Learning to change the system: exchanges at the edge of a coal pitch

August 23, 2016 — FES Asia is part of an international FES delegation to discuss climate justice and social ecological transformation at a global summer school in Germany.

Photo: FES delegation and participants at summer school, 23.02.2016 by FES / Murad Saleem

For the second year in a row, participants from around the world gather for a week-long summer school held in Lützerath, a tiny village close to the biggest German lignite coal open pitch, “Garzweiler.” This year’s summer school, which is held from 19th to 23rd August, bears the title “Skills for system change.”

We chose this motto, because many academics and activists agree on the need for a social-ecological transformation. Only by such a transformation, we can ensure that our lifestyle doesn’t negatively affect the chances of other people around the globe, or of future generations, to have a good life.” – Ruth Krohn, organizer, Skills for system change

The summer school offers a rare place for academics and activists to meet and debate these ideas, a process for which organizers of the summer school explain there is limited opportunity. And this is not all. Participants also train practical skills to change the system from below. “We focus on organizational skills, such as how to create alliances or non-violent communication. And we also demonstrate by the way we live on this camp that alternatives are possible, by jointly planting vegetables or building our own wind mills from the scratch,” explains Ruth.

Among the 800 participants are 15 project partners of FES offices around the globe. For them, exchanging with the diverse group of participants ― including residents from nearby village, which may soon perish in the widening open pitch of the lignite coal mine ― is as important as experiencing life at the camp, with its community kitchen and grassroots democratic neighbourhood fora. Manuela Mattheß, desk officer for climate change and energy at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Berlin puts in focus the importance of this experience for the work of the foundation:

Injustice, inequality and climate change are the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Of course, these problems are interlinked ― and global solidarity is essential in tackling them. We, as representatives of FES, focus on the question how a good life for all can be secured. The current summer school is the ideal place to experiment with different development models, and to discuss climate justice.” – Manuela Mattheß

Several members among the FES delegation held workshops on different topics, including, for example, “Fighting Climate Change in Vietnam,” “Regenerative agriculture ― experiences from Mexico” and “Perspectives of the Global South on Degrowth and Social Ecological Transformation.”

“In our workshop on perspectives from the Global South, we explore the regional differences in the debates about a social ecological transformation,” says Sonja Schirmbeck of FES Vietnam. “We ask, for example, about the consequences for the export-driven growth model of many Asian countries if consumption patterns in the Global North really change. And why do we have very strong movements promoting alternative development paths in Latin America, while in Asia, very few people ― let alone politicians ― are questioning the current neoliberal model focusing on high GDP growth? I’m really looking forward to an exchange of ideas from Europe, Latin America and Asia!”

From 2017 onward, seven FES country offices in Asia will open new working lines on climate change, energy, and the environment, financed by special climate funds. This will also create the opportunity for younger partners of FES offices in Asia to participate in the summer school in 2017, and in the upcoming years, to exchange their perspective on social ecological transformation with people from around the world ― at the edge of Germany’s biggest coal mine.

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