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The House is Burning Edition

18 April 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunburg a session of the Environment committee in the European Parliament this week and told MEPs “Our house is falling apart and our leaders need to start acting accordingly because at the moment they are not.” The morning after one of the most recognisable and most loved monuments in Europe burned in front of everyone’s eyes, Greta elegantly and effectively urged MEPs and politicians to use “cathedral thinking” in response to climate change. She went on to emotionally describe the actual effects of a ‘sixth mass extinction’ due to the erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife and the acidification of oceans. Her 10-minute speech was met with a 30-second standing ovation by all in room, many of whom she scathingly held to account. After her speech, however, she did recognise the complexity involved the political process and, although the EU is doing something towards these ends with its own 2030 agenda it is not treating the issue with sufficient urgency. Later on in the week, she went to see the Pope possibly to get a sign from up above on a hopeless situation on the ground.

Why it matters

The election. Making her remarks on the dire state of climate change action, Greta’s analogy of the “house falling” could also be interpreted as prescient for the EU as a whole as the prospect of a more climate-sceptic European Parliament looms after the May elections. It is no accident that before and after Greta spoke, leaders of some European parties made sure to sit down with her for a shameless photo-op (1, 2, 3). Climate change will be a key issue for voters in the upcoming European Parliament elections with 77% of voters identifying it as an important issue. This is in part thanks to Greta’s work in mobilising millions of young people (many below voting age). Politicians have taken a long time to catch up to the fact that, for current and future electorates, the important (climate change, gender equality, social Europe) is as much a vote winner as the urgent (Brexit, etc) and that the former, shouldn’t be eclipsed by the latter in terms of priority. She may though be in for a rude awakening, as the voting record of the current and likely next majority party, the European People’s Party, have been deemed one of the worst European parties (aka ‘dinosaurs’) on the issue by Climate Change Network. Don’t expect an EU Green New Deal anytime soon.

The takeaway

If Greta has achieved anything (other than a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and starting an international movement) it is that of finally successfully communicating climate change to politicians and to the wider public. According to the President of Ogilvy’s Center for Behavioural Science, there are four major hurdles to communicate solutions to climate change. Greta has satisfied one which is to have a focus on one identifiable individual. Another criterion is to help people picture the problem — see a viral starving polar bear here and the BBC’s documentary Blue Planet II has done much to expose the catastrophe caused by single-use plastics. The next criterion is to make it time bound. This was only authoritatively satisfied late last year by the United Nations who in a report stated that there were only 12 years (now 11) left in order to limit the already devastating effects of climate change. Finally, and perhaps more intractable, the last criterion is to appeal to tribal identity. Although green and environmental movements have existed since living memory there hasn’t been a focus, until recently, on the practical emotional links between human beings and the Earth. Enter the study of Ecopsychology which examines, among other things, why people continue in environmentally damaging behaviour and attempts to understand the primal motivations, including tribal psychology, in order to channel this into sustainable living.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week


The number of Members of the European Parliament who ‘mattered’ in the last five years according to Politico. As the 5-year legislature wraps up this week, Politico presents those that made their mark for the better and some for the worse. Some will fade into memory whilst others are making (sometimes too many) waves in national politics. Who said that the European Parliament was second rate?


The percentage of the vote that the Social Democratic Party took to win the Finnish elections held last Sunday. The only problem is that in second place came the far-right ‘The Finns’ party with 17.5% of the vote making the margin tighter than a clam with lockjaw. Unfortunately, Finnish people are no less susceptible to populist politics as the rest of us meaning that this bastion of stability could become the latest EU member state to have a coalition of the right-wing governing the future of the ‘happiest country in the world’.


The percentage of French people who are indifferent to the upcoming EU elections. If the French are a barometer for anything, this is it. According to a poll by the BVA institute, there is truth to be given to the well-known fears that the youth is disengaged and the far right is making gains among the French electorate. On the bright side, there is still a chance to subside the expected awful turnout of below 50% to get out and pledge to the #ThisTimeImVoting campaign.

A Message From Our Partners


The EFF — European Future Forum held its first general assembly at the European Parliament in Brussels, bringing together a large variety of NGOs and civil society organisations to share their projects with each other, workshop new initiatives and improve their communication skills and methodologies.
The EFF is the first European Communication and Project Development Network. It is open to any organisation and individual. For more information, visit their website.

4. Quotes of the Week

“We should protect whistleblowers from being punished, sacked, demoted or sued in court for doing the right thing for society”

European Commission First Vice president Frans Timmermans on EU legislation protecting whistleblowers. The first EU-wide legislation of its kind, the measures voted through this week in the European Parliament encourages individuals to come forward with reports of wrongdoing and protects the whistleblower from dismissal, demotion or other forms of retaliation.

“We have so much to repair. So yes, we will rebuild the Notre Dame cathedral even more beautifully than it was before.”

French President Emmanuel Macron in a statement to the nation on the fire that ravaged the iconic Notre Dame cathedral on Monday. He also stated that he aimed to the repair the severely damaged building within five years. Ironically, the fire was caused by already controversial renovation works being done on the building so it would be wise to follow the words of Macron himself “Let us not fall into the trap of haste”. Examine the damage to the cathedral here in high definition and make your own assessment on the timescale needed.

“Grandiosity alternated with bric-a-brac … as if we’ve been working towards some greater goal but were suddenly interrupted by the need for pragmatism.”

The words of sociologist Peter Vermeersch on the architectural development of the EU Quarter in Brussels. A somewhat questionable opinion piece for Foreign Policy delves into the opaqueness and idiosyncrasies of some of the buildings holding the EU institutions such as an asbestos-filled Berlaymont and the “glorified conference centre” that is the Justus Lipsius (European Parliament) building.

5. Video of the Week

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