Frank Bosman and Deborah de Koning at 'Klimaskepsis Interseksional' conference at TU Dortmund

Panelists and moderators of the panel of the conference 'Klimaskepsis Intersektional' (TU Dortmund)

On 19 and 20 March 2024, the conference 'Klimaskepsis intersektional? Säkulare und religiöse Narrationen gegen die sozial-ökologische Transformation in Deutschland' took place. It focused on the dynamics between religious narratives and language and/or climate sceptical groups in Germany such as the AFD (Alternative for Germany), a radical-right German political party, as well as several German (systematic) theologians speaking out against climate activism. Regularly, the contributions dealt with themes specific to the German context such as the relationship between Heimatschutz and Klimaschutz in the light of eco-fascism. But several speakers also referred in their analysis to the well-known international young climate activist Greta Thunberg. These often involved visual and material references, such as pamphlets depicting her as Santa Greta with a halo around her head and the globe in her hands, or the use of a car sticker with the text 'fuck you Greta' on it.

Frank Bosman's contribution echoed this. He talked about the portrayal of Greta Thunberg and the religious language used by both climate sceptics and climate activists to interpret her climate activism. The latter sometimes compare Thunberg positively to religious luminaries such as Joan of Arc, a young woman who played a crucial role in the Hundred Years' War between England and France (1337-1453), or Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), the canonised visionary of the famous French pilgrimage site of Lourdes. Furthermore, renowned Flemish church jurist Rik Torfs compared her to the oracle of Delphi. Climate sceptics also use religious concepts and call her patron saint of the climate change church. It is thus striking that both climate sceptics and climate activists use religious concepts to refer to Greta Thunberg and her work, but it is not immediately apparent from that language itself whether this is meant negatively or positively.

Deborah de Koning presented a contribution on what is 'sacred' in climate religion using several protest signs from the national march for climate and justice that took place in Amsterdam in November 2023, in which 70,000 to 85,000 people walked along. Those protest signs often depicted the globe accompanied by texts talking about the earth being a mother that is treated badly. She argued that the way the globe is used by climate activists shows how humans refer to their own actions through the globe. In doing so, the earth is attributed an authority sacred by man. At the same time, the earth is powerless: it is man who speaks about and for the earth. The fate of the earth is thus in man's hands. This emphasis on human responsibility fits seamlessly with values upheld in a post-secular society.