In one of the world’s most aged countries, some young people are resorting to drastic measures to voice their frustration at politicians’ failure to tackle climate change.
Outside Germany’s parliament, a group of activists have been on hunger strike since Aug. 30, bringing their demands for more action on climate change in person to the three candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.
Now, two days before the election that will bring her time in office to a close, two of the activists have stepped up their campaign, announcing that they will no longer even drink water until their demands are heard.
“We’ve tried everything,” said Klara Hinrichs, spokesperson for the two remaining hunger strikers. “Thousands of us were on the street with Fridays for Future. We started petitions. I chained myself to the transport ministry.”
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was in the German capital on Friday as part of a Fridays for Future global climate protest.
The three chancellor candidates, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, conservative Armin Laschet and Green Annalena Baerbock have not gone to see the hunger strikers, urging them to drop their strike and preserve themselves for future battles.
But while the other hunger strikers have now dropped their campaign, Henning Jeschke, now wheelchair-bound and very gaunt, and Lea Bonasera have vowed not to drink until Olaf Scholz, leading in the polls, either comes to them or declares there is a climate emergency.
“To the activists in hunger strike I say: I will stick to the agreement and speak to them after the election,” Scholz wrote on Twitter on Friday. “But now they must save their own lives and stop.”
Germany has long been in the vanguard of climate activism, giving birth to the first Green Party to win national prominence, and all parties are committed to action on climate change.
But its population also has the oldest median age in the European Union, and successive elections have revealed a gulf between the young, most exposed to the long-term impact of rising temperatures, and the old for whom climate change is one of many competing worries.
After a recent television debate, polls found that more than half those aged 18-34 thought Baerbock, the Green candidate, had won, compared to a fifth of older people, who were far more convinced by the SPD’s and conservatives’ candidates.
“The intergenerational pact has been broken,” reads the poster with which the seven original hunger strikers announced their campaign.
But Baerbock, at 40 the youngest of the three candidates for chancellor, also sided with Scholz.
“Don’t throw your lives away,” she told them via newspaper Die Welt. “Society needs you.”