For several weeks, activists from Aufstand der letzten Generation (Uprising of the Last Generation) have blocked roads in Berlin and other cities around Germany. The activists hold banners with the message Essen Retten Leben Retten (save food, save lives) and are trying to disrupt business as usual to send a message to the German government.
They have two demands: firstly, immediate action from the federal government against food waste, with a law following the example of France from 2016. Secondly, they demand concrete measures from the new government to achieve a fundamental change in agriculture by 2030 within their first 100 days in power.
The fact that the government is not implementing these laws already highlights its woeful inaction on the climate crisis. Worldwide, 30-40% of food is thrown away before it reaches the consumer. This is devastating in a world where over two billion people are currently malnourished. Reducing food waste is a glaringly obvious chance to reduce emissions, save land, water and labour. An immense amount of CO2 would be saved from not fertilising, growing and shipping food that is never even eaten.
Germany creates over 10 million metric tons of food waste per year – all of which could be avoided. Annually, 190 kg of food is wasted per person, and this is before consumers buy a single thing. It’s hard to find anyone who would agree to this amount of food being wasted on their behalf. But stopping this industrial scale disaster requires those in power to be willing to change. So far the response by politicians to the road blocks has been mixed. Environment Minister Steffi Lemke from the Greens supported the activists saying, “It is absolutely legitimate to demonstrate for your concerns and also to use forms of civil disobedience. “ But her perspective seems to be a minority in the government.
Much of the public’s response to these protests has been anger, on the roads and online. Videos show members of the public ripping away the activists signs, shouting at them and pulling them off the street. It is difficult to gauge the amount of public support as the voices normally heard the most are the ones shouting. Support was shown last week in 13 cities around Germany where solidarity campaigns collected edible food from supermarket bins and redistributed the produce to the public. These ended with the police turning up and swiftly redistributing the perfectly edible food back into the bins as shown in the Twitter post below:
@AufstandLastGen will Containerte Lebensmittel verschenken, aber Containern ist strafbar deswegen schmeißt die #Polizei das wieder in die #mülltonne
Weitere Videos hier https://t.co/aaZTgYRHll#EssenRettenLebenRetten #essenrettengesetzhttps://t.co/SDx4s1221o
Quelle @MoBurkhardt https://t.co/E3sFqhlfvP pic.twitter.com/YIqdB86OgT
— #Hambi bleibt (@DanniPilger) February 18, 2022
This is so horribly representative of the broken system that you may assume it prompted SPD politician Nancy Faeser to tweet “Anyone who resorts to such means harms climate protection.“ But instead she was referring to activists blocking the roads and calling to save food and save lives.
A lot of the criticism from politicians and the public is focused on the method and not the message of the campaign. But shooting the messenger does not help anyone. The reality is that if these very same activists were holding the same signs on the pavement, there would be no discussion – I wouldn’t be writing this article and you wouldn’t be reading it.
The solutions to massive food waste exist, as France showed in 2016 by passing laws forcing supermarkets to donate excess food to food banks and other charities. People have also been campaigning for this issue for a long time – Aufstand der letzten Generation has just been the loudest. Their campaign has been undeniably successful in pushing the issue to the forefront of public and political discussion, despite their methods being unpopular. But methods of campaigning that are popular and legal haven’t made change, and we no longer have time to delay climate action. We are living in a climate crisis, in which the next “three to four years will determine the future of humanity”.
On Thursday evening, the topic of “road blockades and unannounced demonstrations” was on the agenda in the Bundestag, proving that the government cares more about road blocks than food security and the climate crisis. Every day of inaction on the climate crisis will have catastrophic and lasting effects on future generations. For the drivers stuck in traffic during the road blocks this may be their first physical encounter with the climate crisis. They may be unable to see past the car in front of them, unable to see the reason for the traffic. But the reason they are stuck goes further than the activists sitting in the road, it goes all the way into the Bundestag where empty promises are made and broken. The reason goes into the landfills that are piled high with edible food, to the hectares of monoculture farms which degrade the soil and poison the land. The reason goes to the broken capitalist system destroying the earth and everything on it.
Last Wednesday Aufstand der letzten Generation read out an open letter with their demands in front of the Reichstag building. Their ultimatum called for the federal government to make a statement by Sunday about food saving laws or the protests would increase in disruption. No statement was made by the government and on Monday they blocked several main roads in the port of Hamburg. Perhaps the government could learn from the protesters that drastic times call for drastic measures. If there’s one thing these protests have shown it is that our politicians will not bring about the change that is necessary themselves. Ordinary people have to step up because we are part of the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last who can do anything about it.