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"Rebellion of the last generation": Activists want to urge the government to protect the climate


Activists want to push the government to protect the climate with a »rebellion of the last generation«. Are they really the last ones who can do something about the climate crisis? In any case, there is not much time left.

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The participants in the »Last Generation« protest actions want to make their voices heard by blockading the streets.

Some glue their hands to the road for this.

Photo: Christian Mang / REUTERS

For several weeks, activists have been blocking roads and highways in Berlin, Hamburg and Stuttgart.

They are calling for a law against food waste as a first measure against the impending climate collapse.

Their protest is the "rebellion of the last generation," they say.

The members of this group are mostly young adults, mid-20s, early 30s. But are they really part of the last generation that can stop the progress of the climate crisis?

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That depends, among other things, on the time frame you set.

"2050 is in 28 years, that's really soon"

The Paris climate agreement provides a sensible time frame, says Leonie Wenz.

The mathematician and climate economist is deputy head of the Complexity Research department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The agreement from 2015 obliges the international community to limit the global temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial age, if possible even to 1.5 degrees.

To achieve this, greenhouse gas neutrality must be achieved by the middle of the century.

That means: From the year 2050, no more climate-damaging gases may be emitted into the atmosphere than are absorbed from the atmosphere.

Natural and possibly also technical carbon sinks ensure the absorption of CO₂.

»Net zero by 2050 still sounds a long way away.

But that's in 28 years, that's really soon," says Wenz in a telephone conversation with SPIEGEL.

"And from a climate-economic perspective, one thing is clear: The earlier we start, the cheaper it will be and the less severe the damage will be."

The calculations for the residual budget for greenhouse gas emissions also include various elements of the extremely complex climate system on earth.

Mechanisms are intertwined across the globe: ecosystems, flow systems, bodies of ice.

If one of these mechanisms changes due to climate change, others will change as well – with further effects on the climate.

The mechanisms can also reinforce themselves via so-called feedback effects – until they are damaged to such an extent that development can no longer be stopped.

In this context, scientists speak of tipping elements.

The most well-known tipping elements include the tropical coral reefs, the Siberian permafrost, the ocean currents in the North Atlantic and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

The goal of Paris is also motivated by these tipping elements, explains Wenz.

The period and level of warming are chosen so that there is "scientifically relatively confident" that the worst effects can be averted - "although," she objects, "worst effects can be a broad concept."

The devastating natural disasters of 2021, the floods in the Ahr Valley and the fires in the United States clearly showed what effects the climate crisis can have.

What if the 1.5 degree limit is broken?

But it seems as if the activists see the goals of the Paris Treaty in danger.

The organization's website on the »last generation uprising« says: »We will reach 1.5 degrees as early as 2030. The government course is against the constitution (Article 20a) and is destroying the free democratic basic order.

We have to create a comprehensive change.«

What if the 1.5 degree threshold is actually exceeded?

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"1.5 degrees sounds like it's a magical cliff and you fall behind it," was Wenz's answer.

This marker should not be taken as an either/or - not as one: either the world manages to limit warming below these levels, or it is inevitably doomed.

Efforts to achieve a climate-neutral world would have to continue even if the limit of 1.5 or even two degrees Celsius were broken.

»2.1 degrees at the end of the century is much, much better than three degrees«.

Because: "Every tenth of a degree more makes extreme weather events more likely, makes the tipping elements more likely and contributes to sea level rise," is the scientist's assessment.

It's about room for maneuver

The time to fight for every tenth is not infinite.

This is also what Reimund Schwarze from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research says: "The next ten years will limit the scope for action." The major changes towards a path towards climate neutrality would have to take place within this decade.

That also means: "We have to achieve such high savings rates that we have historically never had."

However, many countries, including Germany, have already presented plans on how to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

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Activist about highway blockades: »We are ready for further prison sentences« An interview by Nike Laurenz

And even Schwarze, who researches climate policy and questions of climate adaptation, does not see the 1.5-degree mark as a limit that – once broken – will seal the end of the world as we know it.

In most climate scenarios and models, scientists reckon that certain load limits will be exceeded at times.

And with the fact that it can be readjusted.

Are the concerns of the "last generation" justified?

Nevertheless, the scientist can understand the fear of the young adults who stick to the streets for more climate protection.

Many developments happened much more quickly than was assumed: "I didn't expect that the West Antarctic ice sheet would melt in my lifetime," says Schwarze.

On the other hand, there are also positive developments: »But I also would not have thought that renewable energies would become competitive so quickly.«

So what does that mean?

The activists are not the last generation that can fight for climate protection and against ecological collapse.

The world will not tip over in her lifetime, says Schwarze.

Nevertheless, their concerns are fundamentally correct: “I think they were heard.

In science, in business, in politics.«

Source: spiegel

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