Climate activism´s mission is not limited to the condemnation of lack of action on behalf of governments to take part in the drafting of ambitious climate policies. Environmental advocates attempt to create initiatives and projects that will raise public awareness and general knowledge regarding the climate issue. For these proposals to be considered successful, it is compulsory that they create an impact on society. Both Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer have this feature.
The following section will cover the impact the policies implemented by the Fridays For Future (FFF) activists had on its group target and how they have influenced public and senior officials regarding the debate about global warming and its consequences in the short and long term. Since neither Thunberg nor Neubauer are in a position to actively engage in the creation of new climate legislation, as it was stated in the previous section, the impact assessment of their initiatives will be analyzed through a lens that focuses on their influence.
Greta Thunberg’s Impact
Greta Thunberg has become the most widely recognised climate activist of modern times. She has been a speaker at international summits and has helped organize youth-led strikes all around the world. Her popularity and her persona as the embodiment of the climate fight has been denominated as the “Greta Thunberg Effect”. Her success can be attributed to her proclamations of hope and the possibility of a real change taking place at the highest level. She has enabled people from all segments of population to feel empowered to demand and create change within the climate debate by challenging powerful leaders and institutions.
Yet, what has been considered her main triumph has been the mobilization of the younger generations so that they become part of the movement in defense of the climate by taking part in climate strikers every Friday “for the sake of their shared future on this planet”. Thunberg herself has become a beacon of youth engagement in the climate debate; her own book’s title reads “no one is too small to make a difference”. Her impact is not merely constrained to the youth activists, older generations have also been influenced by Thunberg´s action for the environment. A study conducted by a group of researchers from several prestigious universities found that familiarity with the persona of Greta Thunberg had a direct correlation with the motivation to engage in climate action.
Luisa Neubauer’s Impact
In spite of the fact that Luisa Neubauer has not yet acquired the level of notoriety attributed to Thunberg as the beacon of the fight against global warming, her initiative cannot be disregarded.
The lawsuit she filed alongside a group of other young German climate activists against the German government because of an alleged violation of environmental law was described as “historic” by international media outlets. The ruling, which ordered the government to strengthen legislation to “protect future generations”, created a novel precedent in environmental law and the way that climate cases are presented, tried and resolved in court.
However, not all the initiatives she has undertaken have been successful. The campaign against the new taxonomy bill, which concluded with a street sit down and base camp in front of the headquarters of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, did not avoid the passing of the rebranded regulation. Even the strikes she was involved in January 2020 against the Siemens’s initiative for a coal mine in Australia — which lead to a job offer at the Siemens Energy Council for Neubauer — did not culminate in the interruption of the project. Notably, the present opposition to the construction of the East African Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has yet to bear observable fruit.
The failure to stop the passing of the taxonomy bill or to stop the construction of the coal mine in central Queensland show the obstacles climate activists face during their journey to protect the environment. Their inability to play an active role in the decision making process because of the existing limits, inherent to their roles as advocates and not policymakers, hampers the accuracy with which an impact evaluation can be conducted.
Fridays for Future’s Impact
Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer are separate individuals, who have created their own path through their individual actions and ambitions. However, the conjunction of similarities between them both regarding age, and concerns for the future of the planet and coming generations led them to act together, trying to achieve more goals than what they were able to do on their own. The moment Thunberg and Neubauer joined forces is considered by many as the turning point for climate activism, in particular regarding the new generation of young adults. Fridays For Future is considered the driving force behind the recent changes in the youth’s perception in terms of political compliance regarding climate policy.
Recent studies showed that, although young adults have been linked to political lack of interest, the FFF movement has started a trend that has led to increasing engagement in the political sphere. In the elections for the European Parliament of 2019, the coalition of The Greens – the alliance that encompasses green parties at the European level – experienced an unexpected increase in the polling ballot. The newly acquired position of the Green candidates was reported to be a turning point in the politics of the continent, who would move forward green policies into the decision making process. Additionally, it must be noted that the green trend has reached the highest level of European politics, with European Commission’s President Ursula Von der Leyen announcing a new piece of legislation labeled as a “European Green Deal” as a top priority for her mandate.
It has been speculated that this turnaround has been deeply influenced by the strikes for the climate that were impulsed by the FFF. The numerous international strikes preceding the European elections of 2019, during which FFF faces such as Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer publicly labeled them “climate elections”, have been reported to be one of the main driving forces behind the political swift experience in polls. The increased focus on the global warming issue and the increase of the public consciousness has been mainly attributed to the impact the movement has exercised on the population, specially the youth. A particular remarkable case is that of Germany. The political landscape of the country experienced a profound transformation in elections held between the year 2019, in which FFF international mobilizations started, and 2021. The Alliance 90/ The Greens, Germany’s green party, soaring polling numbers have been directly traced back to FFF protests, amounting to 7% of the vote gains in comparison to previous elections. As a consequence of the newly acquired public awareness of the climate situation, parties that were not associated with climate measures decided to “turn green”. In order to stay up to date with the priorities of the German population, groups from all across the political spectrum increased their environmental proposals, regarding energy consumption, fossil fuels and the international sustainable goals for 2030.
The effect of the movement in the political sphere has also been analyzed through a social media lense, showing a positive causal link between the spreading of FFF´s actions on internet platforms.
Furthermore, the platform has granted the upcoming generation a tool to become engaged climate advocates, despite their geographical, social and economic situation. The magnitude the movement has acquired since Thunberg started her protest in Stockholm back in 2018 has allowed globalism to achieve a new dimension. Young activists from Western countries, such as Thunberg and Neubauer, have been able to share their concerns, opinions and beliefs regarding the state of the world and global warm with their FFF peers from abroad, like in Uganda, where the impact of global warming is already disrupting the lives of its inhabitants.
It can be concluded that, despite the fact that neither Thunberg nor Neubauer have been able to have an active political influence in the decision making process regarding environmental legislation, the situation has not constituted an impediment in influencing the political process. The synergies that emerged from their individual and joint protests and projects are proof of the impact they have exercised as climate leaders at all levels.