German politician targeted by haters over climate refugees

Ricarda Lang received death and rape threats after her comments about supporting climate refugees were published. The spokeswoman for the Green Youths says she won’t stop voicing her opinions despite the experience.

A member of the Green Youths has received an onslaught of online hate, including rape and death threats, after she publicly put her support behind extending citizenship to asylum seekers fleeing disasters of climate change.

Earlier this month, comments made by 24-year-old Ricarda Lang (above), a spokeswoman for the political organization, were published in a number of German regional newspapers and online outlets, including ZDF, and Die Welt.

“The EU should offer the citizens of island states that are threatened by climate change European citizenship and enable them to migrate with dignity,” Lang told German media.

Standing against a wall of hate

In the 24 hours that followed, Lang said hate messages flooded her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Email.

“People threatened my life and commented on my body, and said how they wanted to kill or rape me,” she told DW.

“The first day was really hard because I kind of felt like I was alone, standing in front of this huge wall of hate.”

Though these online platforms allowed such a hostile response to snowball against Lang, she also said it wasn’t long before people began reaching out to show solidarity.

“Then all these people showed their solidarity and I felt like I was not alone but that there were all these people standing next to me, standing behind me.”

Anyone can be a target online

Lang thinks that three factors were responsible for sparking the aggressive backlash she received: The controversy attached to migration, the difficulty in accepting responsibility for climate change, and sexism.

She isn’t going to let the experience curb her online presence or social commentary.

“I’m going to stay active, and I’m also going to keep fighting for the climate migrants, and for helping and supporting the people that are concerned with consequences of climate change,” she said.

Having made screenshots of all the hate she received, Lang said she and friends will now begin the process of combing through and reporting messages to platforms or authorities where necessary.

“I think it’s really important that those people that hide behind their anonymity on the internet face the consequences of their actions.”

This may put to test Germany’s controversial “network enforcement law,” which has required platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to delete threatening content within 24 hours of receiving a complaint, since the beginning of 2018.

The climate pass

The idea of a “climate passport” was introduced last year by Professor Hans Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. 

Climate passports should be extended to refugees who flee their homes because of the impacts of climate change, Professor Hellnschuber said at a conference of the Green Party in 2017.

The concept is that larger countries which are most responsible for causing climate change should accommodate those who are most acutely affected by its impacts.

Lang echoes calls for change

The proposal put forth by Lang echoes calls made by environmental organizations in the past year for more attention to be paid to climate refugees.

In November 2017, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a research and activist organization based in the United Kingdom, launched a campaign calling for the European Union to grant greater protection to people fleeing their homelands due to climate change.

The organization wants climate refugees to be recognized in legislation such as the 1951 Refugee Convention, which only defines asylum seekers as those fleeing countries due to their race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion.

“It is essential that nations get together and have an agreement about what they are willing to do and what they are able to do about environmental migration,” Executive Director of EJF, Steve Trent told DW.

Though Trent recognized the difficulty inherent in formulating a transnational strategy to deal with displacement caused by climate change, he said the urgency of the situation made it necessary to “start having the conversation.”