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!