BERLIN – After three and a half weeks on a hunger strike, Henning Jeschke is frail and skinny, but determined to keep going, still hoping to pressure the three candidates for German Chancellor to meet him for a debate on the climate crisis before the general election on Sunday.
For the first time in Germany, climate change is perhaps the most dominant issue in an election campaign, especially for young voters. It is at the center of televised debates between the candidates, and five of the six main parties are proposing more or less detailed plans to slow global warming.
But young climate activists – who pitched a tent camp in a park in Berlin’s government quarter last month – fear that promises from politicians will quickly dissipate after the vote or give way to pressure from politicians. special interests. Jeschke and six others went on a hunger strike on August 30.
On Wednesday, the 24th day without food, Jeschke was resting on a mattress in the center of the camp, leaning on one elbow, giving back-to-back interviews and occasionally drinking sips of tea.
He said the hunger strike was an act of desperation because he and his fellow activists felt that “in this time of climate collapse there are no honest conversations, party agendas are insufficient. and that we must act urgently against the climate catastrophe. “
At this point, the candidates – Olaf Scholz from the center-left Social Democrats, Armin Laschet from the center-right Union bloc or even Annalena Baerbock from the pro-environment Greens – are unlikely to show up.
They urged strikers to end their protest due to health concerns, instead offering private meetings after the vote, presumably to avoid meetings that could derail. Baerbock spoke to the strikers by phone and expressed empathy for their frustration. A spokeswoman for Scholz said she met some of them and their supporters after a campaign stop near Berlin.
Six of the hunger strikers ended the protest, including three on Wednesday. Jeschke, however, said he would continue and refuse liquids, starting Thursday evening, if requests were not met.
The 21-year-old from the northeastern town of Greifswald, who dropped out of political science studies for full-time activism, has already lost 11 kilos (24 pounds) and said his parents were worried.
“My mom is at home in tears, my dad comes to visit her over and over again, but they also see it is necessary,” he said.
Lena Bonasera, 24, who joined the hunger strike on Monday, said the activists first met during the Fridays For Future protests, as part of the international youth-led movement launched in 2018 by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Bonasera, an Oxford graduate, who also vowed to stop taking fluids from Thursday evening, said she had interrupted work on her civil disobedience dissertation to take time out of the campaign.
“I wondered why me, and my mom also asked this,” she said of her decision to risk her health for her beliefs. “But once you allow yourself to feel how terrible the climate crisis really is, then I have no choice but to act this way.”
This Friday, young activists plan to hold large-scale international climate change protests, weeks before leaders gather for a United Nations summit in Glasgow. Thunberg is expected at the rally in Berlin, which will take place just two days before an election that Greens and climate activists say is the last chance Europe’s biggest economy has to raise the bar.
The hunger strike has made waves, although there will be no pre-election debate.
Climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who has advised Pope Francis, Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, addressed protesters via Zoom this week, urging them to start eating again and offering to connect them to decision-makers after the elections.
In an open letter, Schellnhuber gave legitimacy to activists’ warnings, writing that the Earth will warm by nearly 3 degrees Celsius this century if current climate policies continue around the world, and there is even an external risk. that large parts of the planet are becoming uninhabitable.
“This risk may be low, but would we be pushing our children on a school bus that has a 5% chance of being fatal?” he wrote in the letter, which was widely circulated in German media.
But Schellnhuber told activists the time was not yet right to take drastic measures, such as hunger strikes. He said he sensed a political openness, with leading politicians more willing to tackle the problem. In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, he said after conversations with Scholz he believed the frontrunner “was taking the problem much more seriously than a few years ago.”
In the climate debate, two camps have emerged, with the Greens proposing the most comprehensive program to make Germany carbon neutral with a mix of government incentives and sanctions for polluters. Scholz’s Social Democrats are also proposing government-led change, but with more time than the Greens are asking for to phase out coal-fired power plants and combustion engines.
On the other side, pro-business Christian Democrats and Free Democrats argue that market-driven innovation should take the lead.
The race between the parties remains tight, with the Social Democrats only a few percentage points ahead in the polls.
Whatever the end result, the focus on climate change in public debate is unprecedented, driven in part by young activists, observers said.
“We can sense that this is a generation politicized by the issue of climate change,” said Sascha Müller-Kraenner of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a group of veterans of environmental protection. “This is a huge opportunity for our democracy … that an entire generation has come together.”
Mueller-Kraenner’s group has sued companies with some of the highest carbon emissions, suing automakers Mercedes and BMW this week.
He said these chases and street protests complement each other. “At the end of the day, it’s the politicians who have to make the decisions, but we have to keep this positive pressure on them,” he said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the German elections at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election. Follow AP’s coverage of climate change at https://apnews.com/Climate