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POLITICS

‘Last resort’: Berlin activists go on hunger strike for climate

In late August, six young climate activists set up tents on a stretch of grass between the Reichstag and the chancellery in central Berlin, refusing to eat.

'Last resort': Berlin activists go on hunger strike for climate

More than two weeks later, some look pale and emaciated. One collapsed on Tuesday. Another broke down in tears as medics performed a daily check of their weight and blood pressure.

Neither have they achieved their chief objective – a meeting with the three main candidates vying to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor when Germany goes to the polls on September 26th.

“The climate crisis kills. We are on hunger strike for an unlimited period of time,” a banner strewn across one of the tents proclaims in large red letters.

The activists want to meet conservative Armin Laschet, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz and the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock.

All three parties have made climate policy a key issue in their campaigning, and the Greens have even pledged to make climate neutrality the top priority of the next government.

READ ALSO: Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

But the activists say it’s not enough. For Jacob Heinze, none of the major parties is prepared “to take the necessary measures to protect us, the younger generation, from the catastrophe” that is unfolding.

‘Time bomb’

They also want the next German government to set up a committee of citizens representing the whole spectrum of society to develop measures to protect the environment.

The hunger strike is a “last resort… in the face of the extreme seriousness of our situation”, the 27-year-old told AFP, long hair tied back from his gaunt face.

Just hours later, he was taken to hospital after collapsing.

“We are sitting on a time bomb,” said Hannah Luebbert, a 20-year-old activist who is part of the support team. “If we don’t change things quickly, in a few years it will be too late.”


Hunger striking climate activists gather outside the Reichstag on September 13th, 2021. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN / AFP

For evidence of this, according to the activists, you only have to look at the deadly floods that swept through western Germany in July, which experts have directly linked to climate change.

Global warming will also bring famine, they say, hence the idea of voluntary starvation.

“Food security is not something we can take for granted. We are heading for wars over the distribution of food, water and land,” said Heinze.

The school and university students aged between 18 and 27 from all over Germany believe they belong to “the last generation” that can still take action.

‘Grim and hard’

After that, they say, scientific research has shown that the dramatic consequences of global warming will become irreversible.

For them, civil disobedience movements like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future do not go far enough. Some have already carried out drastic stunts such as scaling political buildings or chaining themselves to the streets to block traffic.

READ ALSO: German climate groups plan legal action against car giants

“But we have seen that these different forms of action have not led to any change” at the political level, Luebbert said.

Gathered in a circle on the lawn, some of the activists chose to remain inside the tents that have become their makeshift homes. On the 15th day of their strike, they decided to up the ante by giving up the vitamin drinks they had been taking.

“I think we’re noticing the aftermath and next week is going to be really grim and hard,” says Henning Jeschke, an activist who has posted several videos of the action on Twitter.

The only response they have had so far is a phone call from Baerbock. “But even with the Greens we will not meet the climate targets we have to meet,” said Luebbert.

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WEATHER

Europe swelters under record-breaking heatwave

Forest fires are raging, animals are suffering and humans are sweating as Europe grapples with one of the most intense heatwaves ever recorded.

Europe swelters under record-breaking heatwave

France and other western European nations on Saturday sweltered under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked forest fires and concerns that such early summer blasts of hot weather will now become the norm.

The weather on Saturday was the peak of a June heatwave that is in line with scientists’ predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.

The French southwestern town of Biarritz, one of the country’s most sought-after seaside resorts, saw its highest all time temperature Saturday of 41 degrees, state forecaster Meteo France said.

Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside aquatic leisure parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.

With the River Seine off limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.   

Temperatures in France could reach as high as 42C in some areas on Saturday, Meteo France said, adding that June records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday.

“This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France.

With “many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions,” he called the weather a “marker of climate change”.

Forest fires rage

In a major incident in France, a fire triggered by the firing of an artillery shell in military training in the Var region of southern France was burning some 200 hectares (495 acres) of vegetation, local authorities said.

“There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and taken to safety,” said local fire brigade chief Olivier Pecot.

The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the biggest such training site in Western Europe. Fire services’ work was impeded by the presence of non-exploded munitions in the deserted area but four Canadair plans have been deployed to water bomb the fires.

Farmers in the country are having to adapt.

Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from “daybreak until 11.30am” and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55 degrees C.

Forest fires in Spain on Saturday had burned nearly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the north-west Sierra de la Culebra region.

The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.

Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned the fire “remains active”.

Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.

Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday — with highs of 43 degrees C expected in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza.

There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures topped 40C on Saturday. A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.

Foretaste of future

Dutch authorities said they expect Saturday to be the hottest day of the year so far.

The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.

“I think at the moment people are just enjoying it being hot but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think it is meant to, then that’s a concern,” said Claire Moran, an editor in London.

Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.

Italy’s dairy cows were putting out 10 percent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Saturday.

With temperatures far above the cows’ “ideal climate” of 22-24C, animals were drinking up to 140 litres of water per day, double their normal intake, and producing less due to stress, it said.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels, she added.

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