The question was posed by Hamburg futurologist Horst Opaschowski in a recent poll, in which 1,000 respondents over the age of 14 were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements about potential threats to future society.
Environmental consciousness is sinking steadily among the German population, Opaschowski told the German Press Agency (DPA).
When asked in 2019 – a year before the Covid-19 outbreak in Europe – whether they agreed with the statement: “Climate change and extreme weather will become the greatest threat of the future”, a massive 83 percent of respondents answered “yes”.
By 2020, this number had fallen to 78 percent, and by 2021, it had fallen once again to 72 percent.
Rural respondents are the only group who believe climate change continues to pose the biggest threat.
In contrast, the younger, 14-24 age bracket – considered the ‘Fridays for Future’ generation – saw a drastic decline in interest in environmental issues over the same period.
In 2019, 80 percent of people in this demographic agreed that the climate crisis was the biggest future threat, dropping to 76 percent in 2020 and just 71 percent this year.
Equally, climate consciousness had fallen strongly among city dwellers, singles and those who left education after secondary school.
For Germans, climate change is “a long way off”
According to Opaschowski, the pandemic has overtaken climate change as a perceived threat because the consequences of Covid-19, such as economic hardship and social alienation, feel far more immediate.
“Social issues in the area of health, care, pensions, poverty and loneliness come to the fore – and lessen the subjective meaning of environmental problems,” he explained.
“For many Germans, global climate change is a long way off, while the very personal consequences of the pandemic are of an existential nature.”
With society opening up again, there is also a sense that people want to make up for lost time without feeling guilty, Opaschowski told DPA.
Nevertheless, the effects of the 1.2C rise in the earth’s temperature since pre-industrial times can already be felt in Germany.
In recent years, the country has seen an increase in droughts, heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flash floods and thunderstorms.
A climate election?
On Monday, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) released their manifesto for the upcoming General Election on September 26th.
In it, the Union promised to “combine sustainable growth, climate protection and social security” to achieve Germany’s goal of climate neutrality by 2045, but it also stressed that that must be done without “new burdens on companies”.
The decision to attempt to meet climate targets without stringent new rules for businesses was roundly criticised by opposition parties and in the German press.
Speaking to the Rheinische Post, Green Party member and Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer said the Union’s failure to set ambitious climate targets was “shocking”.
“This party program is a 139-page refusal to protect us from the climate crisis and the 1.5C target to be observed,” she said. “The largest people’s party still refuses to recognize the greatest crisis, let alone to tackle it.”
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock described the proposals as “lacking courage”.