With the Fridays for Future movement, young people are mobilising in the streets against climate change and are calling for quick and effective responses. They are challenging politics and the older generation to act, warning that failure to act will impact on their lives and their futures. They rightly insist on this urgency, as the impact of climate change is palpable for everyone: higher temperatures, drastic temperature changes, a slowly changing gulf stream, heavy winds and rains, the shrinking of the poles and the glaciers in the mountains, not to speak of the pollution of our cities.
As we can see every day in the streets – including Brussels – the number of electro scooters is increasing significantly, like the number of pedelecs and electrical bicycles. The European car industry is beginning to switch to electromobility. Something is happening and a call for reflection is needed.
It is not only a question of affordability, there are also other controversial issues: all this electric mobility needs natural - and sometimes rare - resources like nickel, manganese, cobalt, graphite and lithium. These resources are not unlimited and their extraction is taking place under indecent working conditions and under undemocratic regimes. This is not to argue that change does not need to take place, but there are some contradictions which need to be faced and cannot be ignored. Not only are scarce resources needed: more electricity will need more energy production and it is only a matter of time until the public debate on the rehabilitation of nuclear energy starts.
The move to electric mobility will also have consequences for car, bus and lorry production. The production chains will slow down which might lead to a reduction in jobs. This takes us to the social dimension – the issue can only be solved by negotiated transition and very far-sighted strategies. However, the need to protect jobs must not be an excuse not to act. A smooth and soft transition needs careful planning and even higher social investment in education, training and lifelong learning. It is not a binary choice between protecting jobs or protecting the environment nor is it just about the greening of the economy. It needs a broader sustainable development approach (=link to S&D sustainable equality) in rich, middle income and poor countries.
The next Commission could do the necessary by including sustainability and social impact as THE references in the European semester process. And greater European funding of transitions would improve the outlook for those who may be concerned about losing their job, the inaccessibility of their living environment or affordable housing. The lack of future prospects, security and protection are what lead people to vote for authoritarian extremists, endangering Europe and democracy. The switch from the all growth paradigm to sustainability is a kind of cultural economic revolution, not a quick fix. The wait is undermining the future prospects of the younger generations of this planet and this would be a real waste, a real threat!