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More than a Virus: What the Coronavirus teaches us

More than a Virus: What the Coronavirus teaches us

German Climate Activist Luisa Neubauer in DER STERN on March 12 2020 (Original):

More than a Virus: What the Coronavirus teaches us

It’s done. For the first time in the history of Fridays for Future we cancelled strikes. We had plans for huge strikes all across Bavaria, with thousands of us, on Friday before the local elections.Then came Corona. And that meant much more than a virus. Actually two big realizations and in the end even hope. 

From the perspective of one who for a year and a half has been organizing political will (or provoking, if necessary) or revealing the lack of political will (Plan B), the main lesson in looking at the political developments of the past few weeks is above all this: If you really want to, if you really really want to, you are able to treat a crisis like a crisis. You can accept it as a crisis in which it is essential that we take scientific knowledge seriously, in which clear priorities must be set, and authoritative answers must be formulated. 

That begins with rejecting a handshake. Because we should all begin with ourselves. So we don’t shake hands. Not our neighbors’, not Mrs.Merkel’s (here Mr.Seehofer [German Secretary of the Interior] is very consistent). But we’re not treating this crisis seriously as individuals. National and international teams are called together, economic packages are bundled, and even interest rates lowered. And that is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. 

Corona ist a dangerous virus that jets around the globe with the people in breathless speed – a virus that demands the readiness to take the health of the people seriously. And this is being done, at least in some ways. We are experiencing a politically sensible inconsistency — just because you ignore the climate crisis it doesn’t mean you have to ignore all life-threatening crises. 

So Society Can Be Agile 

For one-and-a-half years I have been told by the political class that one cannot burden or god forbid overwhelm the people under ANY circumstances, so I am looking with a hint of fascination at this unexpected or rather tactically ignored and rather denied societal agility that is showing itself these days. 15 months of accusations that even the quietest eco-demand is unreasonable, quixotic, ungrateful, and anyway she probably just cannot stomach our Schnitzel (ha!) are now merging seamlessly into a society that may be showing an odd relationship to the storing of groceris, but that otherwise seems to be just fine in the midst of this great Coronachaos. In the midst of this great paradox, when noise of the shock and images of emergency rooms and fights over disinfectants, push-notifications, and stock market acrobatics suddenly resolves in a strange kind of calm. Fewer appointments, fewer trips, less to do. Less-to-do-ism. Forced de-celleration, and we are dealing with it. 

An aside: What is missing from this calculation, of course, is the shock-momentum that begins when structures shake long enough to reveal even the most well-hidden deficit. In a country like Germany that might be the ailing, chronically underfinanced and discriminated healthcare system. That’s why the societal calm only works on those who are not in these days old, pregnant, weak or lacking a safety-net. If that’s all. So much about the realizations. 

What We Must Learn When Protest Can No Longer Take Place in the Streets

And the activists in Bavaria who are now asking themselves how high the cancellation fees will be for the unused stages? What does Corona mean for a movement that is based in mass mobilization? It would be easy to get lost at this point and multidimensional. Organising: What can a protest movement do when the people must stay home? Media: What happens to the climate crisis in the attention economy of the facemasks? Or politically: How do you move a shaking government that now expects to be dealing with a Corona-Crisis, a Healthcare-Crisis and Economic Crises to also, say, take the Climate Crisis at least half as seriously as the Corona-Pandemic? How do you resolve the contradictory rewards in the confrontation of the crises? 

Which means: Whoever is listening very carefully to the medical experts and takes especially firm and unflichning action, is being celebrated as a Savior in times of great need. Whoever would want to do exactly the same with regard to the climate crisis (and that far we wouldn’t get anyway) would immediately be sent home, branded an economic traitor, radicalinski and arch-enemy of the little man. Oh, or one could get lost in crisis hierarchies, after all, we know the numbers. How many are dying of air pollution each year, how many of accidents, how many of the climate crisis? Dimensions far from anything Corona has so far wreaked. The proportions in the seriousness of the response are definitely wrong, whichever way you look at it, true. But what’s important is something completely different.

What it Can Look Like When Crises are Taken Seriously

It is the kind of collective experience we are currently witnessing as a society. On the one hand we experience what it can look like when crises are taken seriously, or that that is possible (and then sun still rises anyway). On the other hand, we are experiencing what can result from that in the best case: An understanding of solidarity and shared responsibilities. Thus, the decision in Bavaria to cancel the important mega-strikes can be seen as a reversal of the generation justice. Medically, the ‘Fridays-for-Future’ generation belongs to those who have to fear the least [from the virus]. The threat to get seriously – or fatally- ill from Cronoa increases with age. We don’t cancel the strike for ourselves, we are cancelling it for our grandparents. Just as we are wash our hands, sneeze into our ellbows, and wash our hands again for our grandparents and parents, just to be safe. Because we have a societal interest in minimizing the spread.

This feeling of responsibility doesn’t have to appear in this form – disgusting examples [of the opposite] are also revealing themselves outside empty supermarkets. That is a question of leadership. But just as politicians can take a crisis seriously, when they really want to, a society can decide to respond with love and solidarity. That’s why we are cancelling our events, that’s why we are protecting our elders and keeping our hands in our pockets.

We think of older people but older people should also think of us 

And in turn we ask older people to think of us. In the short term this will be less about Corona, but about a politics of a sustainable future. And that can be elected on Sunday in Bavaria, for example. It’s not the young people who will determine the results of the local Bavarian election who will determine the political course that is chosen today. They are just the ones who will be affected the longest by its outcome.The election will be determined by the old. We count on them, even without huge climate strikes, to think of us and the climate on Sunday.

Yes, one can start crises hierarchies, one can get terribly agitated about political Larifari-positions in crises, which affect us young people more than the old. But that will do precious little good at present. Instead we are asked to take care, that the experience of the crisis management become crisis survival experiences. In the medium term it is about protecting people from the virus. In the long term, it is about enriching the collective memory with these experiences and carefully saving them for later use.


Fridays For Future is now calling for an #OnlineClimateStrike, that is a climate strike without danger of infection. Because from the determination that our daily bread, our street protest, will have to be restricted for the time being, a wave of creativity evolved–and not only for us. To just name one example: Think of the many business trips that are now turning out to be superfluous, as people are comfortably digitalconferring – in slippers! We have the opportunity to prove, how big the added value can be, when you think societal responsibility further than to the next pharmacy.  Corona is a blueprint. Because we understand that we are setting priorities and taking ourselves seriously. Whether in washing hands, as organizers, or as grandchildren. And so much more is possible. You bet. 

Legislative Actions

Time critical actions:

Municipal Sustainability Checklist

We have created a municipal “sustainability checklist” that can help towns compare what they are doing with other towns, as well as get ideas and encourage collaboration. For residents, the checklist helps understand what towns are doing and not doing, as well as set priorities for local advocacy. For organizers, the checklist is an excellent tool to organize local groups around, and to build networks of people who care about sustainability.

Click here for details.