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In the words of a hunger striker

Kate Laycock
September 17, 2021

Frightened for the future on a fast-heating planet, Jacob Heinze decided to force political action by risking his life in a hunger strike.

Hungerstreiker Jacob Heinze
Image: Carsten Witte

A desperate action

Jacob Heinze, 27, is risking it all to take a stand. He is one of seven young people who began a hunger strike in Berlin on August 30. The climate crisis is, he says, the biggest crime in human history — and that his generation is the last generation with the power to act.

Heinze was hospitalized Tuesday after he collapsed, and has since returned to the hunger strike camp. DW interviewed him shortly before he was hospitalized. Here are the excerpts below:

DW: How are you?

Jacob Heinze: Considering the circumstances I'm OK. I feel weak and I am very hungry, but I'm OK.

How did you come to decide to risk your life by refusing food?

I was part of a group organizing mass civil disobedience in Berlin. After that action did not get the attention we were hoping for, a small group of people realized we need to take the next step and show people it's about life and death. Too many people are not looking at the facts and the horrific future we are facing.

German climate activists on hunger strike

It is election season in Germany — German federal elections will be held on September 26th. For young people, it's an absolutely existential election because it is about who is going to be in charge during this very narrow time frame that, according to the IPCC report, we have to keep warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, it's an election that is going to be decided primarily by the old. Germany's demographics mean that never before have there been so few first-time voters and there will be more voters over 60 than all voters under 40 combined. What's your message for older voters?

These elections are really, really important. My message to elderly people is that you have a responsibility to your children, you have a responsibility to your grandchildren. It's about their lives. We don't want to be sent to war fighting for resources and land.

I can hear the fear and the urgency in your voice.

Yeah, I am truly scared of the future.

Swedish environmentalist Andreas Malm has written a book called "How To Blow Up A Pipeline." His thesis is that if politicians don't act now, then younger generations will take increasingly radical action. Do you think that you are one of many to come? Do you think that this is a form of action that more and more young people are going to reach for as they become more and more desperate and disillusioned about the possibility of any political action within the time frame needed?

I believe that, yeah. This is a desperate decision. I mean, I don't want to starve to death. I am sure many more people will join us in the streets because we need to — we have nothing to lose and everything to win.

On your website, you have scheduled press conferences running right up until the election. That implies that you are imagining yourself to be still on hunger strike on September 26th. You will have taken medical advice and know that the physical toll could be life-changing —  if not life-ending. How do you feel about that, and how have you prepared your family for what might happen?

It's difficult to think back to the week when I told everybody that I am going on an indefinite hunger strike. It was kind of traumatizing because many people cried, many people said I shouldn't do that, my life is more important than this climate crisis. I agree my life is more important for me, but it's more important that this world wakes up. We need to change everything. If not, I'm going to starve anyway at some point in this century, or go to war, or see my family and friends starve to death.

I need to take action. At some point, my family and friends understood that. They support me right now.

The interview was conducted by Kate Laycock