When Dreaming, Why Not Dream More Radically?
Can the European Green Deal truly be transformative for the planet and society, and discontinue the “business as usual” model disguised in green?
FOTO: Markus Spiske / Unsplash
When creating an activist banner that addresses any systemic problem, there is both advantage and disadvantage in choosing sentences that demand a thorough "revaluation of all values". The problem with messages such as Down with Capitalism! or Sustainable Living! is that they inevitably provoke the following question: "Where, for God's sake, do you start?". That is why messages with specified demands and with the possibility of actual realization in the foreseeable future are more common. However, the mentioned more abstract and general demands also have their advantages, especially if they are accompanied by detailed elaboration and clear instructions on how to reach the desired goal, no matter how distant it may seem. Such demands were made by young people across Europe, more than 3,000 of them, of different backgrounds and identities and mostly from underrepresented social groups, gathered around the unambiguously named project System:Reset. Formulated as solution suggestions or recommendations for measures for four different stakeholder groups - local, national and European governments, companies, communities and individuals – they are presented in the document Our Green Deal for Europe – A Just One. In late 2021, Zelena akcija / Friends of Earth Croatia, supported by the Croatian Youth Network and the Roma Youth Organization of Croatia, sent this document to the competent ministries on behalf of thousands of young people across Europe and Croatia.
Why was it important for us to produce such a document when there are so many others of a similar type and purpose? What makes this document so interesting at this very moment, when the world is at a turning point in terms of deciding how and how radically it wants to address the climate crisis?
Involving young people in decision-making processes has long been a hot topic. From political parties and institutions to the academic and civil sector, everyone is interested in how to check the box of the "youth" target group, and, if possible, do more than just open a TikTok account. In some cases, the checkmark in the box is there only to satisfy the form. Sometimes, "the future of young people" is sensationally flaunted to score political points. But from time to time, an effort is made to try to connect young people with public institutions, the civil sector and decision-makers in a truly meaningful way, giving young people the space to speak authentically about their visions of the Earth on behalf of their generation, those who will inherit it. Many EU projects, national, local, Erasmus and others are trying to empower young people so they could become true stakeholders in social and political processes. The most comprehensive in implementation and reach, and probably the most lavish budget-wise is the EU Youth Dialogue (formerly the "Structured Dialogue"), which in 2018 produced eleven goals based on the views and opinions of more than 50,000 young people from European Union countries on issues that directly concern them.
The positive thing is that such documents are no longer just symbolic PDFs. Several important phenomena in recent years have indicated a serious shift in the perception of young people as important social actors. This process has been further accelerated by the climate crisis because its nature is long-term and pervasive, and even if current decision-makers do not feel its worst consequences, they inevitably face the question of what kind of world they will leave behind. Young people are in fact the "target group" of climate change, the consequences of which we are already witnessing, and the worst is yet to come.
The emergence of the Fridays For Future (FFF) movement is certainly one of the drivers of the trend of mass mobilization of young people around the world and, consequently, a more serious understanding of their demands. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has openly cited the European youth movement as inspiration for proposing the European Green Deal, a comprehensive political agenda by which the EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 % by 2030 to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. In Germany, young FFF activists filed a lawsuit in the constitutional court and won; the court ruled that the government's climate policy was vague and insufficiently ambitious and that delaying emission reductions violated the rights and freedoms of future generations. Apart from being somewhat of a precedent, the verdict was passed just before the German elections, putting additional pressure on political parties. If it ever made sense to use your position as a young person to change the course of the future, it is now. The stage is set and those in power are almost forced to take the voices of young people into account. It is especially important to seize the moment to actively support young people from underrepresented social categories, whose voices are often not heard and who do not participate in shaping new policies.
Recognizing and Questioning Power Relations
In times of climate crisis, open letters abound and each targets a different phenomenon or stakeholder, from the demands of various celebrities and influencers to the national Call for Systematic Climate Action written by Croatian climate scientists, and local examples such as the civil society’s Call for the Green Reconstruction of Sisak-Moslavina County.
Many of them arose in the process of dialogue with young people, where the main principle of work is structured consultations and conferences. The final recommendations of the youth are coordinated with those of the relevant stakeholders, while the process is led by the relevant ministries and national working groups. In the case of the System:Reset project, the leading role was not assumed by institutions but by young activists, those who do not associate the verb "act" with a conference with decision-makers, but rather with blocking a coal-fired power plant or direct action in local communities. The process of gathering their visions and formulating demands was carried out by Young Friends of the Earth (YFoEE), a European network of young environmental activists (Zelena akcija is a member) that has inherited an intersectional approach to environmental and climate issues. Since its founding in 2007, YFoEE has undergone a shift in the paradigm of its approach to organizing since the initial phase of its focus on advocacy campaigns, marking this with the publication of the Manifesto for Equality and Interculturalism. The manifesto concludes that social inequalities and patterns of oppression, as well as attitudes towards economic and growth issues, are an integral part of environmental and climate justice. Therefore, this specific combination of activists and deprivileged youth leading the process based their work on recognizing and re-examining power relations. These tenets have opened up space for more radical experiences and visions, as evidenced by the results. The demands are more comprehensive, radical and far-reaching, and their implementation is not so much conceived through lobbying in institutions but through action in the local community.
The process consisted of two key parts: the formation of local and European visions and demands of young people and the establishment of the so-called youth hubs. The hubs are places for praxis, spaces where the process of defining demands takes place, led by the youth. At the same time, young people all over Europe, including Croatia, coordinated groups and designed activities on their own. The point was to give creative and activist freedom and mentoring support to young people so they could recognize the problem or address what is important to their local community and to offer an answer and a solution. In Croatia, six youth hubs were founded: in Darda, in Čakovec, Pula, Solin, Križevci and Koločep, one of the Elaphiti Islands. The leaders of the hubs organized workshops on "collecting visions" where, little by little, over the course of a year, the demands and visions of young people were formed. The methodology called Values, Future and Visions was intended for young people who are potentially out of touch with current political and social turmoil, and therefore had to be inclusive and adapted to different levels of experience, knowledge and interest. For a start, it was based on an initial survey of individual and collective values that would be inherited by the society in which young people want to live. Then, in the Futures section, it was investigated how certain mainstream and marginal trends affect changes in society. Finally, in the Vision section, based on the values and futures identified by young people, visions of the society in which they would like to live were imagined. It focused on nine equally important aspects: decarbonization and response to the climate crisis, circular production systems, environmental pollution, food systems, common goods, arts, culture and education, governance and decision-making, system financing and transformation, and health care and social justice.
Most positive of all is that the comprehensiveness of these demands and their idealism do not necessarily seem naive, but inspirational. And finally, all that was listed on those 17 pages would really be worth implementing. Our Green Deal for Europe – A Just One is one of the more comprehensive and direct documents on "what should actually be done" in order to live in an environmentally sustainable and socially just system. What is needed is the will to make this happen. At this point, without the political power and channels to transform it into relevant policies, this document is unlikely to significantly change political will. However, it will educate and empower young and future activists. Its long-term and uncompromising vision will be a guide and instruction for new active generations. We have already seen how social change can look like in practice during the youth hubs: Whether they explored the potential for a quality rural-tourist infrastructure of Križevci, built a volleyball court in Darda due to lack of content for young people, organized a flea market in Pula or used the forum-theater method to talk about the position of Roma women in society, the participants “practiced what they preached”, creating alternatives to the system within the system itself.
The comprehensive and decisive vision of the future they have produced is also important in the context of the current political moment, because there is indeed a debate at the EU level about the direction of the European Green Deal. Although the EGD emphasizes the importance of transition in almost all sectors, there is a legitimate fear that European leaders and governments will choose green capitalism as their approach to transition, which is condemned by much of the climate movement as this approach will not result in the much-needed radical transformation of society and governance. Policies and policy proposals that focus on technology, science and “green growth” generally leave the existing political, social and economic structures intact. That is why it is important for this discussion that the 3,300 young people gathered around the document Our Green Deal for Europe – A Just One emphasize the fact that political and social struggles are crucial for climate action, demanding changes that will be transformative not only for the environment but also for the society and economy because, to paraphrase an activist phrase, there is no point in saving the environment if we are to live in f***ed up societies.