“Social Natural Disasters” and The New Climate Protection Movement

Thomas Meyer


The rapid spread of the climate protection movement throughout the world is indeed remarkable (cf. Haunss; Summer 2020). Also remarkable is the hatred that this movement sometimes experiences, especially that directed towards Greta Thunberg. The bourgeois subject in crisis simply does not want to admit that its capitalist way of life has become unsustainable. Even the smallest changes in the set screws send the ‘concerned citizen’ into a fit of rage. Thus, the climate movement is not perceived as an occasion or opportunity for reflection. Rather, this is nipped in the bud by “hysterical defensive reactions” (cf. Hartmann 2020, 118ff.). ‘Toxic masculinity’ discharges itself in countless hate comments and in absurd and completely reactionary counter-movements such as ‘Fridays for Hubraum’ (which currently has about 500,000 members).[1] Those who see their big car as an extension of their dick apparently feel symbolically castrated by a teenager.

Although climate change has become unmistakable, it is stubbornly denied by right-wing populists and radicals (such as Donald Trump and Beatrix von Storch). Even where they don’t outright deny it, they deny the human contribution to climate change or they say that nothing can be done anyway.[2] The apologists of a capitalism that has run amok apparently only have a ‘freedom to die’ to offer. Of course, they also reject all measures against climate change, no matter how shallow and insignificant. Or they strive for environmental protection instead of climate protection.[3] Environmental protection as form of ‘homeland security,’ of course. Homeland security, as a racist defense against everything that does not fit into the völkisch image, includes the defense against (climate) refugees as a ‘climate protection measure.’ From this would follow all the more an exclusionary imperialism (cf. Böttcher 2016) with even more wall building and orders to shoot. Although in recent years fascists have not been able to gain a foothold in the newer ecology movement (e.g. in the protests around the Hambach Forest, Ende Gelände), this does not mean that it will stay that way.[4] This is made clear by efforts to (re)formulate ‘environmental protection’ from the right, as shown not least by the founding of new right-wing ecology journals (see in detail: Jahrbuch Ökologie 2020; cf. also Hartmann 2020, 135ff.).[5]


It seems a little strange that Fridays for Future, in addition to all the hate, receives a lot of support from many different sides. This initially suggests that Fridays for Future does not really cause any offense: As Gerhard Stapelfeldt put it “Resistance that does not cause resistance is not resistance” (cf. Stapelfeldt 2019, 3). According to him, recent climate protests are more of a conformist rebellion: “In each case, overcoming climate change is sought in socially and economically conformist ways. This conformism is the starting point of the current protests – that is why it is ‘low-threshold,’ that is why the invitations to participants of the protests from governments, parliaments and parties are never ending” (ibid., 4, emphasis in original).

As Stapelfeldt points out, the protesters are all people who grew up under neoliberalism, so it makes sense that the protests have an individualistic character and display a “social illiteracy”: There is talk of a climate crisis at Fridays for Future, but not of a crisis of capitalist society. Politicians find it appealing to finally give the findings of climate research the attention they deserve and to act accordingly. But it is not asked why, despite all of our knowledge and all of the promises and climate summits etc. nothing effective has happened for decades.[6]

It is true that Fridays for Future partly points out that a fixation on the individual and his or her consumption habits is insufficient, since the individual by no means has a free choice.[7] However, to reduce Fridays for Future to an ‘individualistic sustainability protestantism’ (as is clearly evident in post-growth economists such as Niko Paech, cf. Meyer 2021) misses their actual core concern.[8] Thus, I think it is correct to state that the reflections and the demands of Fridays for Future move within capitalist immanence. On this level, however, perspectives for society as a whole are considered necessary and developed (whereas the demand for a CO2 price, for example, has long since proven to be complete nonsense, cf. Hartmann 2020, 65ff.). Nevertheless, ‘what the individual can do’ or should do, e.g. renouncing air travel and meat, is mentioned, especially in the ‘public discourse.’[9] The social and especially the mode of production do not come into view through such appeals. This arises from blindness to the social form. It seems as if everything is just a matter of the ‘right technology’ and the ‘right consumption habits.’ Especially in the ranks of the Olive-Greens,[10] who “do not want to shake” capitalism, but “only want to regulate and green it” (Hartmann 2020, 42), such thinking is widespread. “The magic word is green growth” (ibid.).

In any case, the public interest in Fridays for Future remains for the most part inconsequential. The impending climate catastrophe has been the subject of discussion for decades,[11] but climate protection measures continue to be simulated or blocked. All measures, however inadequate they may be from the outset, are always defused so that they fizzle out as ineffective. The ‘location’ always takes precedence. “If you want to protect jobs, you can’t be too squeamish about ecological damage” (Hartmann 2020, 16). The fabulous ‘climate protection package’ of the German “Groko-Haram coalition” (Martin Sonneborn) in the fall of 2019 also showed that nothing serious is to be done. Everything is to essentially remain the same.[12]

As has already been formulated several times in the context of the critique of value-dissociation, immanent protests are important: for example, against social cuts, rent madness, the care crisis, etc. In individual cases, they have the potential to prevent something worse. But if they remain in immanence, do not question the funding proviso, etc., then they either come to nothing or run the risk of becoming part of crisis management (see, e.g., Kurz 2006, Böttcher 2018, and Meyer 2019). The situation is similar with climate protests. Thus, it remains right to put pressure on all the crisis management regimes, as the climate change movement is trying to do, in order to push for an ‘ecological transformation’ “no matter how inconvenient and unprofitable it may be” (Thunberg 2019, 47, emphasis TM).

Here Greta Thunberg makes clear that profitability should be rejected. The necessary goal is to preserve the world as a liveable place. So to let something be calculated for oneself is not an option. However, a critique of the capitalist mode of production, the valorization movement of capital, etc., sometimes do not play a significant role in the climate protection movement. Nevertheless, Fridays for Future is not a homogeneous movement (During 2019, it became more diverse. While it is essentially a middle-class movement, i.e., a movement of the rather better-off, it has long since ceased to be ‘only’ one of students, cf. Haunss; Summer 2020). There are indeed some groups (such as ‘Change for Future’) that claim or attempt a critique of capitalism (although a critique of capitalism does not amount to a radical critique of its fetish constitution). However, for the most part, positions critical of capitalism do not play a key role in the movement. It is said, for example, that the climate crisis cannot be solved in the current economic system. The ‘system question’ is thus posed. But at the same time, some Fridays for Future activists think they can make a difference by voting or being elected.[13][14][15] Whether Fridays for Future will succeed in breaking its capitalist immanence and not fall into affirmation or opportunism remains to be seen (cf. Konicz 2020).[16]


It certainly makes sense to criticize certain products and consumption habits and to stop their production. But it’s problematic if we stop there and think it’s enough to get rid of plastic bags and SUVs without taking a critical look at the mode of production itself. It is by no means only a problem of the ‘right’ technology. Above all, the “contradiction between matter and form” should come into view (cf. Ortlieb 2014). As in earlier debates about veganism or green capitalism, it is not realized that even a green or vegan capitalism must prevail in competition, so that ‘sustainable production’ can end up being not so sustainable after all, especially when solvent demand collapses and environmental regulations etc. prove to be dysfunctional and disruptive for further capital accumulation. The fact that high earners in the capitalist core states can stock up on all kinds of ‘eco-friendly products’ (and go shopping with their SUVs) should not obscure the fact that this is only possible because those social strata still belong to the world market winners.

So if it is claimed that less meat should be consumed so that less rainforest is destroyed for the production of soy as animal feed, why would a collapse in demand for soy then make soy production less destructive if soy is grown as human food? The rainforests would continue to be destroyed for the production of soy chips or biofuel. A green ‘critique’ that targets the individual and works concretely on individual consumer goods thus misses the destructiveness of the capitalist mode of production. Under capitalist conditions, a ‘Green New Deal’ is just another illusion of wanting to get rid of the destructiveness of capitalism without making it an issue and overcoming it. A Green New Deal would be the same thing in green (cf. Reckordt 2019). The destructiveness of capitalism would only be modernized. So if one complains about species extinction, industrial agriculture, and car mania, then the focus must be on how nature is being trimmed according to capitalist criteria of valorization and consequently destroyed by it. It is therefore necessary to make the domination and destruction of nature an issue and to question the reduction of nature to a mere raw material. In this context, reference should be made to the profoundly patriarchal character of the domination of nature by capital, as is evident, for example, in reproductive medicine (cf. Meyer 2018). However, this connection is not touched upon in the climate change debate, as Fridays for Future does not have a critical concept of the (natural) sciences (cf. Ortlieb 2019).

Robert Kurz emphasized that it is not possible for man, although a natural being, to exist ‘harmoniously’ with nature, because man is not ‘one’ with nature. The relationship to nature consists in entering into   a specific metabolism with nature, which also leads to nature being transformed and thus itself being changed (cf. Kurz 2002). Nature, then, is not something static. A conception of nature as something that is supposed to be something pristine and untouched is just the projective wishful thinking of the bourgeois subject that cannot or does not want to critically deal with its own relationship to nature and thus to itself. If there is talk about protecting nature, it has to be made clear which nature should be protected and why nature has to be protected at all: i.e. from whom or from what! It would have to be made clear why environmental destruction is the result of a certain mode of production and not the result of a certain technology or product alone, which the individual then consumes. Or in the words of Robert Kurz: “It would be too cheap to attribute the dynamics of the modern destruction of nature to technology alone. Certainly, there are technical means that intervene directly or indirectly in the interrelationships of humans and nature. But these means do not stand for themselves; they are the result of a certain form of social organization which determines both social relations and the ‘process of metabolism with nature’” (ibid.).

It therefore makes little sense to try to protect nature or the climate by merely banning certain products or practices. As we know, these bans are intended to reduce the emission of CO2.The alternative then is investing in products that promise lower CO2 emissions. However, the products are not considered as specific results of a mode of production, that is, as products in their sociality. In this context, the “form of social labor […] determines the specific purposes and driving forces of production and consumption and the type and extent of interventions in nature” (Böhme; Grebe 1985, 27). The ‘form of social labor’ (i.e., labor as a real abstraction) does not come into view in Fridays for Future. This form consists in abstraction from content and intrinsic qualities. Nature is only used as a substrate for the valorization of value, so that through labor, nature is also reduced accordingly, clearly noticeable, for example, in agriculture, where the industrialization of agriculture led to a massive loss of varieties (cf. Mooney; Fowler 1991). In addition, capitalism is not at all capable of using resources sparingly. If productivity increases, so that a single capital has to expend less labor to produce the same output of goods, this leads to the fact that due to the cheapening of products accompanying the increase in productivity, the single capital increases its market share, displaces competitors and increases its output of goods in total. If a productivity increase or product innovation leads to a (supposedly) more environmentally friendly version of the product winning out over competitors, then its environmentally friendly component is quickly overcompensated for when a single capital then floods the entire world with that product. The introduction of the catalytic converter in cars, for example, did not lead to more environmentally friendly mobility, but to even more personal transportation.[17] If the world market winners could possibly produce environmentally friendly and cheaply, the rest of the world would fall by the wayside and would then have to do without ‘environmental regulations’ all the more. Competition ensures that the cheaper product will always prevail. So if it is cheaper to destroy the environment, to ignore natural cycles and regeneration times, then competition will force us to do so even more in the crisis of capitalism. Due to the dynamics of capitalism, even a more environmentally friendly product leads to more environmental destruction, since resource consumption usually increases anyway. This is the so-called rebound effect, which was also noticed by bourgeois economists of the 19th century, but remained misunderstood.

Marx can be used to explain the rebound effect: If the total mass of value decreases with increasing productivity, because less labor has to be spent for the total amount of goods, then the number of products has to be increased in absolute terms in order to maintain the same mass of value. This is all the more true since it is not a matter of merely maintaining the mass of value, but rather that this mass itself must be constantly increased, i.e. production that does not yield       any surplus value is discontinued (cf. Ortlieb 2014, 91ff.).

So it is not ‘man’ or the use of nature that leads to the destruction of nature and to the climate catastrophe at all, but an irrational mode of production, which is about the production of abstract wealth, about the valorization of value. In this process, the ability to valorize is coming up against historical limits, which is evident in capitalism’s increased lack of restraint and destructiveness. However, hardly anyone wants to admit this. It is much easier to suppress the reality by pretending to be ‘green/sustainable’ or by putting the ‘blame’ on man ‘per se,’ i.e. when it is concluded that the existence of man himself is the real crime here! Verena Brunschweiger, for example, suggests in all seriousness that one should do without children for the sake of the climate (In her book: Kinderfrei statt kinderlos – Ein Manifest, for criticism: see Meyer 2020).[18] That way, one would save CO2. Here you can already see that the less the capitalist way of production and life is made an issue and radically criticized, the more denial of the problem and reality displacement take hold and lead to a situation in which human existence itself appears as a problem. Capitalism is assumed as an anthropological constant and seen as an inescapable fact of nature, so that it seems more realistic to make man himself disappear instead of facing the realization that the production of abstract wealth must be stopped. Without an understanding/critique of the social constitution of form, an ideological processing of the crisis, due to the erosion/feralization of value-dissociation socialization, will bring forth such barbarities.


Böhme, Gernot; Grebe, Joachim: Soziale Naturwissenschaft – Über die wissenschaftliche Bearbeitung der Stoffwechselbeziehung Natur-Mensch, in: Böhme, Gernot; Schramm, Engelbert (eds.): Soziale Naturwissenschaft – Wege zu einer Erweiterung der Ökologie, Frankfurt 1985.

Böttcher, Herbert: “Wir schaffen das” – Mit Ausgrenzungsimperialismus und Ausnahmezustand gegen Flüchtlinge, 2016, online: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=17&posnr=554&backtext1=text1.php.

Böttcher, Herbert: We Have To Do Something! Action Fetishism in an Unreflective Society, 2018, online: https://exitinenglish.com/2022/02/07/we-have-to-do-something-action-fetishism-in-an-unreflective-society/

Cunha, Daniel: The Anthropocene as Fetishism, in: exit! – Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft No.13, Berlin 2016, 25-45. With revised epilogue (2021) also on exit-online.org.

Hartmann, Kathrin: Grüner wird’s nicht – Warum wir mit der ökologischen Krisen völlig falsch umgehen, Munich 2020.

Haunss, Sebastian; Sommer, Moritz (eds.): Fridays for Future – Die Jugend gegen den Klimawandel – Konturen einer weltweiten Bewegung, Bielefeld 2020.

Jahrbuch Ökologie: Ökologie und Heimat – Gutes Leben für alle oder die Rückkehr der braunen Naturschützer? , Stuttgart 2020.

Konicz, Tomasz: Klima für Extremismus, Telepolis on 05.08.2018.

Konicz, Tomasz: “Wir brauchen ein neues System!” – In Teilen der Klimabewegung reift die Erkenntnis heran, dass nur ein Systemwechsel den Klimakollaps verhindern kann. Doch was muss eigentlich überwunden werden?, in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (Hg.): Bruch mit der Form: Die Überwindung des Kapitalismus in Theorie und Praxis, Koblenz 2020, 246–257.

Kurz, Robert: Gesellschaftliche Naturkatastrophen – Die synchronen Überschwemmungen und Dürren in der ganzen Welt kündigen eine neue Qualität der ökologischen Krise an, 2002, online: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=31&posnr=74&backtext1=text1.php

Kurz, Robert: Unrentable Menschen, 2006, online: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=31&posnr=237&backtext1=text1.php.

Meyer, Thomas: Zwischen Ektogenese und Mutterglück – Zur Reproduktion der menschlichen Gattung im krisenhaften warenproduzierenden Patriarchat, 2018, online: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=35&posnr=583&backtext1=text1.php.

Meyer, Thomas: “Neue Klassenpolitik?” – Kritische Anmerkungen zu aktuellen Diskursen, 2019, online: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=35&posnr=590&backtext1=text1.php.

Meyer, Thomas: Kinderfrei statt CO2 – Gebärstreik als Maßnahme für den Klimaschutz, 2020, online: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=36&posnr=614&backtext1=text1.php.

Meyer, Thomas: Alternativen zum Kapitalismus – Im Check: Postwachstumsbewegung und Commons und die Frage nach der ‘gesellschaftlichen Synthesis,’ in: exit! – Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft Nr.18, Springe 2021. In publication.

Mooney, Pat; Fowler, Cary: Die Saat des Hungers – Wie wir die Grundlagen unserer Ernährung vernichten, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1991.

Ortlieb, Claus Peter: Zur Kritik des modernen Fetischismus – Die Grenzen bürgerlichen Denkens – Gesammelte Texte von Claus Peter Ortlieb 1997-2015, Stuttgart 2019.

Ortlieb, Claus Peter: A Contradiction Between Matter and Form: On the Significance of the Production of Relative Surplus Value in the Dynamic of Terminal Crisis, in Marxism and the Critique of Value, Chicago 2014.

Stapelfeldt, Gerhard: Klimawandel. Heiße Sommer, Trockenheit: Fridays for Future und Die Grünen als neue Volkspartei, 2019, https://www.kritiknetz.de/images/stories/texte/Stapelfeldt_globaler_Protest_gegen_Klimapolitik.pdf .

Reckordt, Michael: Dasselbe in Grün, in: oekom e.V. – Verein für ökologische Kommunikation (ed.): Green New Deal – Fassadenbegründung oder neuer Gesellschaftsvertrag? , Munich 2019, 46-52.

Thunberg, Greta: I want you to panic! – My speeches on climate protection, Frankfurt 2019.

[1] Cf. https://www.akweb.de/politik/gegenwind-fuer-die-klimabewegung/. Cf. also the lecture by Ricarda Lang of 21.3.2019: Feindbild Klimaschützerin: http://emafrie.de/audio-feindbild-klimaschuetzerin/?hilite=%27Ricarda%27%2C%27Lang%27. 

[2] Thus Gauland in the 2018 ZDF summer interview: “I don’t think there is anything we humans can do against climate change.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWUvTqlbsjg. From 2:31 min.

[3] Cf. Gauland Lecture: Sustainability is a Conservative Principle, youtube.com, Aug. 22, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyxCIhhCVM0.

[4] Cf. https://www.freitag.de/autoren/elsa-koester/die-allzuvielen as well as Konicz 2018.

[5] Cf. https://die-kehre.de/.

[6] Cf. Stapelfeldt’s presentation: Climate and Protest, youtube.com, Aug. 25, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS4h34A9jHc.

[7] For example, Fridays for Future activist Clara Mayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Eqf7UlNWo.

[8] Cf. https://fridaysforfuture.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Forderungen-min.pdf.

[9] This is what is repeatedly referred to in interviews: Luisa Neubauer from “Fridays for Future” as a guest in the post-report from Berlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFUb6wMIHxU. From 17:20 min.

[10] Bzw. Polizei-Grünen: Cf. e.g. Jörg Tauss: Brandmelder gelöscht: Grün, Olivgrün, Polizeigrün, Telepolis vom 20.7.2020, https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Brandmelder-geloescht-Gruen-Olivgruen-Polizeigruen-4847325.html.

[11] For example, the Spiegel of 11.08.1986 states “The world climate is coming apart at the seams“ https://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-13519133.html.

[12] See, for example, https://www.spektrum.de/kolumne/klimaschutzpaket-der-bundesregierung-springt-zu-kurz/1675002 and https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/das-ist-unglaublich-fahrlaessig. Cf. also: Wolfgang Pomrehn: Groko verhöhnt die Jugend, https://www.heise.de/tp/news/Kohlevertrag-Groko-verhoehnt-die-Jugend-5024350.html.

[13] See the interview with Change for Future: https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Ein-Wirtschaftssystem-das-auf-Wachstum-und-Profit-ausgelegt-ist-kann-nicht-nachhaltig-sein-4401440.html.

[14] Cf. https://www.rnd.de/politik/klimaaktivistinnen-greta-thunberg-und-luisa-neubauer-an-eu-die-uhr-tickt-5HPDTQ4QWLEM2CXMAHFPNMXW2E.html.

[15] Cf. https://taz.de/Aktivisten-treten-zur-Wahl-an/!5704234/. Cf. also: https://www.klimaliste.de/.

[16] See also discussion between representatives of Fridays-for-Future, Gerhard Stapelfeldt and Dorothea Schoppek, youtube.com, 9/28/2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5ytkTQQtvA.

[17] Cf. https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/monster-unter-artenschutz

[18] Which, however, has nothing to do with Fridays for Future.

Originally published in Telepolis on 02/18/2020, updated and revised for publication on the Exit! homepage

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