Eckart von Hirschhausen | Photo: Lucia Hofmaier
On September 20, Eckart von Hirschhausen was invited by the Schöpflin Foundation to visit Lörrach. In the morning, he spoke to around 300 schoolchildren about his commitment to climate protection, and in the evening he held another talk for almost 800 interested people in the Brombach sports hall. The event was also the kick-off for the new program of the "Werkraum Schöpflin": "Proteste – Kleben. Häkeln. Demonstrieren".
In around 30 years of stage experience, Eckart von Hirschhausen has made people laugh. Yet the physician, comedian, presenter and science journalist has always had a very serious concern with the subject of health. He has brought humor and lightness to areas that many prefer to avoid or suppress, even away from his stage programs. For example, his foundation Humor hilft Heilen (Humor Helps Healing) has been involved in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices for 15 years. At the beginning of 2020, he established a second foundation, Gesunde Erde – Gesunde Menschen (Healthy Earth - Healthy People), which focuses on the "greatest health threat of the 21st century": the climate crisis.
The initial spark for the establishment of his second foundation, as he tells it himself, was an encounter with the chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall. She asked him a simple question, which he has since addressed to his audience during his performances: "If we humans are, as we always claim, the most intelligent species on the planet, then why are we destroying our own home?"
It is with such pointed questions and images that he reaches not only the minds but also the hearts of his listeners. On the morning of September 20, his audience consisted of 300 ninth to twelfth graders from Lörrach and the region. They listened spellbound, laughed and discussed. Afterwards, some of them said they had only now understood the seriousness of the situation - and would get involved immediately. Also after the event in the evening, inspired and motivated people left the almost sold-out Brombach sports hall with a smile on their faces and the strong determination to change things to the better.
But how does Eckart von Hirschhausen succeed in bringing people into action? This was one of the questions we discussed with him, colleagues and local activists in a smaller group in the afternoon. The discussion focused in particular on the connection between the climate crisis and the increasing social polarization that is endangering our democracy. The committed people from the region were particularly concerned with the question: How do you reach those you haven't already convinced?
A sobering experience reported by both the local activists and our guest was that there is little point in engaging in discussions with those who believe climate change is "fake news" and that scientists are mere puppets of a world conspiracy. We should focus on the disengaged and disenchanted who no longer believe they have control over their own destiny and have therefore withdrawn from all political and social matters - in other words, those whom our grantee More in Common has identified as "the invisible third". For Eckart von Hirschhausen, the key in reaching this group lies in the balance between necessary shake-up and optimism: what is needed is an "aha" moment and then therapeutic measures - an understanding of the urgency of the problem and, at the same time, the prospect of solutions. The more threatening news we hear, the more we go into shock and defense. This is where positive narratives can make a big difference. People need to feel concretely affected in order to take action and at the same time have the feeling that they can still do something and that their contribution counts.
However, the responsibility for a necessary change in thinking must not be shifted to the individual level alone. Rather, we need a joint effort and new alliances in the existing structures; this was another central message that Eckart von Hirschhausen came to Lörrach with. Time is pressing and it is important to understand that climate change affects all areas of society and must therefore also be addressed as a joint issue.
We as a foundation also see climate protection as a cross-cutting issue in our own work and organization: It is relevant to all our programs, but also to all internal areas. Here we are at the beginning of a journey. But we have set out on the path. We hope even more people will quickly realize that we don't have much time left for the urgently needed change and will join forces in the search for constructive solutions.
This article appeared in our October 2023 newsletter. Don't miss another issue? Click here to sign up for our newsletter (German language).