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“Make the world a better place”

Author: Léa Roethinger, Sciences Po Strasbourg student and Coordinator of Oxfam Strasbourg

I grew up in Alsace, at the foot of the Northern Vosges mountains, in a small town called Ingwiller, and today, at the age of twenty-two, this natural habitat is disappearing. After living in Strasbourg, it was time for my parents to move back to the countryside, to my mother's native village, where her parents live. My grandparents were a very important factor in shaping my relationship with nature, especially my grandfather. He was born in 1931, and his childhood in Ingwiller, close to nature, always anchored him in a life of simple joys and essentials. This is what he passed on to me through all those days spent with him and my grandmother in the forest, besides the Moder river or at the family pond. He would take me to see the nests full of chicks and the ducklings lining up behind their mother in spring, the well-hidden burrows of the foxes and the river teeming with freshwater trout.


And then, as the winters went by, the snow stopped falling, the Moder dried up and the fish disappeared. Even when I was a child, my grandfather used to predict these phenomena, telling me that mankind was in disarray, that we were making a mess of our planet. So, over the years, these observations made me realize that we had to fight to recover the lost bits of nature, the luxuriance and beauty of our ecosystems. Of course, I soon learned that much damage is irreversible, and that the Vosges du Nord is relatively well preserved compared to other natural areas. Faced with this reality, we take the blow, yes our homes are changed forever, but we get back up.

After my French Baccalaureate, I entered Sciences Po Strasbourg, with the idea I was going to help change the world. Alongside, with my first two years of study, I joined the local branch of Greenpeace Strasbourg. This experience enabled me to increase my knowledge of many environmental issues, but also to understand the importance of political stakes in any struggle, whether social, economic or environmental. I learned that the force of justice does not necessarily make for justice, that fighting for the public interest never guarantees the clear path to political or legal recognition. Because the public interest is still difficult to gauge, and every struggle must obtain a certain resonance within the population, its own legitimacy to function.

So I keep coming back to this nagging question: why is it so difficult today to get the vast majority of the French population, or at least the majority of Europeans, to sign up, to take action on the climate issue? How can it be that we have over our heads heads of state whose tangible political measures are so devoid of action to preserve the climate and, more broadly, nature? How is it possible to miss the only lifeline without fear of sinking? Is this anxious denial, recklessness or a shameless determination to maintain one's comfort and privileges?

It was when I really got involved that I realized that the first battle was the battle of beliefs. To believe is to give credence to someone, to a system of values, and to live and behave accordingly. The reasons for what we believe in are emotional, based on personal experience. I then understood that the struggle to reconnect with nature must inevitably involve reconnecting with our emotions. Reinvesting the field of intimacy. It's vital that we are able to tap into our innermost belief in what's essential. Through the stories we tell our children and the profound reconsiderations we make of the way we interact with the rest of life, we can choose to spread the belief that without a healthy planet Earth, we cannot live properly.


For a year and a half now, I've been coordinating the local branch of Oxfam Strasbourg while continuing my studies, so I've shifted the focus of my activism to the issue of social, economic and environmental inequalities. More than ever, it was my involvement with Oxfam that made me realize that preserving our planet is not just about protecting the natural spaces and species we cherish, but also and above all about protecting the members of our own species: human beings. Thanks to Oxfam, I've managed to rekindle my love for my own species, a love I thought I'd lost, so overwhelmed was I by the cynicism of the human race. I no longer have any doubt that the destruction of our planet since the Industrial Revolutions of the 19th century is the result of a succession of choices orchestrated by a few to establish and maintain their economic privileges. I have discovered the extent of the economic, social and climatic inequalities that have resulted from this global system, and I know today that drastically reducing these disparities is totally intertwined with successfully protecting nature. I want to protect my fellow human beings who suffer even more than I do from climate change. This is what resonates with me, the social justice that will save our ship from the iceberg. And sharing Finally, sharing all this with people who have the same values gives courage and the desire to believe. So through lightning actions, street interventions, ardent demonstrations, we feel stronger.

However, although we may feel stronger, I also know that mass action alone is not enough.

Getting everyone on board to protect the environment means first and foremost mainstream climate action, ensuring that everyone sees nature as its home and that without her we would lose everything. We need everyone to feel invested in the mission to protect the planet, so that it can really happen. It's often said that we need to understand things around us to be able to love them, and as long as we love something or someone we have this natural feeling of wanting to care. It's by growing up close to nature and being amazed by it that I want to do everything I can to conserve it. I'm convinced that the challenge of reconnecting with nature is linked to understanding our Earth system and realizing that we are completely dependent on it. It's by understanding our ecosystems better and, above all, by observing them more often that we can provoke the chance to fall in love with our natural dwelling places all over again and want to protect them better. All this won't be easy when you consider that in 2022, 56% of the world's population lives in cities.

For several weeks I have been part of the European Union Climate Pact community as an ambassador. The European Climate Pact was launched a few years ago by the EU to enable citizens, businesses, organizations and communities to participate in climate action in a variety of ways. Ambassadors are citizens who have been appointed to create and participate in concrete climate projects throughout their mandate. As a Climate Pact Ambassador, I think it is very important to highlight the protection of the ocean, which is absolutely vital, since it alone absorbs over 30% of greenhouse gases and releases oxygen through photosynthesis. But above all, through plastic pollution and overfishing, we are contributing to an unprecedented massacre of our marine living spaces. A lot of organizations are working on this subject, such as the international NGO Surfrider with which I am going to start an internship of several months. Surfrider fights every day to preserve the oceans from plastic and raise awareness about ways to change the way we live to avoid this dumping of plastic waste. 


Secondly, I'm convinced that sowing the seeds of nature awareness in the younger generation is the key to a major change. Indeed, it's during childhood and adolescence that we are most passionate and have the free time and educational resources. As an ambassador, I'd like to continue and expand the school projects we've started at Oxfam Strasbourg. I'm convinced that a playful exchange with secondary school students on the issue of inequalities of all kinds and the possibilities of eradicating them while protecting our planet is a central tool for establishing a system that is more concerned with justice. The enthusiasm we receive from our meetings with students and the commitment of some of them to Oxfam Strasbourg, even though they're not yet 18, is a direct testimony to this. It may be utopian to want to change the world, but it's possible to make it better here and there, for a few moments. It allows us to escape the fatalistic vision of a "ruined" world, of a collapse with no way out, because the way out we have already found is in union, in the way we decide to see the world after.

Few weeks ago, I discovered Corine Morel Darleux's sublime book, which speaks aptly of our lost freedom, in a world where we have for too long to the fatigue of our gruelling daily lives, to the time we lack, to our dreams slipping through our fingers. At the heart of her narrative, the author speaks of the importance of "intention", which she associates with the notion of "refusal to reach". To define this, she quotes Albert Thierry, a schoolteacher sent to the war front, who wrote in his Essai de morale révolutionnaire: "Refusing to reach is neither refusing to act nor refusing to live: it's refusing to live and to act for oneself and for one self's sake. Refusing to reach is above all a state of mind in which intention takes on its full meaning. It's a state of mind in which the individual acts purely on his or her own will, in full awareness of who he or she is and what he or she truly needs. The intention that can lead to the refusal to reach is the first step towards emancipation from the tutelage of the state, from the dominant economic system associated with the constant quest for ever greater profit, which pushes the enormous majority of its workers to exhaust themselves for an enrichment that doesn't even concern them. Quite the contrary, in fact."

"the refusal to reach our goals has taken on another collective interest today, that of the fight against hubris and excess, which are destroying the planet's conditions of habitability" - Morel Darleux

Getting involved in local environmental associations, NGOs, citizens' collectives, or professionally in power struggles to rebuild our companies and our public sector means reclaiming our freedom, through the intention to do what makes sense for us, and for the common good. Getting involved means going beyond our strictly individual framework to act by and for the community, for its well-being.

I'll end with this maxim to myself. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, on the subject of belief in God, that there are people on Earth who believe in God and others who don't. But the issue for everyone, he said, was that we should believe in God. After all, if God doesn't exist, believers and non-believers alike lose nothing. On the other hand, if God does exist, the believer wins a paradise... If we apply this idea to that of commitment, we realize that those who commit themselves have everything to gain. Victory or not, those who commit will have contributed to creating simple moments of joy. On the contrary, if we succeed in gradually building the load-bearing walls of a new "house" for living beings, those who commit themselves will have been the founders of a more desirable world.


 Léa Roethinger is a French student at Sciences Po Strasbourg, and a Greenpeace volunteer. She is the coordinator of the local group of Oxfam Strasbourg. She is about to start a six-month end-of-study internship at the European headquarters of Surfrider, an international ocean protection NGO, and I has been selected to become one of the EU Climate Pact ambassadors.


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