A Common Fight Against Climate Change and Authoritarianism

Three people, three places on three different August days:

  • 17 August 2017, Hong Kong: Joshua Wong is sentenced to six months imprisonment.

They are people whose names are not particularly internationally known at that time. But they inspired people. They sparked social movements and triggered a dynamic. Joshua, 22 years old, is the head of the protest movement in Hong Kong. Greta, 17 years old, is an icon in the fight against climate change. Yegor Zhukov, 21 years old, is a symbolic figure of the Moscow protests.

What unites these young movements? The fight against lacking prospects, the struggle for a liveable, free future.

In Hong Kong, people are fighting against a Chinese ruling system that robs freedom — a system of digital total surveillance and an extradition law that would allow Beijing to arrest Hong Kong citizens and let them stew in some mainland dungeon.

In Moscow we have seen the biggest protest movement for “honest elections” in years. It is thanks to these people that the liberal opposition faction Yabloko has finally returned to the Moscow City Council.

And in many European cities schoolchildren are protesting for a future worth living, against climate change and the failure of adults to meet this challenge.

Authoritarianism and climate change do not offer bright prospects for the future. And it is difficult to negotiate with both. Lacking prospects is poison. It touches the inner human core. It robs freedom and meaning. Life can be many things, but not meaningless. For this very reason these movements are emancipatory in nature. And perhaps that is why they are so pronounced in youth. Young people fight for their freedom to lead a self-determined, meaningful life in a world worth living in. They are sacrificing their present for a better future.

It is Joshua Wong against Xi Jinping and his struggle for human rights. It is Yegor Zhukov against Putin and his struggle for free elections and a secure rule of law. It is Greta Thunberg against Trump and her struggle for an intact environment.

Freedom and ecology are linked. You cannot play them off against each other as a major German newspaper recently did with the question “What is more important — climate or freedom”. Anyone who asks this question has understood neither climate change nor authoritarianism. Both climate change and authoritarianism destroy life realities.

Freedom decreases with climate change. And ambitious climate protection will not be possible if it robs freedom. Authoritarianism cannot be an answer in the name of climate protection. Climate protection is a global challenge that seeks global, cooperative, rule-based answers that all adhere to. Authoritarianism is a firm, closed, introverted system that does not focus on global cooperation, but only on systemic self-preservation. Those who believe that authoritarianism is necessary to save the world also believe that the Soviet Union must have been a socialist paradise on earth….it wasn’t.

Authoritarianism and climate change are therefore of the same nature — they challenge society. Those who do not stop climate change will lose freedom, because climate change is destructive. Those who do not stop authoritarianism will lose the fight against climate change, because authoritarianism is destructive. No nature, no future. No freedom, no future.

Autocrats have nothing to do with climate change because autocrats are only concerned with themselves and their power. China is not an ecological pioneer, but the world’s biggest polluter. Bolsonaro is not an eco-warrior but is deforesting the Amazon and won’t let anybody stop him. Putin is not a climate fanatic, but a climate denier. Trump leaves the Paris Agreement because he sees international cooperation as a limitation of power.

Joshua, Greta, Yegor are their liberal opponents. They are not authoritarian leaders of protest movements. They don’t command troops, they inspire people. Greta Thunberg is an icon, not a climate commander. Joshua Wong regularly asserts that he is “not the leader of this movement”. And Yegor Zhukov is a libertarian symbolic figure. They are role models.

The youth movements are, as in the new Netflix Series “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistence”, the Gelflings that fight against the authoritarian rule of the Skeksis and for the preservation of their world Thra.

The fight for a world worth living in is a fight against climate change and a fight against authoritarianism. Both are systemic challenges for liberal democracy in the 21st century and intertwine. The fight against climate change can also be a meaningful, joint project for liberal democracy that brings people together and gives a purpose.

Even if an authoritarian spirit sleeps in some young, perhaps naïve, climate protesters, I am hopeful that we are witnessing the growing up of a new generation that fights for liberal democracy. Authoritarianism cannot be an answer to a global challenge that requires creativity, cooperation and compromise.

Advisor and Writer on the changing geopolitical and economic world order. (www.roderickkefferpuetz.com )

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