Young farmers lobby federal government for climate protection – the economy

“Smile. You can’t kill them all,” reads a sign on the power box in Claus Blohm’s kitchen in the Altes Land near Hamburg. It is still not clear who or what exactly this means. On the other hand, it can’t be ignored: the apple grower, short gray haircut, tanned skin like leather, looks angry and annoyed – especially when the conversation turns to the federal government.

He must have destroyed 70 percent of his harvest this fall because his apples were attacked by pests. Their larvae would die in the winter, but the warmer temperatures brought on by climate change make them feel good. “I cannot drive away the parasites with ecological protection agents,” explains the organic farmer.

Blohm, 65, inherited the business from his prematurely deceased father in the 1970s. In the same decade, the recently honored physicist and Nobel laureate Klaus Hasselmann proved that climate change is due to the man. Half a century has passed since then, and activists and researchers have increased the pressure on politicians to act, but in Blohm’s eyes, Germany is still doing far too little to protect the climate.

He sees his livelihood as a farmer, nature, in danger. That is why he sued the federal government two years ago. Together with Greenpeace and the farming families Lütke Schwienhorst from the Spreewald and Backsen from the island of Pellworm in the North Sea, he wanted to enforce climate protection legally. “I had to clear four hectares of cherry trees because of new pests,” Blohm told the Berlin Administrative Court at the time.

The lawsuit was dismissed. Judges ruled in October 2019 that the federal government’s room for maneuver in climate protection had to be respected, and Roda Verheyen, a lawyer for farming families, said it was more of an encouragement than a disappointment. “The content of the judgment and the admission of the appeal gave us the courage to continue,” said the lawyer, who has already taken the European Union and energy giant RWE to climate action.

Four months after the rejection of the first complaint, she lodged a constitutional complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, although the legislator strengthened climate protection in the law at the end of 2019. The Climate Protection Act failed. was “not very ambitious”, Verheyen justified the measure that the State did not sufficiently fulfill its obligations to protect its customers. Younger and future generations expected “dramatic restrictions on the climate crisis”.

Climate change threatens the livelihoods of many farmers

The Constitutional Court called on young members of farming families: children of Claus Blohm Franziska and Johannes, Lucas Lütke Schwienhorst from Spreewald and Sophie, Hannes, Jakob and Paul Backsen from Pellworm. Luisa Neubauer from “Fridays For Future” also joined. “This generation has a right to the future”, explains Roda Verheyen, climate change threatens livelihoods, especially in agriculture.

A first success came in March 2021: the Federal Constitutional Court upheld the complaint, at least in part: although the state did not violate the protection obligations or the climate protection requirement in the Basic Law, the plaintiffs – the youngest was 15 at the time of filing, the oldest 32 – were in violation of their civil liberties.

On the road to CO₂ neutrality, the climate protection law defers high abatement charges to periods after 2030, the First Senate wrote and called for a specific plan for subsequent years. To achieve the “Paris target” of limiting the rise in global average temperature to less than two degrees, Germany must do more. The grand coalition made improvements in July: Germany intends to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions to 67% by 2031 and to 88% by 2040, below 1990 levels .

For agricultural economist Hermann Lotze-Campen, head of the “Climate resilience” department at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the law is a start. But it still needs to be improved, he says. The CO₂ price introduced today at 25 euros is “a central element, but is currently still too low to reduce emissions quickly enough”.

Climate lawsuits like the constitutional complaint haven’t solved the real problem, he says, but they’ve increased the pressure. “Politicians often only act wisely after court rulings.” It would also have shown complaints from German environmental aid in the exhaust gas scandal.

With her participation in the constitutional complaint, Franziska Blohm helped force the state to change the climate protection law. But it was never about winning. “With the trial, we wanted to shake up politics,” says the 29-year-old woman, who helps her father twice a week during the harvest season.

Parasites and fungal diseases spread in warmer temperatures

Claus Blohm drove the harvest car through the long alleys of his apple orchard. He is now standing in the grass in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, holding in his hand two apples representative of his problems: One is covered with gray-brown spots. “The itch,” Blohm says, opens the other apple and points to a tunnel system. A parasite called codling moth made its way through the fruit like a mole, rendering it inedible.

“Growing apples in the Altes Land has become a lottery game due to climate change”, explains her daughter Franziska. Each year her father faced new problems and costs. “As much as I would like to take over the farm, I’m afraid of what’s to come.” She studies media in the nearby city of Hamburg, while her brother studies East Asian Studies. The father understands that the two are reorienting themselves. But he also wants the apple cultivation, practiced by the family for many generations, to have a future.

Her children laugh at a picture on the wall when Blohm is back at the kitchen table at home with the red patterned tablecloth, the sun falling on her neck. Suddenly her cell phone vibrates. “The Pellworm Backsen kids are asking if they can help me with the harvest.” He invites you.

Days later, Hannes, 19, and Paul Backsen, 21, call from Blohm’s lunch table. They see their native island in danger. Pellworm is already one meter below sea level. The dam the Backsen sheep graze on still stands, but the sea level is rising and storm surges are increasingly likely. If the dam breaks, the island could fill up like a bathtub.

Hannes Backsen quarrels with German climate policy: “Everyone knows what to do, but nobody does anything. We have to save the climate, otherwise all other human problems will be solved by themselves. He also does not know if he would like to take over the arable and cattle farming from his father.

Lucas Lütke Schwienhorst is a climate complainant who, despite bleak future prospects, took over his parents’ farm. The trained farmer is 34 years old, raises dairy cows in Vetschau near Cottbus and grows cereals.

With the trials, he wants to make public the concrete consequences of the climate crisis, he said. “People have lost touch with nature, they cannot tell the difference between beech and oak.” The complex crisis can only be solved through education. “You only protect what you know.”

As the temperature rises, there will be more extreme weather events. It changes the farming routines of farmers. Heat waves and droughts are particularly troubling for Lütke Schwienhorst in the Spreewald. Yet he is confident. To prepare, he relies on diversity: “The more different the growing periods of my 15 types of cereals, the more likely I will have a good average harvest,” he explains. Millet, for example, is much more productive than traditional crops in hot weather. “We have to adapt to the new conditions, then it will be okay.”

Climatologist Lotze-Campen and his colleagues have been advising the government for years. The questioning of policies gives him hope: “15 years ago, climate protection was an exotic subject, now it is on the agenda”. The young committed generation also makes him confident.

When the air in this country was polluted with sulfur dioxide in the 1970s, politicians brought the problem under control with clear emission regulations for power plants, he says. “Climate protection is of course much more complex and must be resolved through global cooperation.” How difficult this is currently seen at the Glasgow Climate Summit, where the global community is struggling to meet climate protection goals and compliance.

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