Marie Chureau is a 19 years old French activist from Paris, but currently living in Berlin because of her third year of university. She is a member of Youth for Climate France, which is the French part of the Fridays for Future movement, and she is also a member of the Global Youth and Mayors Forum of the C40, which is an organization composedly 14 youth activists and mayors from round the world, to work about making the cities sustainable. I asked her about the climate crisis and activism.
Atlas Sarrafoğlu: What was the reason you decided to become a climate activist? What kind of strikes do you do in your country?
Marie Chureau: I study in Paris, but my family lives in the west of France, near the Atlantic Ocean. I grew up by the sea with my grandparents, and I see year after year the changes in the landscape, for example; some beaches are no longer accessible because of erosion and rising water. My grandparents live on an island, and this island could disappear in 2050. 2050 is 30 years from now, I will be 48 years old. I was terrified when I heard that, so I started to read up on it, to read scientific reports. I was revolted and terrified, and at the same time, big mobilizations for the climate were starting to emerge all over Europe. It gave me a lot of hope, to see that I was not alone in my anguish, so I organized climate marches in the small town where I lived. It was a real success, my whole school and a lot of other high school students came.
Then we realized that there were similar demonstrations in all the cities of France at the same time! So we decided to create Youth for Climate France to better coordinate.
Youth for Climate France is a movement of young people, for young people, and it’s not a coincidence: we are inhabited by the emergency, and this at an increasingly young age: the majority of Youth for Climate members are between 15 and 17 years old, some are even 12. We were born with this constant concern. I am often asked why I decided to get involved. The reason is simple: we have no choice. For more than 50 years, scientists from all over the world have been warning about the climate and social crisis, but nothing changes; leaders continue to turn a deaf ear, industrialists continue to pollute while exploiting living things. So no, it should not be up to children to mobilize, but since adults are not doing their job, we take our responsibilities and fight for a better world. Because it is urgent to act, because I don’t want to have to explain to the next generations that we did nothing to stop this crisis.
What are the effects of the climate crisis in France?
We are experiencing more and more heat waves, the mountains are getting less and less snow, and the rising water level may cause damage to the French coastline within 20-30 years, but for the moment, France is rather spared. However, some populations are more affected than others: for example, the most precarious people suffer much more from pollution and heat waves than rich people who have the means to protect themselves.
What is the perception of your government regarding the climate crisis?
I think that the government doesn’t care about the current ecological crisis. The whole ecological policy is based on communication: the president and the ministers make very nice speeches, saying that we have to “make the planet green again”, but as Greta Thunberg would say, it’s just “blah blah blah”.
For example: Last year, President Macron decided to create a “citizens’ convention for the climate”. The idea was to draw 150 French people representative of society (in gender, employment, age, etc.), and have them work with scientists to come up with 150 measures that would allow a decrease of at least 40% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. I thought it was a great idea: it was a great example of democracy (because climate change involves major changes, and we need democracy to enforce those changes). It also proved that once we explain the situation to people, thanks to scientists explaining the issues, they can find solutions. There were even some climate skeptics who changed their minds and proposed some very radical measures!
In the end, the citizens proposed 149 very comprehensive measures, and President Macron had promised to transfer all these measures to the parliament to be voted on. In the end, Macron and his government proposed to the parliament only the 24 weakest measures….. Knowing that afterwards, some of these 24 measures have been removed. As a result, today only 14% of the measures have been implemented, and nothing has moved forward.
‘Goverment is not inactive, it is criminal’
The highest French court has condemned the French state for “climate inaction”. But in fact, the government is not inactive, since this would mean that it is doing nothing wrong or right. No, it is criminal: the state clearly assumes to encourage climate change projects.
For example, a few years ago, the current Minister of Ecology was a member of parliament. She had passed a law banning the use of a pesticide that kills bees. And today, now that she is a minister, she has passed a law to re-authorize the use of this pesticide. Or, the French state is currently encouraging the oil company Total to pursue the creation of the EACOP. This is a huge pipeline project that would cross Tanzania and Uganda, destroy the biodiversity of the whole area, force families to leave their homes, and emit 34 million tons of CO2 per year.
France is therefore criminal at the moment, especially since, as a western country, its way of life is the cause of the current ecological crisis. France pollutes a lot and has a responsibility towards countries that pollute little but which nevertheless suffer very concretely the consequences of global warming today.
What do you think is the solution to protect your people from the impacts of climate change?
One thing I know for sure is that we will not get through this without solidarity. Climate change is going to increase extreme events, and we need to be united to overcome what is happening to us.
And in order to create solidarity, we need to create links, with all the struggles, with all the people who are fighting for a better world.
I also think that information plays a big role. Today, everyone knows that there is a climate crisis underway, but in concrete terms, few people know how this crisis really affects people around the world, and how it will impact us in France. The French media play a real role of disinformation in France: for example, during the 36 hours following the release of the latest IPCC report, only 1% of the time of all TV channels was devoted to this report. So part of our role is also to take the time to inform, to make as many people as possible aware, because knowledge is power.
What does “climate justice” mean to you?
For me, climate justice, that is to say the idea of fighting for viable conditions for all, is inseparable from social justice. Indeed, behind the ecological fight, there is a social fight, because not everyone is affected in the same way by the consequences of climate change. As I said above, precarious people, racialized people, women, are in the front line of global warming.
And therefore it would be useless to obtain a viable planet, if inequalities persist behind it, especially when we see that the richest 10% of the planet are responsible for 52% of CO2 emissions.
‘Western countries must stop giving lessons’
I would also add that fighting for climate justice is also fighting for a decolonial ecology. Today, the ecological problem is linked to the behavior of Western countries, yet they continue to dump their waste in the countries of the South like the 7th Continent in Oceania, they continue to exploit workers for resources, and continue to destroy biodiversity in other countries for their own wealth. So this must also stop, the Western countries must stop giving lessons and take care of their own countries.
What do you personally do in your fight against the climate crisis? and please tell us about what it is that makes you feel hopeful about the future?
I started my activism by organizing climate marches, then my commitment evolved. Today, with Youth for Climate, we do various actions: “punch” actions to stop for a while an anti-ecological activity and to alert on this subject, awareness raising actions, marches, ecology courses, … In fact, our activities are very varied and rich, since they can correspond to everyone, and all have the same goal: to alert and raise awareness on what is happening.
I think what makes me hopeful is our generation. I mean, we’ve never seen a generation so united, so committed, not only on ecology, but also on many other fights like feminism, on anti-racism. In France, many people say that young people have lost interest in politics, that they vote less: maybe, but on the other hand, they are very committed, and they fight concretely for a better present and future, it’s another way of doing politics, maybe even more noble. And that gives me a lot of hope. To be involved in youth collectives, it really does a lot of good, because we share our anxieties, our hopes, we are not alone. And in the face of what is happening, we really need to be united.
If you had a microphone to address the world leaders, what would you say to them about the climate crisis?
That’s a hard question haha. I don’t know what I would want to tell them, because I don’t trust them, I don’t even know if I would want to talk to them. We tried to talk to them, to convince them, but nothing worked. They are too deep in their perception of an old world, where money is worth more than anything. I’m angry, because we shouldn’t have to do all this, I mean, I volunteer for Youth for Climate at least 2-3 hours a day, and I’m jeopardizing my studies, while they are elected and paid to take care of the population. Taking some people’s money over the people is not taking care of the people.
So I don’t know, I would tell them that their time is up, that change is coming, that we are ready, and that we will destroy their old world.
What is your perception of the future in regards to the climate crisis? How do you envision yourself in 2030?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. Honestly, even though I read the scientific forecasts, and I know more or less what to expect in 2030, I can’t imagine the situation. All I see, because a concrete example that touches me, is my grandparents’ island sunken. I think I try not to think about it too much so that I don’t get eco-anxiety. I know that I will dedicate my life to this fight, because it is the fight of our generation, and if we don’t act, nobody will.