Who is behind Fridays for Future?

Who are the young people that are taking to Germany’s streets in support of climate protection? A study offers several insights.

Fridays for Future: school students in Germany are also demonstrating for climate protection
School students in Germany are also demonstrating for climate protection Tobias Schwarz/Getty Images

Apolitical and hedonistic? On the contrary! A study about the Fridays for Future movement debunks prejudices about the younger generation. School students in Germany and many other countries are demanding that politicians take swifter action against climate change.

In Berlin alone, some 20,000 predominantly young people took to the streets for a Fridays for Future demonstration on 29 March – the largest of these climate demonstrations so far in Germany. One reason for the record attendance was the participation of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate protection activist who launched an international movement with her school strike.

Climate demonstrators: very young and very well educated

But who actually takes part in these demonstrations? To find out, research groups from nine European countries surveyed the protesters on 15 March 2019 using a standardised questionnaire. The Institute for Social Movement Studies (ipb) managed the part of the study carried out in Germany. The researchers discovered the following about the German climate activists:
 

 

  • 57.6% are female
  • their average age is 25.8 years
  • 52.8% are 14 to 19 years old
  • 55.6% aim to take the entrance exam for university or a university of applied sciences or have already gained such a qualification
  • 43.6% come from the upper middle class
  • 16.8% have a migrant background
  • 53.3% consider themselves politically left-wing
     

Almost 20% are convinced that political decisions can limit climate change; another 40% consider this probable. It is remarkable, however, that less than one in five have directly approached a politician with this demand. The majority of them are endeavouring to change their lifestyle to protect the climate – for example, by reducing consumption (70.5%), changing nutrition (68%), saving energy (61%) and not travelling by air (39.5%).

Who or what motivates young Germans to join the climate demonstrations? Friends and social media each provide the stimulus for one third of participants. Roughly 70% say that Greta Thunberg increased their interest in the subject of climate change.

Climate protection activists or truants?

Are the Fridays for Future demonstrations just a welcome excuse to stay away from school? This prejudice is contradicted by a University of Konstanz survey. It found that over 95% of respondents believed their commitment could change something – but only one in ten felt it was also a good opportunity to skip school.

How important is climate protection to Germans?

A Eupinions survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that nine out of ten Germans regard climate change as an urgent task that has to be addressed locally.

In April 2019, Politbarometer, the monthly survey of political views conducted by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, shows that respondents consider climate and environmental protection among the most important issues in Germany. In all, 37% expect that the Fridays for Future demonstrations will make politicians do more for climate protection, but a majority of 61% have doubts about that.

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