On Friday, there were 1,650 “Fridays for Future” demonstrations planned in 105 countries, with over 200 of them in Germany.
The topic has created widespread debate across Germany, including among politicians.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came under fire for taking a private jet to a school climate change event in a town in northern Germany, which is around three hours away from Berlin by train.
'We are thousands on the street'
The growing “Fridays for Future” movement was started in the summer of 2018 when 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg skipped school to go on strike for climate protection.
Earlier in March, Thunberg herself joined over 4,000 students in Hamburg as they gathered in front of the city’s town hall on a cold and cloudy day.
Bei uns in Deutschland läuft der #FridaysForFuture in über 222 Städten. Heute sind wir Zehntausende auf der Straße!
Wir streiken bis Ihr handelt!
— Fridays For Future Germany (@FridayForFuture) March 15, 2019
“Today we're tens of thousands of people in the street. We will strike until you negotiate!” read the official Twitter account of Fridays for Future.
In Germany there is also a growing “Oldies for Future” movement in which pensioners join their much-younger counterparts every Friday.
Students skip school on Friday to create awareness & encourage politicians to create environmentally friendly policies now and for the future generations.#Umweltpolitic #FridayforFuture #FridaysForFuture https://t.co/9fDIcg7CA9
— AmyRuckes (@amys_whinehouse) March 15, 2019
A subject of debate
A recent Germany-wide survey by the ZDF Politbarometer shows that the majority of Germans support the movement.
Graph prepared for The Local by Statista.
A total of 61 percent of those questioned said that they thought the student demonstrations were “good” for more climate protection. Only 38 percent found them to be “not good”.
For the survey, 1,285 people over the age of 18 were surveyed throughout Germany.
Steinmeier steps in – on a private jet
Politicians around Germany are taking note: the country's president Steinmeier paid a visit to a school in northern Germany last Friday – although he was criticized for flying in on a private jet – to talk to students about the importance of fighting climate change.
Steinmeier said that many of the adults had not yet noticed that it is “five to noon,” he said of it being close to classroom time in Neumünster, situated about 45 minutes north of Hamburg.
This was the first time that the Federal President had commented on the Friday demonstrations.
Some took to Twitter to note the irony of the Bundespresident making a short trip, that takes about three hours on the train from Berlin, on a private plane to encourage students to protect the climate.
The German President is taking a private jet to fly to a town that is a short train ride away in order to speak to protesting students about saving the climate #FridaysForFuture https://t.co/e58WwYdtDX
— Bojan Pancevski (@bopanc) March 14, 2019
— Tilo (@TiloJung) March 14, 2019
Steinmeier also discouraged children from skipping school in order to protest – urging them to turn to activism in their free time instead.
He said that the commitment to climate change was contagious, adding: “We can only thank you sincerely, encourage you to continue to be committed – within the school, of course, as a topic in school lessons and, of course, outside school hours.”
Visiting on International Women's Day, Steinmeier had a day off work as Berlin celebrated a public holiday for the first time. It was still a school day, however, for Neumünster.
Yet “Fridays for Future” isn't as favoured among other German politicians. Most recently, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) leader Christian Lindner caused a stir with his statement to the “Bild am Sonntag” that climate protection is “a matter for professionals” and not for children and young people.
Centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) deputy faction leader Matthias Miersch criticized Lindner's statement and accused him of “relapsing into the Stone Age”. Politicians around the world still do too little for climate protection, so the protests are “right and necessary”, he said.
Not just about climate change
The movement is not only about fighting climate change, but also about protecting the oceans, Steinmeier said last Friday. He referred to his impressions in February during a visit to the Galapagos Islands.
He noted the mountains of plastic waste that floated off the Ecuadorian coast, 90 percent of which came from other countries and continents.
Plastic garbage is threatening to destroy this paradise. For the first time, a German president is visting the Galapagos islands. Frank-Walter #Steinmeier took a tour through the rain forests, then visited the beach. There his view was marred by plastic bottles from China. pic.twitter.com/1y7y5uXiwW
— Katharina Kroll (@KatharinaKroll) February 15, 2019
“That's why it's so important that you get in touch with us on this subject and always point out that we're doing something. We need young people like you to interfere,” he added
The head of state said that the protests are devoted to a smorgasbord of causes.
Some fight for the climate and the environment, some against racism, some for democracy and some – “this is also becoming increasingly important,” Steinmeier added – for decency on Internet.
“In any case,” added Steinmeier, “I am glad that you are committed and that you are different from those who always say 'you can't do anything anyway' – you can do something.'”