(Almost) 3 months in the life of

There is this amazing article in the German Fundamental Law, called article 20a. It says: “Der Staat schützt auch in Verantwortung für die künftigen Generationen die natürlichen Lebensgrundlagen und die Tiere im Rahmen der verfassungsmäßigen Ordnung durch die Gesetzgebung und nach Maßgabe von Gesetz und Recht durch die vollziehende Gewalt und die Rechtsprechung.“ It means that the State protects the natural basis for life as well as animals, explicitly taking responsibility in that regard for coming generations. A beautiful political purpose.

Now the problem is that real politics are far from going along the lines of article 20a. Protecting the natural conditions for life would require to cease subsidizing the fossil industry, mining coal, or deforesting, to name only the most obvious examples that spring to mind. And this is not at all what the German governments of the past decades have been doing, although the scientific community has been warning about the threats to climate and biodiversity for 50 years, and article 20a has been in the German constitution for 30 years.

The climate movement has been relentlessly trying to remind the successive governments of their constitutional duty so ensure safe life conditions for the generations to come. And there have been phases where it looked like public opinion was starting to realize the urgency of the crisis. But more recently, we have come to a situation where climate activists are forced to escalate in order to be noticed or mentioned in the press. Awareness for and action on the climate crisis is purposefully shoved towards the private sphere by politics, press and some powerful lobbies so they can keep pursuing short-term economic and political interests. They do not only deliberately ignore the big picture of upcoming doom – knowing perfectly well that the situation is catastrophic – but they give their best to make everyone, e.g., voters and consumers, forget that doom is already there.

For scientists, as I have already described it in older posts (for instance this one), the dissonance of living with the exact knowledge of how critical the situation is on the one hand, in a society that has never stopped its business as usual on the other hand, leads to a variety of reactions. Some will invest time and energy in putting advice together, acting as consultants. Some will say that if the scientists, who know for a fact the extent of the crisis, don’t take to the streets to protest life-destructive policies, why should the wider population realize how bad it is? I belong to the last category. But even these forms of protest have limited effects. Press coverage is meager. Social media is a jungle. We keep trying. But the forces we are up against are so huge, it takes the energy of all our despair to keep and keep and keep trying.

And sometimes despair is bigger than a street blockade. Sometimes, when you have tried street blockades, turning down pipelines, you name it, and still nothing changes and you know your children will have literally no air to breathe, when you think that you have tried everything, then the only card you have left to play is that of your life.

In the following, I talk about a hunger strike that will most likely leave deep emotional wounds in the lives of many climate activists. Don’t read it if you are not comfortable with content related to eating disorder, suicide, or deep eco-anxiety.

In early March of 2024, Wolfgang Metzeler-Kick started a hunger strike during which he kept taking fluids (water, tea, electrolyte, juice). He was joined a few days later by Richard Cluse, then Michael Winter. While Michael stopped around Mid-May when his health situation got critical, as I write this, Wolli is in his 82nd day of hunger strike, and a few days ago, he has started limitating his intake to water, electrolytes, and minerals. He is dangerously close to death and while he has been saying from the onset that he would die if his demands were not fulfilled, the closer that moment comes, the harder it becomes to accept especially for the activists that have been supporting him.

Every day for almost 3 months, people have been trying to convince him not to die, even more so as time went by.

It’s not that he is reaching for the moon. The demands of the hunger strikers are simple: they ask the German Chancellor to acknowledge the extent of the climate crisis (see their website). By refusing to do so, the Chancellor is not simply trying to avoid a public powerplay he might consider unfair, or fear it might make him lose political credibility. He is also turning the IPCC reports and science in general to a joke. In some way, the slap goes to the face of all scientists, because the demand is not political, it simply consists in stating scientifically established facts.

By the end of March, a hunger strike camp where the hunger strikers stayed, living in tents and accompanied by a support team, was settled in Berlin, at first close to the Chancellor’s and the Reichstag, and since the End of April close to the Ministry of Economy and Environment. The idea was to leverage awareness about the climate crisis among passers-by. A huge banner with explanations on the warming stripes was displayed, volunteers took turns at the info point day and night. But not that many people passed by, it would take more than that to get noticed. A daily demonstration was organized – it takes place every day at 5PM in the form of a slow walk – , as well as social media posts, press conferences. Hundreds of people signed their letter to Chancellor Scholz. Scientists organized solidarity fasting actions. There is a wikipedia article. The hunger strikers participated in actions organized by other movements. They have been extremely present, in Berlin and beyond, for almost three months. A few members of parliament came and talked to them.

I don’t know the content of the discussions they had with those who came to the camp, but my guess is that each and every one of the people who came had hoped to be the one person who would manage to convince Wolli not to die. I don’t know, really, but considering where we are tonight, I don’t have the feeling that many of the politically more powerful people who came to the camp fought for the demands to be met by the government.

Because this is where we are tonight, where we always are: politicians who refuse to engage in constructive dialogue and in action are comfortably hiding behind their favorite argument, namely that they disapprove of the method, thus avoiding to engage in the real question: what are they doing so that our kids, their kids, have air to breathe when they are our age? What is being done of what science says should be done?

I said that Wolli’s death – the most imminent one as I write this – would leave deep wounds in the climate movement, because I fear that it would not empower climate activists, on the contrary. It would make us sad, it would make us angry, and it would make our despair and helplessness more blatant, also to our own eyes. I have come to think that this is precisely what the forces we are up against want: they intend to push us to self-destruction. And this is what we have to fight against, collectively.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Anne Baillot (May 28, 2024). (Almost) 3 months in the life of. Digital Intellectuals. Retrieved July 21, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/11qlx

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université, currently Researcher in Residence at DARIAH-ERIC in Berlin. My areas of research include German literature, digital methods for Heritage and Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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