Interview: that was a major betrayal

Photo: Florian Ziemen Photo: Florian Ziemen

Twenty-two-year-old Elisa Baş is a press officer at Fridays For Future and a student of chemistry and geography in Hamburg. She is committed to climate justice with a focus on those most affected by the consequences of the climate crisis. As part of her activism, Elisa also campaigns for anti-racism and refugees. She spoke to KOPFZEILE about Lützerath, the Greens and the future of the climate justice movement.

KOPFZEILEYou have been involved with Fridays for Future Hamburg for two years. How did that start?

Elisa BaşI study chemistry and geography at the University of Hamburg. In my first semester, in January 2021, I joined Students For Future to fight for climate justice at university level. Because of the big demonstration we planned for 19 March 2021, I quickly got involved in the Fridays For Future local group in Hamburg. At that time it was still in the middle of the lockdown, so we actually organised everything via Zoom meetings. Our first meeting in presence was the global climate strike itself, which was of course very exciting. Since then, I have taken on a variety of tasks – in demo planning, in the background in financial administration and, for over a year now, as the elected public relations spokesperson. Before joining FFF, I attended different demonstrations with a focus on anti-racism and refugee rights. The path to a climate justice movement was correspondingly short, as making visible and combating the systems of oppression that have contributed significantly to the climate crisis are central here. The climate crisis did not emerge in a vacuum, often the conditions under which industrialisation expanded are neglected. A careful look reveals that the genesis of the crisis is closely linked to colonialism and the racist exploitation of people and nature. Capitalism’s compulsion for growth has no regard for planetary boundaries or human needs and uses forms of discrimination such as racism to make it easier to exploit people and rob them of their resources. 

The greed for profit still fuels the crisis even in (post)colonial times. Political decisions, like the one in Lützerath, make this unmistakably clear to us.

"This was a dirty deal that the government tried to sell as a compromise."

KOPFZEILEMore than 35,000 people demonstrated in January against the destruction of the village. Nevertheless, Lützerath was evacuated. What happened there?

Elisa BaşActivists have been fighting for Lützerath for years. Under the village in North Rhine-Westphalia there are 280 million tonnes of lignite that the coal corporation RWE wants to mine. The core question was whether this coal was needed to guarantee energy security in Germany. At the time, politicians relied on an expert opinion by RWE itself to justify the coal mining, although an expert opinion by the German Institute for Economic Research came to different conclusions. Mona Neubaur, the Minister of Economics in NRW, the Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck and RWE CEO Markus Krebber then presented their joint decision at a press conference. This was a dirty deal that the government tried to sell as a compromise. Lützerath was to be destroyed, but in return no more lignite would be burnt in 2038. But that was no longer even up for debate, it was clear to all of us that it would no longer be lucrative for the economy to burn coal in 2038 either. Every person who was there in January continues to carry this experience with them. We made an unmistakable statement, in the most adverse of circumstances, protesting for hours in the mud, in wind and weather and confronted with violence from the police. And yet we saw that RWE’s capital interests were considered more important than the broad civil society. We were all united by our anger, also at the hypocrisy of the Green Party.

KOPFZEILE: What are you referring to when you talk about the “hypocrisy of the Green Party”? 

Elisa Baş: The Minister of Economic Affairs, Mona Neubauer, posed in the Garzweiler lignite mining area during the election campaign with the hashtag #alledörferbleiben. Then, when she was able to make decisions and push through her demands, she explicitly decided against it by entering into this deal with RWE. That was a major betrayal. Robert Habeck has also tried to play down the decision and portray Lützerath as a “wrongly chosen symbol”. But that trivialises the real significance of this place; Lützerath is not just a symbol. There is real coal under Lützerath, which the Green Party is having dredged for the real capital interests of RWE, thus fuelling the climate crisis in real terms. To play down the significance of this is an attempt to distract from one’s own political incompetence.

"An unparalleled climate injustice"

KOPFZEILE: After one and a half years of the Greens’ participation in government, what is left of the hope for a change in climate policy? 

Elisa Baş: We are left with nothing but hope. The climate crisis is man-made. Laws and societies are shaped by people and can be changed accordingly. And we also see that targets are being adjusted, in recent years primarily in the direction of more ambitious climate policy. What has happened now, however, with the new coalition committee is another big step backwards. Two weeks after the IPCC report stated that governments are not doing enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, the German government has decided to no longer review compliance with sectoral targets. Thus, the transport and building sectors, which have missed their targets, are rewarded with being absolved of responsibility for climate justice in the future. The current government is not even close to meeting its targets: in 2022, Germany’s climate-damaging greenhouse gases fell by only 1.9 percent. However, six percent annually would be necessary to achieve the climate goals of the federal government, which are not Paris-compliant, by 2030. 

Even today, with a global warming of 1.1 degrees, 3.3-3.6 billion people are at high risk, according to the IPCC. One can imagine what a world that is 1.5 degrees warmer would look like. For an industrialised nation, historically one of the main culprits of the climate crisis, to decide to further water down its own climate protection targets, which are already insufficient, is an unparalleled climate injustice. Of course, this casts doubt on the certainty that the government really intends to push forward ambitious climate policies. But the certainty that the system causing the crisis is man-made and therefore can and must be overcome by us humans, for a climate-just world, drives us further into action. 

Photo: Jonathan Knodel. Flickr Fridays for Future

KOPFZEILE: What can these actions be?

Elisa Baş: We are a large alliance of civil society organisations and we show again and again that climate justice has many different components. Climate justice and social justice cannot be pitted against each other, but only work together. That’s why we are asked to continue to join forces, and that’s working out pretty well. On March 3rd 2023, we went on strike together with the trade union ver.di under the slogan “We’re going together”. The transformation towards climate-friendly infrastructure will not simply be conjured up. We need a correspondingly large number of workers to put this turnaround into practice. This includes better working conditions, the expansion of public transport and cheaper tickets. Fighting the exploitative conditions in the transport sector is therefore also in our core interest. 

Recently, we have especially expanded our mobilisation at schools. We offer workshops and present ourselves and our work. During the pandemic, when no large-scale demonstrations could take place, from September 2020 to September 2021, we organised a climate camp behind the Petrikirche in Mönckebergstraße in Hamburg. This way we could be approachable for passers-by who had questions and for people who wanted to become activists. With a 70-metre-long lettering “Wir alle für 1,5 Grad” (All of us for 1.5 degrees), we set up a kind of memorial to the city of Hamburg, which also bears a great responsibility. However, the core of forms of action remains the global climate strike, also to show that we are a mass movement. We want to enable civil society to take part in low-threshold actions, families with children and people with unsecured residence conditions who have to fear direct confrontation with the police. Nevertheless, many people are of course active in parallel in other movements like Ende Gelände. 

KOPFZEILE: How are such large-scale demonstrations organised? 

Elisa Baş: There are months of preparation behind it. Because we have such a large local group in Hamburg, we can divide ourselves into different departments in which people can participate according to their interests and abilities. For example, in logistics: What stage do we need? – or in the security department: What about the escape routes on site? There is also the programme department, in which I am often involved. At demonstrations, which are sometimes attended by tens of thousands, we bear a great responsibility for the topics that are covered. We give a lot of thought to who speaks, what perspectives we want to give a voice and what image of social diversity we embody. A few months before the demo, the mobilisation begins and we need a lot of human power. After all, in a big city like Hamburg there are many streets and areas where you can create a stir. The individual departments usually meet weekly in person or digitally and there are joint plenums of all departments where we update each other. I am also on the board of our fundraising association. Of course, preparing for a major strike also means that we have to deal with whether all the costs are covered. So we organise fundraising and social media campaigns. And also on the weekly strikes we collect donations for the major strikes. A large part of the donations come from private individuals, and we also have partners like campact in the alliance who have a larger budget at their disposal. 

KOPFZEILE: And what happens while you are not organising a strike? 

Elisa Baş: We also have our weekly plenary outside of organising the major strikes, alternating between Saturdays and Sundays. We start at 1 or 2 pm, depending on whether you want to join the programme group beforehand. We also have regular meetings with other groups. And then there’s the press group and the social media group, which is the background noise that’s going on all the time. At the beginning, I tried out all the groups to see which work suited me best and where I could best contribute. For each person there is an area in which their own competences can be put to good use, you just need motivation to change something and time. 

KOPFZEILE: What is your relationship to the Students for Future group at the University of Hamburg? 

Elisa Baş: The Students for Future are part of the Fridays for Future alliance and at the same time, depending on the local group, sometimes a working group within the Fridays for Future local groups. This is how we do it in Hamburg, for example. However, they work more autonomously than other WGs. Their focus is to reach out to students at the universities and do climate education to create more awareness about the issue. The Students For Future are also involved in university politics in the student parliaments to campaign for climate-neutral universities. The largest lecture series at the University of Hamburg on the topic of climate justice was primarily organised by Students for Future. The national group Students For Future Germany also organises the Public Climate School, making climate education accessible to all for one week a year. Livestreams take place from morning to night, and there are different programmes for different age groups. In addition, there are classroom events at universities to which teachers can send their students. This year, there will be many face-to-face events, especially in Leipzig, where I will be speaking on a panel about the role of the media in the climate crisis.