27 january 2021

Climate activist Luisa Neubauer: 'how can we turn this anxiety into something constructive?'

The German activist gives her advice to young people on how to help tackle the climate crisis

Supported by University of Lincoln

Abby Young-Powell, The Guardian, Wed 27 Jan 2021

“Once we decide to do something about [the climate crisis] we can move mountains.” If the motivational quote sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Meet “the German Greta”, 24-year-old climate activist Luisa Neubauer, one of the main organisers of the Fridays for Future movement in the country, which organised the school strikes prior to the pandemic.

A “sense of loss,” she says, led to her involvement in climate action. “I felt we’re losing our safe space, our ecosystems, our species, and the sentiment that we could grow up on a safe planet.”

Neubauer’s father passed away in 2015, the year the Paris Agreement was signed. “There’s a lot that connects these moments of grief,” she says.

Born in Hamburg and now living in Berlin, she studies geography at the University of Göttingen, alongside her activism. She is one of the many students who have become a powerful voice in the battle to tackle the climate crisis. Last week, more than one million young people around the world urged governments to prioritise measures to protect against the ravages of climate breakdown during the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before Covid-19 restrictions, millions of school children walked out of classrooms around the world every week to strike for the climate. The movement began in 2018 when a then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat outside the Swedish Parliament every school day to demand urgent action on the climate crisis.

“Generations have failed us. If we don’t do this, they won’t,” Neubauer says. And the need for action is more urgent than ever; last year was the joint hottest year ever recorded, with the world’s oceans also reaching their hottest level in recorded history. The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals”, a group of international scientists warned this month. On top of this, 1.2 billion people could be displaced by 2050 due to climate change, a recent report said.

“The sooner we get going the more we can do about it,” Neubauer says. So what’s her advice for young people?

Connect with nature

A lot of human crises arise from a disconnect between humans and the environment, Neubauer says. “Allow yourself to be touched by what we’re seeing around the world. Feel grief [at what’s already been lost] and joy about what’s still there,” she says. “That’s an important first step.”

Join a movement

There’s power in numbers and in getting organised. Students can join the Fridays for Futures movement, for example, or a student society that focuses on tackling the climate crisis. “We’re facing a challenge where we need people to unite behind certain ideas,” Neubauer says. “Movements work because people join something that already exists, that is good and solid, and they can make it better.”

Take to the streets

To create change, governments need to take the climate crisis seriously, and protests help to apply pressure. “We know that a lot of the answers are already out there, but what we lack is awareness, pressure on governments, and a crisis mode that we need to adopt,” Neubauer says. “This is what we need to do on the streets.”

Psychologists have warned that young people’s mental health has been particularly affected by the reality of the climate crisis. They’ve also said that getting out, taking action and doing something about it, helps. Neubauer says it’s understandable to feel anxious. “It’s frightening and we know this affects us and what this means for our lives,” she says. “So the question is, how can we turn this anxiety into something constructive? This can be a source of energy for us and something that empowers us.”

Push for systemic change

Lifestyle changes, such as cycling regularly or having a plant based diet, are good for your health and for the planet. However, the most important thing is fighting for systemic change, Neubauer says. “Every gram of emissions that is not emitted is good – but it’s a question of where we channel our energy,” she says. “Having a low emission diet is something I do because it gives me energy to focus on systemic changes.” Keeping up pressure on governments is key.

Learn lessons from the pandemic

The pandemic has shown that we can take a crisis seriously if we want to, and the same energy is needed for the climate crisis. “[It has shown] we can listen to the science,” Neubauer says. “That is the thinking we desperately need in the climate crisis.”

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