Fear of the future unites Yellow Vests and climate change protesters

Yellow Vest Protesters march near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on March 2. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)Yellow Vest Protesters march near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on March 2. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

At first glance, the worker-demonstrators wearing emergency yellow vests and protesting for economic equity on the streets of Paris seem to have little in common with the schoolchildren all over Europe skipping class to protest against climate change. But despite divides in age and economic status, they may be motivated by similar underlying concerns, according to officials with both the French and Belgian churches.

This Friday, March 15, will be an important day for both movements. A nationwide series of debates suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron, where local political leaders listen to voters’ complaints and suggestions, will come to a close so that the federal government can hammer out a response, and French schoolchildren are expected to participate in what is being called a Global Youth Strike.

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Grégoire Catta, S.J., director of the National Service for Family and Society at the French Bishops’ Conference, believes the church can deliver a “deep diagnosis” to respond to the contemporary anxieties expressed by these movements. The key would be filtering them through Catholic social teaching and, in particular, Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

Grégoire Catta, S.J.: The church can deliver a “deep diagnosis” to respond to the contemporary anxieties expressed by these movements.

The “Yellow Vest” demonstrations gained force last November and have not stopped. In Paris, the grassroots movement began as outrage against higher fuel taxes, but it has evolved into a broad demand from outlying and rural communities in France for more participative democracy and social justice. Eleven people have died during the protests, and thousands of others have been injured or arrested.

The movement is named after the high-visibility clothing worn by demonstrators. French law requires drivers to keep the safety gear handy in case of accidents, but protesters have found the yellow vests to be a convenient and unifying call to arms because of their association with working-class industries.

A few weeks after the Yellow Vests took to the streets, thousands of schoolchildren throughout Europe and other countries around the world began walking out of classes each week to pressure politicians into adopting more ambitious policies to tackle climate change.

“The ecological issue is linked to the social issue,” Father Catta, who has been involved in local and national discussions with the Yellow Vests, told America. “It is clear that something is wrong, and the pope invites us to change our paradigm.” Father Catta sees in these movements a rejection of consumerism, which is a theme at the heart of “Laudato Si’.”

“It is clear that something is wrong, and the pope invites us to change our paradigm” by rejecting consumerism. 

People are pressured to buy and consume, he said, but purchasing power is dwindling and unmoderated consumption leads to pollution. “It gives rise to the destruction of the earth, on the one hand, and then the destruction of people on the other,” Father Catta added, because “people feel invisible when they are unable to consume.” One response: The Yellow Vests have called protests to block shoppers at big supermarkets in an attempt to hurt the companies’ profits.

Protestors from both movements are demanding that governments listen to their fears about the future. “There is a very deep anguish in the elderly as well in the middle classes; they are afraid of falling into poverty,” Marcel Rémon, S.J., told America. Father Rémon is the director of CERAS, the Center for Research and Social Action in Paris.

Father Rémon said that young people face an unstable job market, as long-term employment contracts have become rare, at the same time they worry about the environment. “They say, ‘When I’ll be 50, the earth will be [ruined],’” he added.

The young climate demonstrators are thought to come from more affluent families than the older workers of the Yellow Vest movement.

However, he warned against conflating the two movements. “We should not be naïve,” Father Catta said, as there are “tensions” between the two because of generational and class differences. The young climate demonstrators are thought to come from more affluent families than the older workers of the Yellow Vest movement.

And while the young marching for environmental protection can clearly find common ground with the plea to care for the earth in “Laudato Si’,” the Yellow Vests marked their first success when the French government backtracked on a fuel tax hike, which hit people hardest outside urban centers. The tax hike was seen as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions, in accordance with the Paris Accord to minimize climate change.

But Frédéric Rottier, president of the Belgian Jesuit association Centre Avec, said the Yellow Vests are not necessarily at odds with environmentalism. As governments pursue ways to transition to greener policies, “we need to make sure the ecological transition is [economically] sustainable,” he said. “The weight of it needs to be appropriately distributed.”

In Belgium, where most workers are unionized, the Yellow Vest movement lost steam when traditional unions organized a nationwide strike. By shutting or slowing down hospitals, airports and public transit, the Belgian unions pressured employers to increase wages—and succeeded. “It shows that in the end, it is better when unions take matters into their own hands,” the Most Rev. Jean Pierre Delville, the bishop of Liege, Belgium, told America.

In France, unions and the church are struggling to understand and respond to the demands of the Yellow Vests. Bishops called on local parishes to hold discussions so that members can discuss their troubles and listen to each other according to Catholic social teaching principles.

“It’s rather a new phenomenon in the church,” Father Rémon said. “It’s not every day that bishops ask parishioners to talk about social issues.” The talks are being held within the government-led “Great National Debate” launched by President Macron.

However, the church has a long way to go to recover legitimacy here in the wake of the global sexual abuse crisis. The church needs to “listen again to God’s people and strengthen the culture of debate and dialogue,” Father Rémon said.

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J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

How does the author explain the decrease in poverty in the world? What happened 200 years ago when 95% of the world was impoverished to change that to less than 10%? And with over 6 billion more people on earth now. Everyone should read Hans Rosling's Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think . https://amzn.to/2SM5vTb
People in Europe are lying to the children and scaring them.

Are there any examples of Catholic Social Teaching producing any long range prosperity or good?

Ryan Amato
6 months ago

1. How do you define poverty? 2. Is 200 years of "prosperity" worth the destruction of most life on earth? 3. Can we do better ? 4. How selfish are we?

Stanley Kopacz
6 months 1 week ago

Civilizations are prosperous until they collapse. Now that we have a global civilization and a global economy, collapse will be global as well. Plastics and dead zones in the ocean, a mass extinction underway, floods, droughts, hurricane bombogenesis, disappearance of ice, climate induced displacement of populations. A truly sustainable civilization has never been developed. The more technologically advanced, the less sustainable. Is an advanced civilization in synch with nature possible? I think so, but only if people care. I wonder if the Mayans, whose civilization collapsed due to climate change, had a song called "don't worry, be happy".

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

We have a real time living proof on how to collapse a civilization. Socialism does it very quickly.

I wonder if the Mayans, whose civilization collapsed due to climate change was due to all that traffic on the pan American highway.

Stanley Kopacz
6 months 1 week ago

Oh, when did Sweden and Denmark collapse? I hadn't heard.

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

Sweden and Denmark are free market capitalist countries. Maybe you are confusing socialism with social programs? They contain same first six letters at the start. If anyone is interested Here is a long discussion of modern Swedish economy along with its history. It is based on free market capitalism. http://bit.ly/2NvOYAY

Given that, Sweden is having problems http://bit.ly/2TobBO1 . It's in Swedish but I use Google translate in Chrome. Headline 162,000 came to Sweden - 500 got a job

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

I can recommend some good economic text books for you. Your knowledge of economics seems misinformed and misguided. I highly recommend Thomas Sowell, who I consider one of the smartest persons in the world. He is now 88 but still publishing. We will not have this treasure for much longer I fear.

Stanley Kopacz
6 months 1 week ago

By the definition of socialism used by fearmongering Republican politicians, Denmark and Sweden ARE socialist. You can see this also in their efforts to destroy our safety nets which they define as socialism. It is silly to believe that Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez want centralized state ownership of the means of production and have anything more in mind than what exists in Denmark and Sweden. While we're recommending reading, I suggest you need some climatological knowledge. Google Raymond Pierrehumbert. You might be able to access his excellent article in Physics Today. You will learn a lot more than watching doubt manufacturing hand waving YouTube videos by a non-climatologist like Happer.

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

You might want to put some substance to your claims. Point to somebody who wants to destroy the safety nets. Just what is it that they want to change? I believe most arguments are over the size of the safety net and who is eligible.

Denmark and Sweden are small countries, each with its own very homogeneous population and culture.. It is foolish to think that something similar could work in a population that is varied as the United States. Sweden is now having problems and Denmark is limiting immigration dramatically.

Stanley Kopacz
6 months 1 week ago

Just listen to guys like Ryan. His dream in college was to kill social programs. All they care about is transferring wealth from the unworthy rabble to the elite rich. Why does a supply of insulin that cost $20 in 1996 cost $300 now. Genetically engineered bacteria are getting higher wages? Money has corrupted politics and the Democrats are only marginally better than the Republicans. Time to clean house. Instant runoff voting would help.

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

Thank you again for not being able to support your position.

By the way is AOC a puppet? Did she go through a screen test to get selected to run in a primary? Are all her positions being orchestrated by ex Bernie zealots? Was she even in the room during the making of the Green New Deal? Maybe fake news but there are videos.

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

You deflected and used ad hominems which means my assessment was correct. Relative to Raymond Pierrehumbert and climate models see http://bit.ly/2tZLBt8

Stanley Kopacz
6 months 1 week ago

Pointing out the credentials of your source is ad hominem? Happer is famous for the artificial guidestar method for correcting optical instruments for phase distortions from turbulence in the atmosphere. Cool. Ingenious. But NOT climatology. Pierrehumbert has developed understanding not only of how Earth's atmosphere works but that of other planets. He is also Halley Chair professor of physics at Oxford. I suppose your Feynman video was supposed to imply that the climate models are empirically wrong. As I said elsewhere, Svante Arrhenius, around 1900, predicted 2°C warming for a doubling of CO2. Right now it's 410/280 = 1.46 and the warming is 1°C. Sounds about right to me. Meanwhile, Happer's video generates false doubt by saying hurricane prediction can only predict that a hurricane will hit Florida instead of Mrs Schmedlap's backyard fish pond. He also wants to confuse the prediction of weather with climate prediction. But climate is the statistics of weather. Also. weather prediction saves thousands of lives. Ignore it at your peril. How about that European Model prediction about Sandy's westward left turn. Pretty impressive. Happer conveniently forgot that one . As for Feynman, he showed that managerial wishful thinking was responsible for the space shuttle disaster. Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.

Stanley Kopacz
6 months 1 week ago

Listen to Pierrehumbert explain the mechanism of global warming. Cogent and integrated.

https://youtu.be/slPMD5i5Phg

J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

It's a clear explanation. I don't think anyone doubts what he is saying in general but the specifics are what are being questioned. And I would not bring up a WAG from over a hundred years ago as evidence of the sensitivity of CO2 to temperature increases. You have to ask why so much dissent and why do people feel they have to fudge the numbers (the most blatant is the 97% claim which the editors here use) to make the latest end of the earth forecast. Why the need to mock everyone who disagrees which only means they are not secure in their arguments.

Stanley Kopacz
6 months ago

Science brings up scientists (I don't know what a wag is) from hundred or more years ago all the time. Newton, Maxwell, Fourier, Einstein. Their work advanced science. Arrhenius made calculations that are valid today and close to computer calculated numbers. You just don't like the numbers. If you don't know who Arrhenius is, you know little of the development of climatology. You accuse scientists of fudging and conspiracy. These are ad hominems you accuse others of using so pull the log out of your own eye. Seems to be a lot more preferable to you than tackling the scientific principles. There is not a lot of dissent among climatologists. And in science, dissent has to be backed up by science. Even Republicans are getting it now. Maybe the ones who work outside like farmers who know the game is changing.

Ryan Amato
6 months ago

nothing grows forever without decay. Curbing consumption and population growth is only way to buy time along with sequestering carbon

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