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Ger­many-wide study on Fri­days for Fu­ture act­iv­ists | Cli­mate change re­mains the most im­port­ant con­cern even in the Corona crisis

10.12.2020, Re­search :

The Fridays for Future movement has shaped the debate on climate change - in Germany and worldwide. InnoSÜD scientists from Biberach and Neu-Ulm Universities of Applied Sciences have now conducted a study to examine the protest movement in Germany in more detail. Who is involved in the movement and what drives the participants? What are they themselves willing to contribute to climate protection? And: How does this affect their relationship to politics? To find out, the research team surveyed over 750 supporters in the Fridays for Future movement from April to June 2020. It is one of the first and so far the largest study on this topic in Germany.

The evaluated results are now available for download (PDF)

The main findings of the study:

  1. Even during the Corona pandemic, environmental and climate protection remains the most important topic for the Fridays for Future activists.
  2. The majority of their followers are interested in politics. Despite relatively high levels of satisfaction with democracy in Germany, they have little confidence in political parties.
  3. Fridays for Future actives are dissatisfied with the measures taken by politicians in Germany to curb climate change. They demand more action instead of speeches, laws for sustainability, promotion of education and incentives for sustainable action. They also expect their future employer to address climate protection.
  4. But the respondents are also prepared to take action themselves. They change their behaviour and would spend up to half of their (future) income on a climate-neutral life.
  5. Fridays for Future activists come mainly from academic backgrounds and have a high level of education or aspire to it. They also make climate protection an issue in their parental home.
  6. Participants obtain information on sustainable products primarily on the Internet. Search engines, YouTube, online offers from newspapers and corporate websites are the most popular sources. Social networks are also used for information. Nearly 40 percent of respondents trust established (mass) media fully or largely.

The study was carried out by scientists from the Universities of Applied Sciences in Biberach and Neu-Ulm. Jens Boscheinen and Laurens Bortfeldt deal with the topic of sustainability from different perspectives within the framework of the InnoSÜD joint project. In the summer and autumn of 2019, they already interviewed more than 500 young people from the InnoSÜD region Donau-Iller-Riß about their attitudes towards climate protection and sustainability. Now they turned specifically to the Fridays for Future movement.

Online they surveyed 1,023 Fridays for Future activists nationwide, 764 completed the questionnaire completely. The invitations to the survey were distributed via the WhatsApp and Telegram channels of Fridays for Future regional groups. Feedback was received from all German states; just over 50% of this came from the most populous states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. Most feedback from individual cities came from Biberach an der Riß, Munich, Nuremberg, Lippstadt and Kiel.

Finding 1: Climate protection remains the most important topic - despite corona

The survey period from April to June 2020 started during the restrictions on the control of coronavirus. Despite all the debates about economic losses and bottlenecks in the health care system caused by the virus: 90 percent of those surveyed continued to describe environmental and climate protection as one of the "most important problems facing our country". This puts the issue far ahead of issues such as social security/social justice (40 percent), health care or health policy (6.9 percent) or the economic situation (6.3 percent).

For better comparability, the researchers have incorporated questions from existing studies by the Federal Environment Agency and the Institute for Protest and Movement Research into the survey. A comparison with a representative survey of the total population by the Federal Environment Agency in 2016 shows The total population would answer the question about the most important problems for the country differently. Migration was in first place here, followed by crime/peace/security. Climate protection only made it to 3rd place on the list by a wide margin.

"The Federal Environment Agency's 2016 survey clearly reflected current developments such as the refugee crisis. However, Covid-19 did not influence the focus of the respondents in our study," observes Jens Boscheinen. "This is certainly partly due to the age of the interviewees: half of them are under 18 years old, many of them still go to school. Economic developments, unemployment or even the health system are topics they probably have less to deal with."

Finding 2: Fridays for Future actives interested in politics

As expected, the commitment to climate protection is also accompanied by an increased interest in politics: 82 percent of respondents said they were very interested or very interested in politics. They do not trust the actors in the political parties to achieve the climate goals: In the "Sunday question", the governing parties hardly received any votes from the young participants. If there had been federal elections at the time of the survey, the Greens would have received a good 60 percent of the votes, the Left a good 20 percent. The parties of the Grand Coalition would have failed the five-percent hurdle in a federal election among Fridays for Future activists, with just under 3% together.

More than half of the respondents trust parliaments and government only partially or not at all, and trust in political parties is clouded by more than 80%. Fridays for Future activists are dissatisfied with the measures taken by politicians in Germany to mitigate climate change. More than 95 percent of those surveyed consider achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050, for example, to be very important or essential - but more than half do not believe that this goal can be achieved.

Finding 3: Members want to see (political) action

The interviewees demand concrete measures from politicians: "More action instead of speeches" is at the top of the list of demands, followed by laws for sustainability, promotion of education and more incentives for sustainable action/behaviour. The interviewees see many different fields of action for politicians: If they could make their own political decisions for climate protection, they would make public transport more attractive than motorised private transport, reduce plastics and make the recyclability of packaging mandatory, promote renewable energies and climate-friendly investments in industry, and at the same time take action against the disregard of climate targets with fines and legal requirements.

Almost 85 percent of those surveyed do not believe that the free market will bring about the necessary changes on its own. In addition to supra-regional politics, they believe that cities and municipalities, companies, colleges, universities, research institutes and schools should also address the issue of sustainability. Almost 90 percent of those surveyed expect their (future) employer to do the same.

Supporters can find out more about how companies deal with the environment on company websites. A majority of those surveyed would also consider it sensible to oblige companies to publish a sustainability report.

Finding 4: Own action and (financial) commitment to climate protection

Almost all respondents (96 percent) believe that each individual must take responsibility for environmental and climate protection. A large proportion of the activists surveyed also believe that it is necessary to fundamentally transform our economy and way of life - even at the expense of economic growth.

So what are the respondents themselves doing for climate protection? According to their own statements, the majority of them ride bicycles, reduce air travel and plastic waste, use public transport and change their eating habits and consumer behaviour - in other words, they eat a vegan or vegetarian diet and shop regionally, seasonally and sustainably.

Measures such as using green electricity or driving electric cars tend to be mentioned less often - not surprisingly, Laurens Bortfeldt finds: "The areas of energy generation and saving, renovation and heat supply do have a strong impact on the environment - but for those surveyed, these issues tend to be outside their immediate sphere of influence."

Almost 70 percent of the participants in the study would be prepared to spend money on climate protection: Up to half of their future income, this proportion of respondents would spend on a climate-neutral life, for example in the form of compensation payments for travel or for the purchase of climate-neutrally produced food.

Finding 5: The activists are young, educated and from academic backgrounds

In addition to statements and demands on climate protection, the study also examined the participant's age, educational level and parental home. Half of the respondents are 18 years old or younger. Almost half of the participants are still attending school, almost 20 percent are studying or training. The respondents' level of education is very high: just under 60% have a school-leaving certificate or aim to do so, and just under 23% have an academic degree or aim to do so.

One in two of the respondents comes from an academic household in which at least one of the parents has a university degree. This observation coincides with studies on other environmental movements and on the field of social and voluntary commitment (sources see study p. 61). More than half of the interviewees state that their parents are also interested in climate protection, even though only one fifth of the parents are politically active themselves. More than half often discuss climate change with their parents, thus making it a topic of discussion at home.

Finding 6: The Internet is the main source of information for Fridays for Future activists

The majority of respondents obtain information on sustainable aspects of products from search engines, followed by YouTube and newspapers (online). Corporate websites, sustainability reports from companies or NGOs and other social media such as Instagram and Facebook are also used. Established (mass) media, however, are only fully or largely trusted by just under 40% of respondents. Environmental groups in particular enjoy their trust.

Other study results paint a similar picture: The International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television (IZI) notes that political information is obtained almost exclusively via digital media. The Youth Study 2018 by the creative agency Elbdudler also confirms that social media dominate the media choice as the main information channel for news, especially in the group of 18-24 year-olds - the video portal YouTube stands out.

Background: InnoSÜD sub-project "CSR Innovation Circle", Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences

Transparency about social and environmental sustainability is a duty and concern for large and medium-sized companies alike and is demanded by customers, investors, politicians and NGOs. However, the requirements for sustainability reporting make comprehensible communication a challenge. The goal of the CSR Innovation Circle is the transformation of sustainability reporting in times of digital change. Within the framework of workshops, the InnoSÜD sub-project therefore offers companies and organisations impulses and opportunities for exchange on how sustainability can be anchored as a value in the company and communicated effectively. In its own blog, the sub-project also deals with the topic of sustainability from different perspectives.

Background: InnoSÜD sub-project "Interdisciplinary transfer of research results in the energy system transformation

Many factors play together in the climate. The aim of the InnoSÜD sub-project "Interdisciplinary transfer of research results in the energy system transformation" is to communicate these complex connections. The research team at Biberach University of Applied Sciences wants to sensitise citizens, but also representatives of politics and administration, to the effects of political decisions on the climate and support them in finding solutions. To this end, the sub-project is working with the computer game "Ecopolicy", in which players must govern a city as successfully as possible. Using data from the city of Biberach an der Riß, the team has developed the game version "Biberpolicy", which is based on real data and developments. In the further course of the sub-project, the findings from this pilot version can be incorporated into a more detailed simulation - a so-called sensitivity model - in order to provide assessments of possible development paths for the climate policy of different municipalities, but also of companies.

Background: Regional Research Network InnoSÜD

The aim of the InnoSÜD university network is to facilitate a sustainable exchange between science, business and society with innovative transfer formats. As part of the Innovative University Initiative, the universities of Biberach and Neu-Ulm, the Ulm University of Applied Sciences and the University of Ulm have joined forces. Together they want to create a dynamic innovation system that will position the Donau-Iller-Riß region as a link between the Stuttgart and Munich metropolitan regions among the most competitive and innovative areas in Europe in the medium term. The focus is on the important topics of energy, mobility, health and biotechnology as well as transformation management. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project for a period of five years as part of the Federal-Länder Innovative University Initiative.

text: Dorothee Barsch, InnoSÜD Science Communication


Further links:

Study "Fridays for Future - An inventory of views and opinions in times of the Corona pandemic among Fridays for Future actives" (PDF download):

Study on attitudes towards climate protection among young people in the Danube-Iller-Riß region

InnoSÜD sub-project "CSR Innovation Circle"  

InnoSÜD sub-project "Interdisciplinary transfer of research results in the energy system transformation" 

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