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Operatie Klimaat: Starting a conversation about climate change

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Operatie Klimaat is an initiative that was started by Milieudefensie, a Dutch NGO, which campaigns for stronger climate measures in the Netherlands. The aim of Operatie Klimaat: Start a climate conversation with Dutch citizens about the climate. The UvA Green Office has interviewed Anne Chatrou, who is a volunteer at Operatie Klimaat, and asked her about their goals, strategies, and how students can get involved.

What is the Operatie Klimaat?

Operatie Klimaat (Operation Climate) is a campaign from Milieudefensie (a Dutch NGO) that started in September 2019. Now, more than 200 volunteers all over the Netherlands are having conversations with Dutch citizens about fair policy solutions for the climate crisis. The campaign’s aim is to ask for people’s opinions about climate change solutions, so the campaign is mostly about listening. Which is important and much needed, because people are hardly asked for their opinion these days. So far, we have had more than 3.000 face-to-face conversations, and more than 25.000 people filled in the questionnaire online.

With Operatie Klimaat we want to give Dutch citizens a voice and at the same time influence the political system in the Netherlands. Climate change is everyone’s business, but not everyone is asked for their opinion. This is something we are addressing, by simply starting a conversation.

How did it all start?

The campaign is based on Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016 and on big organizing. People organizing people to start a big, widespread movement. It actually started because one employee at Milieudefensie read the book ‘Rules for Revolutionaries’ and thought it would be cool to do the same in the Netherlands. That thought was turned into a reality: now it is one of Milieudefensie’s biggest campaigns with lots of people organizing throughout the country.

What is your goal? What would be an ideal solution that you strive to achieve?

Climate justice! We want to involve as many people as possible in the process of finding fair climate change solutions. And with people standing behind this message, we want all parties to implement fair and just climate policies. To make climate policy beneficial for everyone and to stop putting multinationals’ concerns over that of the people, which in my opinion is something the government should be representing after all.

How do you organize yourself? Do you have regular meetings? How do you ensure that you have an impact?

Before Covid-19 we used to do “canvassing”: go out on the streets or ringing doorbells in a neighborhood asking people if they wanted to give their opinion about climate change.

As a local group in Amsterdam, we now meet every two weeks on a videoconference call. We recently made a transformation between phase one and phase two of the campaign. Last week we had an online event where volunteers talked to politicians about the results of phase one. We invited politicians and volunteers to share with them what we heard on the streets. The politicians found it really useful and asked lots of questions about what Dutch citizens actually think. Now we are starting phase two, where we again ask the people’s opinion on climate change but focusing on policies to direct it more towards the national elections in 2021.

What is your personal role in the Operatie Klimaat and how did you find out about it?

I wanted to get involved in the climate movement and fight for system change. I had been passively involved for quite some time, but last summer I decided I really wanted to contribute to the bigger picture. Bigger than in my own home. I took a pause from studying and started organizing this campaign from Milieudefensie’s office. First I was in contact with local groups of volunteers all over the country. I helped to start up groups, went there myself, called lots of people, and had many conversations with Dutch citizens. Now I went back studying, but I couldn’t really stop: so I started writing my thesis about the results of the campaign. Also, I’m still active in the local group in Amsterdam. The group of volunteers in Amsterdam used to be quite big, actually too big. That’s why we decided to work with smaller teams. After a campaign weekend at the beginning of March, we formed a group of twelve volunteers, which is just about the right size to feel nice and comfortable. In the past few weeks, we’ve been testing new questions over the phone, with people in our own network.

How can students get involved?

It is a little bit misleading, since I’m writing this in English, but this specific campaign is Dutch. This mainly is because we want to talk to Dutch citizens that are eligible to vote in the Dutch general election next year. But you can start by following the local group-page on Facebook, or if you are ready for action: join a team and start having conversations with people yourself.

We have teams all over the Netherlands, so simply look on the website to see if there’s something you would like to do within the campaign:

Are you still continuing to work on climate action, now in times of Corona? How does Covid-19 affect the way you are working and the impact you are making?

We are definitely still working on climate actions, but mostly online. Since the campaign is based on canvassing, it is very different now. We have been talking to people on the phone, and focusing on online campaigning. But reaching a wider public is more challenging now. On the other hand, Covid-19 exposes systemic failures in politics which gives us the opportunity to challenge politicians to think about necessary changes for a more just and more sustainable future.

Is there something else you would like to add?

I think having a real conversation and listening to others about topics like climate change is highly underrated. We usually avoid talking about it because the solutions aren’t always that clear and never easy. By having that conversation we notice that actually most people are concerned and want to make a change. The spirit is definitely there and we’re here uncovering it by talking to people. If we want to make a change we should realize we have to act now and act together as a people’s movement.

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