It’s a scorching September day and the Green party candidate hoping to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor leaps on stage in front of hundreds of supporters for what should be a home run.
Climate change is among the top concerns for many voters, and the audience in the eastern city of Halle is made up of students and retired people eager to hear how Annalena Baerbock plans to safeguard the future.
The Greens have long championed the fight against global warming. Ahead of Germany’s September 26 vote they offer arguably the most comprehensive programme for making Europe’s biggest economy carbon neutral.
But while voters are worried about the state of the planet, especially after the deadly floods that hit Germany in July, many are wary of committing to the kind of radical transformation required — fearing the cost.
Baerbock wants electric vehicles to be affordable for everybody within a decade, if necessary with a subsidy of up to 9,000 euros for low earners, but some are sceptical.
“They don’t say enough where the money is going to come from,” said Sonja Solisch, a health care worker.
A survey released by public broadcaster ZDF found climate and environment ranked as the most important election issue for 43% of respondents — ahead of the coronavirus pandemic and migration. The same poll showed the Greens trailing the centre-left Social Democrats and Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc.
Steffi Lemke, a long-time Greens lawmaker, argues that the two governing parties are shying away from telling voters the brutal facts about climate change.
“The problem is that it will be far more expensive if we do nothing,” she told The Associated Press, citing the 30 billion euros that federal and state governments recently agreed to spend on rebuilding western regions hit by devastating flash floods this summer.
In April, a bitcoin millionaire gave half his fortune to the Greens in the hope that they will regulate the energy-hogging virtual currency.
This week the party received a record donation of 1.25 million euros from Steven Schuurman, the Dutch founder of software company Elastic.
One man hoping such solutions come sooner, rather than later, is Andreas Geron, the mayor of Sinzig, whose town was badly hit by the floods. Two months on he worries that families whose houses were destroyed may move away for good unless the next government takes into account the heightened risk of similar floods.
“There are elections soon, but by the time parliament has come together another month or more will pass,” he said. “That’s time we simply don’t have.”
Baerbock, 40, cites a recent UN report showing that time is running out to prevent catastrophic planetary warming.
“I honestly don’t want my children, who are six and nine, or your children and grandchildren, to ask us in 20 years’ time: ‘Why didn’t you turn the rudder around back then?'”