness influencers acquire millions of followers and therefore create a very far reach. This is why I am going to analyse how or if fitness influencers use their reach to raise awareness for climate change and sustainability. I am going to choose one influencer from the US and one from my homecountry, Germany, as a representative for the EU. My criteria for chosing are simple (although still not completely bias-proof, as it is still my own list and therefore already pre-selected by my own personal interests); I am analysing one post for each country, maybe refering back to one or more other posts of the person for illustrative reasons. For the US I chose Nikki Blackketter and her post from the 13th November, 2019 and for Germany I chose Paula Krämer’s post from 11th November, 2018. I chose these people because they, for each of their countries, are among the best known influencers in the fitness world. I have been following these two girls for years now so I got a pretty good idea of what their typical content looks like, and the pictures I chose are representative of their overall content.
My method is simple: I will take a look at the person behind the instagram page and see if the profile is used for either just commercial purposes or self-representation, or if a connection to cultural concerns like climate change is observable. Next, I will describe and analyse the picture itself, taking into consideration the caption that goes with it. After that, I will analyse the comment section. Is there critical engagement with the topic? Are discussions developing? Is there approval or disapproval?
My research questions are just as simple. What is the reception of climate change like in the fitness branch of social media? How do people deal with individual responsibility? Do these fitness influencers use their far reach to influence their target group in terms of climate friendly behavior? What are the differences between the US and Germany? What does the list of people I follow say about my own individual responsibility and my engagement with climate change? How could the fitness industry change its position towards the environment? All these questions I hope to be able to answer at the end of this post. I also hope that this analysis will inspire some of you to take a step back and reflect on how your own social media use influences your perception about climate change.
I am going to start with the US influencer. Nikki Blackketter has 1,9 million followers, makes youtube videos about her life as a fitness influencer, her training sessions, paid advertisements for protein powders…you name it, the concept is kind of familiar. Her post of Nov. 13th, 2019 shows her with her new car, a brand new Range Rover. I am not an expert in cars but in the discussions I have been involved in lately, SUVs seemed to be perceived as environmentally problematic. The caption says that this car she is standing next to is THE SAME ONE SHE JUST SOLD. JUST SHINY AND NEW. Let that sink in. Well, it is not like she could have just washed her old car, which would have made it shiny again as well. The hashtag “#likefornow” suggests another thing that made me stop in my tracks: is she going to get rid of it once this car is getting a bit dirty or less shiny? That’s definitely a sign of being a member of what we in Germany call the “Wegwerfgesellschaft”, which essentially means that you replace something that isn’t actually broken in the sense of “not working anymore”, instead of just fixing it.
So what we can all agree on, I think, is, that her purchase/leasing a car she just sold is entirely unneccessary, nicely phrased (I’d rather say it’s utter nonsense). But what do her followers say? Well, nothing of that sort. The only sort of “critical” comments I found were about why she leased the car instead of buying it, which apparently would have saved her money. I could not find a single comment that critically engaged with the pointlessness of this action! Everything her followers cared about in the comment section was that she looked nice/hot/beautiful (you choose) in her outfit and next to the great/nice/cool (you choose, again) car. Concerns about the influence of her purchase on the climate or environment? You wish.
I also found a post of her (1st January, 2020) in which she reflected on the past year. She stated that she travelled through 5 different countries, and if anybody here is familiar with calculating emissions for travels like this, please let me know. Because this can just not have been very environmentally friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising that she did not swim from the US to Australia herself, it just concerns me that she does this only to post pictures of her being there. We all know how the influencer industry works. You get paid by a company to show or say certain things, and you also get paid vacations in order to increase the number of people who look at your posts, which, in reverse, generates more money for the sponsors. But with the industry working this way, the environment has to suffer just for aesthetic and money making reasons. Here also, critical comments are nowhere to be found.
Now on to Paula Krämer. She has 418.000 followers and posts almost exactly the same content as Nikki Blackketter does, with the exception of the captions for her Instagram posts, in which Paula focuses a lot less on looks (though her pictures still do very much) and more on mental health. The picture I chose shows her in front of her father’s new Porsche, who apparently, as the captions says, was very excited about his new car. It also says how happy she was for the excitement of her dad, highlighted by the hashtag “#proudaf”. I was very bewildered when I first saw this and was like “Why on earth does one need to feel proud because of a car?” The answer is simple, though it should definitely make us think: The pride stems from this still lingering fact that in our society, material wealth and pricey possessions define our social status and are often the measurement for the perception of our own self-worth.
The comment section could not look more indifferent from Nikki’s: approval wherever you look. People congratulate her on how good she is looking next to the car, not one comment about the questionability of advertising more and more consumption and raising jealousy for what things others own.
Another post of hers I found while scrolling through her feed was the one from the 30th January, 2019, where she is lying (fully dressed!) in a bathtub full of water. I doubt that she used this water for actual bathing after taking the photo, so the many litres of water most likely have gone to waste. The caption says that sometimes you should do things just out of pure fun, just like “jumping in a bathtub with your clothes on, just because you can”. And again, not one comment about how questionable this wastefulness. She probably did this just for the purpose of this picture and therefore the amount of water that was wasted might not be that bad, but it still influences especially young girls, who definitely would get the wrong impression about the value of water from this.
So I guess, what I can conclude is that there is not much reception or engagement with climate change/sustainability in the fitness branch on social media. The big focus is on self-representation, money making and the encouragement to consume even more. Not one of the fitness people I follow focuses on or even mentions climate change or raises awareness for it, even though every single one of them would have the reach to do so. And what I found very striking is that there is not much difference between the US and Germany. I expected that, while the US has a climate change denier as head of state and we in Germany have an ever growing party that has stopping climate change as their main priority, I would find a lot more focus on environmental aspects in the list of Germans I follow, but I was wrong. I also was very surprised by the comment sections and by the complete lack of critical engagement with the topic. I guess this means that there are still a lot of people that don’t get how pressing the problem of climate change really is. The fitness industry seems to still have a long way to go towards becoming climate neutral and sustainable.
What I am concluding for myself is that I am going to unfollow most of these people. I think, after looking at what my own list of people I follow looks like, I also have a long way to go when it comes to becoming environmentally fit and be no harm to the earth I walk on. As I recall, Stuart Hall’s Theory of Representation says that language and images stand for or represent things, so we could argue that our social media surroundings are a representation of our own way of thinking. Social media influences people a lot, so instead of following people who don’t care about the climate, we should follow people who inspire us to “live more green” (sorry for the metaphor). Clearing the my list and making my instagram profile a climate neutral one might inspire me to chose to take the bike instead of the big car that I don’t own anyway next time I need to go grocery shopping. Maybe I am going to use the money that I save by saving gasoline to buy organic groceries at the health food store, and so on. After the alarming results of this analysis I definitely have the goal to improve my own indiviual responsibility, and maybe some of you are inspired to go green as well.
Representation and value of political cartoons in the face of Climate Change
Imagery is everywhere in our daily life. Be it through ads, photos, paintings, comics or video games. And imagery is useful for a variety of reasons; making something easier to explain, evoking feelings, or representing something in a different, maybe unconventional way. Just like imagery, climate change also exists in our daily life by now. We see movements like #FridaysForFuture, hear from Greta Thunberg’s actions constantly, and read climate change articles from popular newspapers like Germany’s “BILD”, Great Britain’s “The Sun” and “USNews” from the US.
But what about political cartoons then? Political cartoons have established a tradition in newspapers. Certain companies, like USNews, even have collections of political cartoons about climate change available for free usage. And yet, companies tend to use photos from real life whenever they talk about climate change. With that in mind, one might wonder why those cartoons are not appearing in climate change news articles, where everyone can see them?
First, we should talk about the representation of political cartoons involving climate change. As I’ve pointed out earlier, USNews and other companies feature collections of them on their webpages. To go further, simply typing “climate change cartoons” on Google offers a variety of proper search results.
There’s a special case I’d like to mention at this point. In 2019, between June 1st and August 18th, Dortmund has featured an exhibition of 100 climate change cartoons from all around the world under the title “Cartoons For Future”. Including countries like Tanzania, Turkey, Austria, Netherlands, Costa Rica, South Korea and many more; they all show that climate change affects everyone and exists everywhere, one way or another, while being representable through the medium of cartoons.
And yet, after browsing through news articles from several German, British and American companies, I came to the surprising conclusion that articles which include political cartoons about climate change are either single cases or not even existing. Compared to the frequency of photos in climate change articles, cartoons are underrepresented. Showing cartoons in collections doesn’t have the same value of representation than featuring cartoons in articles because collections usually stay out of sight until someone is actively looking for them while articles get more attention by being present on the front page of websites or newspapers.
Regarding our current time period, with people who want to spend as little time as possible on reading, and with climate change cartoons not being used in news articles, only a fraction of the world will be active enough to see climate change through this medium. In my opinion, this needs improvement. More to this later.
Time to talk about the value of climate change cartoons. For this, there’s going to be a comparison between them and photos from real life. The content itself doesn’t matter much right now; it’s more about the style in which cartoons and photos present that content.
In October 2019, The Guardian released an article where they talk about their choice of images for future climate change articles. As an example, they’re going to include more people instead of animals or nature and show more sinister and concerning moments instead of uplifting and optimistic environments. Either way, they’re using photos. With these changes, they want to make sure that climate change is presented in a serious, problematic and world changing way.
I can understand why photos in general have a high value. To many people, photos show something personal, something closer to reality, situations they can quickly identify with. In these aspects, showing the climate crisis through real life imagery leaves a stronger impression.
Meanwhile, cartoons are designed in a distinguished manner. Containing humor, mostly dark or satirical, with a comical style including exaggeration while they still convey a serious message. Political cartoons can be complicated to follow, that I admit, yet their uniqueness is what creates the major impact. Several of the climate change cartoons tell the viewers what‘s going on while not showing it directly.
One of the cartoons in the collection on USNews shows a cute but concerned kangaroo with a fire extinguisher in its belly pouch, standing in front of a bushfire. The viewers will probably pay attention to the kangaroo with the fire extinguisher first because it’s standing in the foreground, its gaze towards said viewers. After gushing over the kangaroo, they turn their attention to the bushfire in the background and realize that the kangaroo, an innocent creature, is now in charge of extinguishing the fire, not the ones who have caused it. Despite its message, the cartoon itself makes people think in a way that doesn’t cause immediate negative responses like fear, pessimism or anger. Through a style like this, by letting the viewers look at the cute and innocent kangaroo first, the feelings of fear and anger from the bushfire get dampened while the message keeps its seriousness.
Capable cartoonists are able to deliver serious messages by not being serious. They’re capable of showing happiness and sadness or calmness and anger at the same time. This is an art in itself which should be valued more often.
Now what is the better medium; photos or cartoons? The short answer: It’s hard to decide. The longer answer: In terms of style, both media have their own fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Photos leave a more personal impression but can cause unwanted consequences, in example letting people act prematurely because of too much anger. Cartoons are a creative and unique method in leaving an impression but, in certain cases, have to be properly understood first. Judging from what I see when I look at the behavior of other people, photos are better for the news articles and its readers and viewers because this medium leaves a direct and personal impression in a shorter time frame than cartoons.
Which conclusion can we draw then? Climate change cartoons are a valuable asset which should be used more frequently. As an example, the Cartoons For Future exhibition I’ve talked about has been a success. But the main issue roots in the ones who want to spend as little time as possible on reading, for whatever reason. People talk about protests often because they can’t deny their constant appearance. People talk about Greta Thunberg often because the news talk about her which, once again, means that her appearance can’t be denied.
In my opinion, cartoons should be featured more regularly in news articles, where they can be represented in a fair manner, not just in simple collections which get overshadowed very quickly. As much as I can understand the intentions from The Guardian about the usage of photos, this can’t be the only way to go. Cartoonists sacrifice their time and effort for us, and ignorance is what they get, simply because people don’t want to spend time on cartoons? Climate change cartoons deserve more support. They are worth the time and effort. They should not forever stay in the shadows of photos that the companies tend to use for their climate change articles.
It is 7 a.m. in the morning. I get up. Several people have lost their homes in the Australian bushfires. Unimaginable numbers of animals and people are dead. My news app provides me with a picture of a burned kangaroo. It is 7:30 a.m. The news reporter on the radio reports that the heat wave in Japan is ongoing and more and more people are dying because of it. 10 minutes later the weather report cheerfully exclaims that it’s going to be a beautiful, sunny day with 14 degrees. At the beginning of January. It is 12:30 p.m. I check social media and see videos of terrible storms wrecking the earth, robbing people of their homes, their future, their lives. 4:34 p.m. The newspaper of the guy across from me on the train shows angry Fridays For Future protesters. I hear him say: “These kids should stay in school. They don’t know what they are talking about and should leave it to the experts.” It is 8:15 p.m. I am tired. I don’t watch the news. I can’t take it.
While I came up with these examples randomly, they still depict the daily reality of most of us. Everywhere we look we see bad news, unimaginable suffering and misery. The pictures and stories we have been confronted with for years now paint a bleak picture of our situation. You get the idea that the world is going to end. Soon. And when you take fictional works into account, these predictions seem to have even more weight with the number of stories that are filled with hopeless visions of the future.
A desperate situation, so what now?
And don’t get me wrong. The situation certainly isn’t good. It is undeniable that change must happen. The climate crisis is real, and the effects that we are observing are already bordering at irreversible. We have to look at what is happening and take action. We have to fight for our planet and keep on working to not let it get worse. But how can we keep on doing this when the predominant narratives are seemingly telling us that all is lost already? How can we keep believing that it is possible to make a difference if every story we encounter is dark and bleak and hopeless?
I asked myself these questions a lot after I found myself avoiding any news reports because seeing even just a glance of it filled me with such a sense of existential dread that I couldn’t function anymore. I wanted to fight against this feeling of overwhelming powerlessness because it stopped me from engaging with topics that I find important. I was convinced that somewhere out there must be something that would allow for a more hopeful prospect of the future. Something that, if nothing else, would give me even just a tiny reminder that not all is lost yet.
Star Trek – A New Hope?
As I am a literary scholar, my search, of course, lead me towards media and, specifically, film. After a while, I realised that when I think of media that shows a positive futuristic vison, I inevitably think of Star Trek. So, it maybe wasn’t that much of a surprise that I ended up watching the film Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home. At first glance it might not seem to relate too much to my issue with the climate crisis. The story revolves around the familiar crew of the USS Enterprise and how they have to travel back in time to the year of 1986 and recover a couple of humpback whales because their song will communicate with a malicious probe that is threatening 23rd century earth.
The predominant issue that the movie addresses is whaling, and not even in the context of the global extinction of species, which theoretically would be an issue that relates to the climate crisis. But the movie doesn’t acknowledge that in this way. It also doesn’t address pollution of the ocean or the air. Or the lasting consequences of microplastics. It doesn’t even address the evils of energy production through coal or nuclear power. So why did I choose this movie?
My reason becomes clearer when we look at what prefaces the time traveling. 23rd century earth is threatened by a probe that is sending a signal into the ocean, expecting the whales, which have long gone extinct in this fictional version of the future, to answer. Because this answer isn’t coming, the probe causes massive natural disasters on earth, rendering Starfleet and all their technology completely helpless, to the point that earth will be destroyed unless a solution is found. And this destruction is to come by rain and storms and natural catastrophes. Kind of like the consequences that we are experiencing in real life right now. In fact, the scenes that show the storms that almost destroy the Starfleet headquarters are eerily similar to a lot of the news footage we can see on TV today.
An unusual Happily Ever After
Instead of presenting us with a terrible disaster movie that shows us how humanity struggles to survive against the force of nature, Star Trek provides us with hope. A group of people does the impossible, travels back in time and finds a solution, avoiding the seemingly inevitable end. They work together, never letting the improbability of their success get in the way of actually succeeding in their goal. And not only that, but on earth, in the past, they find a scientist that, despite being confronted by the horrors of whaling every day at work, has not stopped caring. She hasn’t become numb to the issue but is only inspired to fight harder.
The end of the movie leaves us with a hopeful outlook. Not only could the end of the world be avoided, but one of the humpback whales is pregnant. A new life that implicates a prosperous future to continue on after that generation. The scientist also adds to this hopeful outlook. She is a woman who cares so much that she is willing to leave everything behind to work for a future she wasn’t even supposed to experience. And at the same time, she is also a woman from the past with assumingly outdated knowledge and beliefs but is willing to let go of that and learn about the things she doesn’t know yet. She is open to a future she doesn’t understand. At the very least we should take this attitude to heart, as an open mind and the ability to care are two things that are often lost in the flood of bad news that numbs us to the horror of it all.
Let’s fly around the sun?!
Unfortunately, time travel is not an option for us. We have to work with what we have at our disposal right here and right now. While scientific advance will certainly be a part of our fight to save the world from a climate catastrophe, flying a spaceship around the sun so fast that we go back in time seems to be a bit far off still. And even if something like that would be possible next week, I doubt that the solution would be as “easy” as kidnapping a few whales.
Star Trek doesn’t present us with a solution to the real-life problems of the climate crisis, but I think that it allows us to remember one of the most important things: hope! Something that we desperately need. We cannot give up. And we don’t have to. Much like the crew of the enterprise didn’t give up when faced with an unsolvable situation, with a culture that they don’t understand anymore, we can also not lose hope even in the wake of a seemingly unsalvageable future.
Different narratives, different mindset
Watching this movie has been a safety net to me. I couldn’t engage with hopeless media, fictional or not, any longer. And, while I don’t know for sure, I think that I am not the only person that feels this way. We are living in a world where we are constantly confronted with disaster, so much so that it has become part of our daily lives. And all of that can become rough for our mental health. Being so overwhelmed, we lose sight of the goal and the means to reach it, because we are rendered emotionally immobile. However, fighting for our planet means that we must break out of this paralysis by any means possible.
Getting out of the mindset of hopelessness won’t be easy. I know that. We have to stay alert to fight for the future of our planet because it is vital not only for us humans but for every other species that lives here with us. It is an important task that can’t be ignored and needs to be taken on by each and every one of us every day. But for me, this can’t just mean to protest and recycle. It also entails creating the right circumstances under which I can continue to engage with the serious reality of looming disaster without losing hope.
The final frontier…
I think that part of the fight against the climate crisis also has to be an active attempt to surround ourselves with narratives that give us the motivation to go on. We don’t have to submit to the idea that it won’t get better; we just have to search for more useful representations. And for my specific example that meant that if we can’t find them in the present, we have to get back to the past.
Of course, watching movies, reading books and listening to music isn’t the solution to the climate crisis. But it can help to create the right circumstances. The representations that we surround ourselves with, influence how we think. They shape our ideas and attitudes and in turn, of course, also our actions. I believe that narratives like Star Trek can remind us that our actions matter. It can show us that we should not give up and that we still have time. Even if it is not a lot. So, seek out hopeful media. It is out there; we just have to find it. And if we can’t find it, then maybe that means that it is time to boldly go and write the stories ourselves.