Switzerland Votes on Allowing Same-Sex Marriage

A contentious campaign comes to a head Sunday as Swiss voters go to the polls to decide on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed.

Earlier this month, thousands of people attended a high-spirited Pride parade in Zurich to support the legalization of same-sex marriage. They held up posters touting “Marriage for All” campaign slogans. They called for passage of the referendum that would grant gay and lesbian partners the same rights as heterosexual couples.

All Western European countries except Switzerland and Italy allow same-sex marriage. Germany and Austria were the last countries to approve such legislation in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Swiss campaigners believe this will improve chances of passing the referendum in this dominantly German-speaking country.

Opinion polls seem to uphold this view. While the gap between the yes and no campaigns has narrowed recently, the polls indicate more than 60% of the electorate support the proposal. The head of the Marriage for all Campaign, Olga Baranova, said she is confident of victory.

“Switzerland is quite a conservative country; we cannot forget it.But we have to say that for the last 20 years, people in Switzerland changed their mind completely on LGBT issues.So now people in Switzerland are ready for the same-sex marriage,” she said.

The Swiss government has endorsed the Marriage for All referendum. However, churches and right-wing political parties in this conservative, rich Alpine country oppose it. They claim legalizing same-sex marriage would undermine traditional family values.

If the proposal becomes law, lesbian and gay couples could adopt children, something they cannot legally do now. It also would grant easier access to sperm donations to lesbian couples who would want to start a family.Opponents say this would deny children their right to a father, as the identity of the sperm donor could not be revealed until the child reaches the age of 18.

Opponents vow they will not abandon this issue if the same-sex referendum passes. They note only 50,000 signatures of Swiss citizens are needed to get any matter on the ballot, in this highly democratized country.

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Germany Votes for New Leader

Germany’s 60 million eligible voters will set their country on a new course in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

The winning lawmakers will decide who will replace the country’s outgoing and popular chancellor, Angela Merkle.

The newly elected politicians will likely have to form a coalition government, meaning it may take some weeks before Merkle’s replacement is announced.

Merkle, the driving force behind Germany’s position as Europe’s leading economy, is stepping down after 16 years in Germany’s top job, in a government led by Merkle’s center-right Christian Democratic Union.

Merkle has been reluctant to throw her support behind any of the leaders of the various political parties who are vying for her job, including her vice chancellor, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party.

On Saturday, however, the German leader attended a rally for Armin Laschet, leader of the Christian Democrats.

 

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Iceland Government Poised to Win Majority, but Future Uncertain

Iceland’s government was poised to win a majority in Saturday’s election, early results showed, though it remained to be seen if Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir’s left-right coalition would agree to continue in power together.

The three-party coalition has brought Iceland four years of stability after a decade of crises.

Jakobsdottir’s Left-Green Movement, the conservative Independence Party and the center-right Progressive Party were together credited with 38 of 63 seats in parliament, with more than a third of votes counted.

But the Left-Green Movement was seen losing crucial ground to its right-wing partners, putting Jakobsdottir’s future as prime minister — and the coalition itself — in doubt.

“We will have to see how the governmental parties are doing together and how we are doing,” Jakobsdottir told AFP, as the early results showed her party losing one seat in parliament from the 11 it won in 2017.

A clear picture of the political landscape was however only expected to emerge later Sunday when all votes had been counted.

A record nine parties are expected to win seats in the Althing, Iceland’s almost 1,100-year-old parliament, splintering the political landscape more than ever before.

That makes it particularly tricky to predict which parties could ultimately end up forming a coalition.

“I know that the results will be complicated, it will be complicated to form a new government,” Jakobsdottir said.

The largest party looked set to remain the Independence Party, whose leader Bjarni Benediktsson is eyeing the post of prime minister.

It was seen holding on to its 16 seats.

But the election’s big winner appeared to be the center-right Progressive Party, which was seen gaining four seats, to 12.

‘Different opportunities’

“Because there are so many parties, I think there will be a lot of different opportunities to form a government,” Jakobsdottir told AFP earlier in the week.

During her four-year term, Jakobsdottir has introduced a progressive income tax system, increased the social housing budget and extended parental leave for both parents.

Broadly popular, she has also been hailed for her handling of the COVID-19 crisis, with just 33 deaths in the country of 370,000.

But she has also had to make concessions to keep the peace in her coalition.

She said Saturday that if returned to power, her party would focus on the “huge challenges we face to build the economy in a more green and sustainable way,” as well addressing the climate crisis where “we need to do radical things.”

This is only the second time since 2008 that a government has made it to the end of its four-year mandate on the sprawling island.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017.

‘Free-for-all’

Outgoing Finance Minister Benediktsson is a former prime minister who comes from a family that has long held power on the right.

He has survived several political scandals, including being implicated in the 2016 Panama Papers leak that revealed offshore tax havens, and is standing in his fifth election.

He said he was optimistic after the early results.

“These numbers are good, (it’s a) good start to the evening,” he told public broadcaster RUV.

But there are five other parties all expected to garner around 10-15% of votes which could band together to form various coalitions.

They are the Left-Green Movement, the Progressive Party, the Social Democratic Alliance, the libertarian Pirate Party and the center-right Reform Party. A new Socialist Party is also expected to put in a strong showing.

“There is not a clear alternative to this government. If it falls and they can’t continue, then it’s just a free-for-all to create a new coalition,” political scientist Eirikur Bergmann said. 

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UK to Offer 10,500 Post-Brexit Visas to Counter Growing Worker Crisis

Britain will issue up to 10,500 temporary work visas to truck drivers and poultry workers to ease chronic staff shortages, the government announced Saturday, in a U-turn on post-Brexit immigration policy.

The short-term visas, to run from next month until late December, come as ministers try to fix a shortfall of drivers and other key workers that has hit fuel supplies and additional industries.

A shortage of tanker drivers has caused long lines at gas stations in recent days, as people ignore government pleas not to panic-buy fuel after some stations closed thanks to the lack of deliveries.

The decision to expand the critical worker visa scheme is a reversal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government had tightened post-Brexit immigration rules insisting that Britain’s reliance on foreign labor must end.

The government had resisted the move for months, despite an estimated shortage of around 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and warnings from various sectors that supplies would run short.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps nevertheless insisted he was taking action “at the earliest opportunity” and that a broader package of measures announced would ensure pre-Christmas preparations “remain on track.”

“The industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers,” he added.

‘Skills boot camps’

The new measures will focus on rapidly expanding the number of new domestic drivers, and include deploying Ministry of Defense driving examiners to help provide thousands of extra tests over the next 12 weeks.

Meanwhile the education ministry and partner agencies will spend millions of pounds training 4,000 people to become HGV drivers, creating new “skills boot camps” to speed up the process.

Nearly 1 million letters will also be sent to all drivers who hold an HGV license, asking any not currently driving to come back to work.

Johnson has been under increasing pressure to act, after the pandemic and Brexit combined to worsen the driver shortage and other crises emerged, including escalating energy prices.

As well as threatening timely fuel supplies, the lack of truck drivers has hit British factories, restaurants and supermarkets in recent weeks and months.

U.S. burger chain McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes and bottled drinks last month, fast-food giant KFC was forced to remove some items from its menu, while restaurant chain Nando’s temporarily shut dozens of outlets because of a lack of chicken.

Supermarkets are also feeling the heat, with frozen-food group Iceland and retail king Tesco warning of Christmas product shortages.

‘It’s ridiculous’

This week it was the turn of the fuel sector, with growing lines of cars clogging the approaches to gas stations following some closures and panic-buying, particularly in southeast England.

Drivers appeared less than reassured Saturday, as lines again formed for fuel.

Mike Davey, 56, had been waiting more than half an hour to fill up at a station run by the supermarket chain Tesco in Kent, southeast of London.

“I just want to get some fuel to get to work. People are just like filling up jerry cans — it’s ridiculous,” he told AFP.

“Maybe they need to bring some army drivers in,” Davey added.

The government has so far resisted calls to deploy soldiers to help deliver gasoline directly.

As part of the measures announced, taxpayers will also help pay for some adult HGV license applications in the next academic year, which can cost thousands of pounds, through an adult education budget fund. 

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Italians Come Out to Demand Support for Afghan Women

Thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Italy on Saturday to support Afghan women and demand continued international pressure on the country’s Taliban leaders to let women participate in the educational and political life of the country. 

Among the groups organizing the protests were members of the Pangea Foundation, which had worked for 20 years on economic development projects for Afghan women before finding itself helping to evacuate them when the Taliban took over.

At the protest Saturday, Pangea supporters had a “P” drawn on their hands. It was the same “P” that Afghan women wrote on their hands to be recognized at the Kabul airport and evacuated during the chaotic weeks as Western nations ended their military missions. 

“We must continue to put pressure so that women can participate not only in education but also in the politics of their country,” Simona Lanzoni, vice president of Pangea, said during the Rome protest. “And then we must continue perhaps the humanitarian evacuations in a specific way, thinking first of all of those women who were not able to enter the airport in August but today are really risking in Afghanistan.”

The event with the slogan “#Nonlasciamolesole (“Let’s not abandon them”) brought thousands out in several Italian cities, where speakers called for a permanent observatory on women’s rights in Afghanistan at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the United Nations.

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Icelanders Vote in Volatile Election With Climate in Mind 

Icelanders were voting Saturday in a general election dominated by climate change, with an unprecedented number of political parties likely to win parliamentary seats.

 

Polls suggested there wouldn’t be an outright winner, triggering complex negotiations to build a coalition government.

 

A record nine parties could cross the 5% threshold needed to qualify for seats in Iceland’s parliament, the Althing. Upstart parties include the Socialist Party, which is promising to shorten the workweek and nationalize Iceland’s fishing industry. 

 

High turnout was expected, as one-fifth of eligible voters have already cast absentee ballots.

 

Climate change is high among voters’ concerns in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic. 

 

An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — 59 days of temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68 F) — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.  

Polls showed strong support for left-leaning parties promising to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is already committed to under the Paris climate agreement. The country has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2040, a decade ahead of most other European nations. 

 

The current government is a coalition of three parties spanning the political spectrum from left to center-right, and led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir of the Left Green Party. It was formed in 2017 after years of political instability. 

 

Jakobsdottir remains a popular prime minister, but polls suggest her party could fare poorly, ending the ongoing coalition. 

 

“The country is facing big decisions as we turn from the pandemic,” Jakobsdottir said during televised debates on Friday night in which party leaders vowed to end Iceland’s reliance on oil and many wanted to raise taxes on the rich. 

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Merkel Makes Final Push for Successor in Germany’s Knife-Edge Polls

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans Saturday to give her would-be successor Armin Laschet their vote to shape Germany’s future, in a last-ditch push to shore up his beleaguered campaign 24 hours before Germans vote.

 

Laschet, 60, has been trailing his Social Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz in the race for the chancellery, although final polls put the gap between them within the margin of error, making the vote one of the most unpredictable in recent years.

 

Merkel had planned to keep a low profile in the election battle as she prepares to bow out of politics after 16 years in power. But she has found herself dragged into the frantic campaign schedule of the unpopular chairman of her party, Laschet.

 

In the last week of the campaign, Merkel took Laschet to her constituency by the Baltic coast and on Friday headlined the closing rally gathering the conservatives’ bigwigs in Munich.

 

Merkel tugged at the heartstrings of Germany’s predominantly older electorate on Friday, calling on them to keep her conservatives in power for the sake of stability — a trademark of Germany.

 

“To keep Germany stable, Armin Laschet must become chancellor, and the CDU and CSU must be the strongest force,” she said.

 

A day before the vote, she travelled to Laschet’s hometown and constituency Aachen, a spa city near Germany’s western border with Belgium and the Netherlands, where he was born and still lives.

 

“It is about your future, the future of your children and the future of your parents,” she said at her last rally before the polls, urging strong mobilization for her conservative alliance.

 

She underlined that climate protection will be a key challenge of the next government  but said this would not be achieved “simply through rules and regulations”.

 

“For that we need new technological developments, new procedures, researchers, interested people who think about how that can be done, and people who participate,” she said.  

 

Laschet is a “bridge-builder who will get people on board” in shaping Germany to meet those challenges, she said.

 

Hundreds of thousands of people had descended on the streets on Friday urging change and greater climate protection, with a leading activist calling Sunday’s election the vote “of a century”.

 

‘Could backfire’

   

With the clock ticking down to the election, Scholz was also staying close to home at the other end of the country to chase down last votes.

 

Taking questions from voters in his constituency of Potsdam — a city on the outskirts of Berlin famous for its palaces that once housed Prussian kings — Scholz said he was fighting for “a major change in this country, a new government” led by him.  

 

He also gave a glimpse of the future government he hopes to lead, saying that “perhaps it may be enough to, for instance, form a government between the SPD and the Greens”.

 

Scholz, currently finance minister in Merkel’s coalition government, has avoided making mistakes on the campaign trail, and largely won backing as he sold himself as the “continuity candidate” after Merkel in place of Laschet.

 

Described as capable but boring, Scholz has consistently beaten Laschet by wide margins when it comes to popularity.

 

As election day loomed, Laschet’s conservatives were closing the gap, with one poll even putting them just one percentage point behind the SPD’s 26 percent.

 

Laschet went into the race for the chancellery badly bruised by a tough battle for the conservatives’ chancellor candidate nomination.

 

Nevertheless, his party enjoyed a substantial lead ahead of the SPD heading into the summer.

 

But Laschet was seen chuckling behind President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he paid tribute to victims of deadly floods in July, an image that would drastically turn the mood against him and his party.

 

As polls showed the lead widening for the SPD, the conservatives turned to their greatest asset — the still widely popular Merkel.

 

Yet roping in the chancellor is not without risks, said political analyst Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin’s Free University.

 

“Merkel is still the most well-liked politician. But the joint appearances can become a problem for Laschet because they are then immediately being compared to each other,” he said.

 

“And it could therefore backfire because people could then think that Merkel is more suitable than Laschet.”

 

 

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Refugees in Turkey Fearful as Sentiment Turns Against Them

Fatima Alzahra Shon thinks neighbors attacked her and her son in their Istanbul apartment building because she is Syrian.  

 

The 32-year-old refugee from Aleppo was confronted on Sept. 1 by a Turkish woman who asked her what she was doing in “our” country. Shon replied, “Who are you to say that to me?” The situation quickly escalated.

 

A man came out of the Turkish woman’s apartment half-dressed, threatening to cut Shon and her family “into pieces,” she recalled. Another neighbor, a woman, joined in, shouting and hitting Shon. The group then pushed her down a flight of stairs. Shon said that when her 10-year-old son, Amr, tried to intervene, he was beaten as well.

Shon said she has no doubt about the motivation for the aggression: “Racism.”

 

Refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria once were welcomed in neighboring Turkey with open arms, sympathy and compassion for fellow Muslims. But attitudes gradually hardened as the number of newcomers swelled over the past decade.

 

Anti-immigrant sentiment is now nearing a boiling point, fueled by Turkey’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the prices of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward the country’s roughly 5 million foreign residents, particularly the 3.7 million who fled the civil war in Syria.

 

In August, violence erupted in Ankara, the Turkish capital, as an angry mob vandalized Syrian businesses and homes in response to the deadly stabbing of a Turkish teenager.

 

Turkey hosts the world’s largest refugee population, and many experts say that has come at a cost. Selim Sazak, a visiting international security researcher at Bilkent University in Ankara and an advisor to officials from the opposition IYI Party, compared the arrival of so many refugees to absorbing “a foreign state that’s ethnically, culturally, linguistically dissimilar.”  

 

“Everyone thought that it would be temporary,” Sazak said. “I think it’s only recently that the Turkish population understood that these people are not going back. They are only recently understanding that they have to become neighbors, economic competitors, colleagues with this foreign population.”

 

On a recent visit to Turkey, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi acknowledged that the high number of refugees had created social tensions, especially in the country’s big cities. He urged “donor countries and international organizations to do more to help Turkey.”

 

The prospect of a new influx of refugees following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has reinforced the unreceptive public mood. Videos purporting to show young Afghan men being smuggled into Turkey from Iran caused public outrage and led to calls for the government to safeguard the country’s borders.

 

The government says there are about 300,000 Afghans in Turkey, some of whom hope to continue their journeys to reach Europe.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who long defended an open-door policy toward refugees, recently recognized the public’s “unease” and vowed not to allow the country to become a “warehouse” for refugees. Erdogan’s government sent soldiers to Turkey’s eastern frontier with Iran to stem the expected flow of Afghans and is speeding up the construction of a border wall.

 

Immigration is expected to become a top campaign topic even though Turkey’s next general election is two years away. Both Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the nationalist IYI Party have promised to work on creating conditions that would allow the Syrian refugees’ return. waste collection fees foreigners there to propel them to leave.  

 

Following the anti-Syrian violence in the Altindag district of Ankara last month, Umit Ozdag, a right-wing politician who recently formed his own anti-immigrant party, visited the area wheeling an empty suitcase and saying the time has come for the refugees to “start packing.”

 

The riots broke out on Aug. 11, a day after a Turkish teenager was stabbed to death in a fight with a group of young Syrians. Hundreds of people chanting anti-immigrant slogans took to the streets, vandalized Syrian-run shops and hurled rocks at refugees’ homes.

 

A 30-year-old Syrian woman with four children who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals said her family locked themselves in their bathroom as an attacker climbed onto their balcony and tried to force the door open. The woman said the episode traumatized her 5-year-old daughter and the girl has trouble sleeping at night.

 

Some shops in the area remain closed, with traces of the disturbance still visible on their dented, metal shutters. Police have deployed multiple vehicles and a water cannon on the streets to prevent a repeat of the turmoil.

 

Syrians are often accused of failing to assimilate in Turkey, a country that has a complex relationship with the Arab world dating back to the Ottoman empire. While majority Muslim like neighboring Arab countries, Turks trace their origins to nomadic warriors from central Asia and Turkish belongs to a different language group than Arabic.

 

Kerem Pasaoglu, a pastry shop owner in Istanbul, said he wants Syrians to go back to their country and is bothered that some shops a street over have signs written in Arabic instead of Turkish.

 

“Just when we said we are getting used to Syrians or they will leave, now the Afghans coming is unfortunately very difficult for us,” he said.

 

Turkey’s foreign minister this month said Turkey is working with the United Nations’ refugee agency to safely return Syrians to their home country.

 

While the security situation has stabilized in many parts of Syria after a decade of war, forced conscription, indiscriminate detentions and forced disappearances continue to be reported. Earlier this month, Amnesty International said some Syrian refugees who returned home were subjected to detention, disappearance and torture at the hands of Syrian security forces, proving that going back to any part of the country is unsafe.

 

Shon said police in Istanbul showed little sympathy when she reported the attack by her neighbors. She said officers kept her at the station for hours, while the male neighbor who threatened and beat her was able to leave after giving a brief statement.

 

Shon fled Aleppo in 2012, when the city became a battleground between Syrian government forces and rebel fighters. She said the father of her children drowned while trying to make it to Europe. Now, she wonders whether Turkey is the right place for her and her children.

 

“I think of my children’s future. I try to support them in any way I can, but they have a lot of psychological issues now and I don’t know how to help them overcome it,” she said. “I don’t have the power anymore. I’m very tired.

 

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‘A Lot of Impatience’: Youth Climate Protesters Return to the Streets

Young climate activists from Greta Thunberg’s Friday for Future movement resumed mass street protests on Friday for the first time since the pandemic began, demanding drastic action from global leaders ahead of U.N. climate talks in November.

From Nairobi to Washington, marchers — including Thunberg, who joined protests in Berlin — carried placards and homemade banners during the demonstrations, which drew fewer protesters than before COVID-19 in most cities.

“It’s slightly disappointing there are less people than there used to be, but people will come back. The problem is not going away,” said Erin Brodrick, 17, one of about 250 protesters in London’s Parliament Square.

Before the pandemic, the square often overflowed with activists during larger Friday marches.

Brodrick said young people “feel really scared about the future of the planet” as they see climate change impacts strengthen and emissions continue to rise, despite a raft of political promises to slash them.

But because underage protesters cannot vote, “what else can I do but come out here?” she said, wielding a green “Planet Over Politics” sign.

In Barcelona, about 200 youth activists, children and parents joined a protest around a cloth depicting the Earth, showing their support for a court action launched in June aimed at forcing the Spanish government to boost its climate policy.

Gathered in the Catalan capital’s main square, they also demanded a stop to a planned expansion of Barcelona’s airport.

Filip Frey, a 23-year-old Polish activist studying engineering in Barcelona, said younger people will be the ones who pay for the selfish actions of politicians who “only care about their publicity, their money, their power.”

“We are just furious and angry,” he said, urging society as a whole to join the youth protests. “If we don’t do anything, nothing will change and we will just burn or drown.”

‘Not being heard’

In Nairobi, where about 30 activists in green-and-white T-shirts gathered in a central park, many said there was little evidence politicians were listening to their pleas to work faster to cut emissions and curb climate risks.

“Young people have been speaking up for years now and there is a lot of impatience … We want to begin seeing governments taking rapid action,” said Elizabeth Wathuti, head of campaigns for the Wangari Maathai Foundation, a local environmental group.

“We’ve been speaking out about this, but our voices are not being heard,” she said, adding that “we’re the ones that have to live with the consequences of the inaction.”

Patricia Kombo, another activist, said one aim of the protest was to push politicians to commit to more aggressive action on climate change ahead of the upcoming international COP26 U.N. climate negotiations in Glasgow, starting Oct. 31.

“We’ve had a lot of climate talks but what we get is empty promises. We want real climate action at COP26 because we can’t wait any longer,” she said as activists waved signs saying, “Stand up for climate justice” and “Later is too late.”

Protesters gathered in Washington said they were pushing for a comprehensive $3.5 trillion national U.S. climate bill and an immediate transition to green energy, said Magnolia Mead, one of the organizers.

Jamie Minden, 18, a student at Washington’s American University, said the movement’s return to large-scale protests was crucial to keeping up pressure for climate action.

“It is so critical to get back out in the streets – it’s not the same online,” she said. Street protests “get a lot more attention.”

Activist Shelby Grace Tucker, 14, who had come to the protest from Baltimore, said getting back on the streets felt “really empowering” and was a way for younger people – who might not otherwise be able to garner attention, to “still make a difference.”

Merging movements

To weather the pandemic, Fridays for Future largely moved online, with education programs and other events, though small groups continued to protest on the streets.

But the group also used the time to try to broaden the movement and coordinate its work with social pushes on other issues including race.

Sasha Langeveldt, 24, a Black Fridays for Future activist now working for the Friends of the Earth nonprofit, said that as activists grew older the movement needed to focus more on turning protesters into voters.

Langeveldt said young people were increasingly taking climate action into their own hands as well, citing an online green jobs summit in London she is helping organize in October. “We want to show politicians things can actually change,” she said.

Rowan Riley, 29, a London architect at the protest, agreed, saying he was now part of the London Energy Transformation Initiative, working on changing building design and regulation with climate change and renewable energy in mind. “We have to find other ways to influence things. It’s not always about the numbers at protests,” he said.

Carrying a “Grandparents and Elders” flag at the London march, Pat Farrington, 78, said she wanted to see governments “take everything more seriously.”

That should include training more young people for green jobs like installing insulation or solar panels, and doing more to help the public understand the potential economic benefits of a climate-smart transition.

“Right now, people say, ‘I can’t afford a posh electric car,’ and they feel their pockets are being picked,” she said. 

 

 

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