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#EP2019: Interview with Henrique Goncalves, Member of International Young Naturefriends

Hen­rique Gonçalves is a 32 year old cli­mate activist from Por­tu­gal. He is the Net­work­ing Coor­di­na­tor of Inter­na­tion­al Young Nature­friends (IYNF) and Founder of ecomaps.eu. As art school and archi­tec­ture school grad­u­ate Hen­rique has learnt how to chal­lenge the com­mon sense and the sta­tus quo and to find cre­ative solu­tions for glob­al issues. His work as a vol­un­teer with IYNF gives him the oppor­tu­ni­ty to advo­cate for social and envi­ron­men­tal caus­es and to con­nect and empow­er young peo­ple from across Europe.

Where does your inter­est in pol­i­cy, pol­i­tics and espe­cial­ly the elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment come from? What is your main moti­va­tion to engage yourself? 

Hen­rique Gonçalves: My inter­est in those top­ics devel­oped after I entered uni­ver­si­ty, how­ev­er, only by the late 2000s, when Por­tu­gal was hit by an severe eco­nom­ic reces­sion I felt the urge to make sense of the events that led to the cri­sis and espe­cial­ly what to do in the after­math. Back then, I was a fresh archi­tec­ture grad­u­ate look­ing for my first job and bewil­dered by the social and polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty in my country.

In 2014, I decid­ed to move to Prague to work for an inter­na­tion­al NGO focused on pol­i­cy and youth work, which helped me devel­op a bet­ter under­stand­ing of pol­i­tics and its role in society.

In the past years, a sig­nif­i­cant part of my work has been focused on devel­op­ing non-for­mal edu­ca­tion­al train­ing activ­i­ties and work­shops for young peo­ple on var­i­ous top­ics, to give them nec­es­sary tools to under­stand the sta­tus quo while empow­er­ing them to build a bet­ter society.

What are your con­crete sug­ges­tions regard­ing cli­mate change pol­i­cy at EU lev­el towards can­di­dates to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment? What would a can­di­date need to promise you to make you vote for her/his party?

Hen­rique Gonçalves: I believe that a sys­temic change is required for solv­ing the sever­i­ty of the prob­lems we face today. Thus, it’s very dif­fi­cult to per­suade me when the ideas pre­sent­ed are only con­tribut­ing to per­pet­u­ate the sta­tus quo.

I would like to hear can­di­dates speak about reduc­ing our fos­sil fuel depen­dence with more enthu­si­asm, to hear them talk about cut­ting down the mas­sive sub­si­dies chan­neled every year into the fos­sil fuel, live­stock or pes­ti­cide indus­tries, about updat­ing the agri­cul­ture poli­cies or propos­ing solu­tions for the sin­gle-use plas­tics prob­lem. Fur­ther­more, I would like to see a sys­tem­at­ic strat­e­gy for phas­ing out fos­sil fuels in Europe and mak­ing a just tran­si­tion with­out exclud­ing the dif­fer­ent civ­il soci­ety actors from the process.

What are the “hot” top­ics regard­ing cli­mate change in your coun­try? How do they poten­tial­ly affect the upcom­ing Elections? 

Hen­rique Gonçalves: I’m in the process of return­ing back to Por­tu­gal after almost liv­ing 6 years abroad. Cli­mate change is today a very wide­spread top­ic, in part due to an increase in the num­ber of extreme droughts and the dev­as­tat­ing for­est fires that have been strik­ing the coun­try in the past years.

Fur­ther­more, due to a high exter­nal ener­getic depen­dence, there have been some efforts to invest in renew­able ener­gies to make Por­tu­gal more self-suf­fi­cient. Today, almost all elec­tric­i­ty con­sumed in Por­tu­gal comes from renew­able ener­gies, while near­ly 30% of the whole ener­gy con­sumed in the coun­try comes from renew­ables. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are still many eco­nom­ic inter­ests hin­der­ing the process, for exam­ple, there’s an ongo­ing dis­pute between civ­il soci­ety and a few wealthy com­pa­nies and busi­ness peo­ple that are keen to start an oil and gas prospect near the Algarve shore. This case shows that peo­ple are con­cerned not only about the envi­ron­men­tal impact of such activ­i­ty but they also believe that Por­tu­gal can be at the fore­front when it comes to pro­duc­ing renew­able ener­gy in Europe.

Despite this, most par­ties didn’t pro­pose any ambi­tious plan when it comes to tack­ling cli­mate change. Where­as, the future of the Euro­pean Union, democ­ra­cy and rise of racist pop­ulism, as well as wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion, jobs, and eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty are the top­ics dom­i­nat­ing most elec­toral cam­paigns in Portugal.

What should young peo­ple keep in mind while mak­ing their deci­sion in the elec­tion to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment?

Hen­rique Gonçalves: The gen­er­al­ized con­cerns about the future of the Euro­pean Union and the rise of auto­crat­ic, xeno­pho­bic and pop­ulist move­ments are clear evi­dence that the sys­tem, sup­port­ed by the EU for many years, isn’t work­ing. To over­come the crises and counter the big­ot­ed and divi­sive forces that want to see Europe scat­tered and fee­ble, we need to cre­ate a type of nar­ra­tive that val­ues polit­i­cal lit­er­a­cy and cit­i­zen­ship edu­ca­tion and pro­vides more par­tic­i­pa­to­ry environments.

Young peo­ple are aware of the prob­lems that affect them but many don’t feel con­nect­ed to main­stream pol­i­tics because it’s not a place where their con­cerns are being addressed. The move­ment ‘School strike for cli­mate’ is a symp­tom of that. There is an increas­ing­ly large group of con­cerned young cit­i­zens and mean­while, deci­sion-mak­ers pre­fer to bury their own heads in the sand. Anoth­er exam­ple is the exclu­sion of young peo­ple from the COP24 nego­ti­a­tion process in Decem­ber last year. That’s is absolute­ly preposterous.

I believe that the younger gen­er­a­tions will find bet­ter solu­tions for our soci­ety and for that, they should keep in mind the essence of who they are, because it’s easy to lose one­self in the process of chal­leng­ing a sys­tem that made us believe that the world can’t be dif­fer­ent from the way it is now.

In your opin­ion, is giv­ing a vote enough? 

Hen­rique Gonçalves: I think we reached a very para­dox­i­cal state because there are many loom­ing threats, which require a response that we are not pre­pared for.

It’s not only an impend­ing eco­log­i­cal cat­a­stro­phe that we have to deal with but also prob­lems result­ing from mas­sive inequal­i­ty, the lack of afford­able hous­ing, the increas­ing sur­plus in the glob­al labor sup­ply, as well as the impli­ca­tions of the ongo­ing sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, dur­ing times of cri­sis, the most com­mon reac­tion among peo­ple is the one that cre­ates racist pop­ulism and divi­sions between peo­ple instead of a rad­i­cal polit­i­cal emancipation.

Thus, it’s extreme­ly impor­tant to have clar­i­ty, to think crit­i­cal­ly and ratio­nal­ly, but of course, civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions and deci­sion-mak­ers should work togeth­er to help cre­ate those con­di­tions. I think that is more impor­tant than telling peo­ple whether or not they should vote. Why should peo­ple vote if their basic needs and con­cerns are not addressed? Vot­ing is a pow­er­ful tool, but so it is civ­il dis­obe­di­ence or non-par­tic­i­pa­tion. It’s all a mat­ter of ideas and context.

Thank you for the interview!

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