Supporters of the biodiversity petition demonstrate for better species protection in Munich, Bavaria. | Photograph: Georg Kurz

“The biodiversity petition uses the same tools as right-wing populists”

Supporters of the biodiversity petition demonstrate for better species protection in Munich, Bavaria. | Photograph: Georg Kurz

By Kimberly Nicolaus

The Bavarian petition “biodiversity – save the bees” is the most successful in the state’s history. But critics see the petition as too short-sighted or even connect its success with populism.

Around 18.4 percent of eligible voters in Bavaria signed from 31th of January to 13th of February the petition on preserving species diversity, popularly known as the “save the bees” campaign, initiated by the Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP). For the organizers, including the Greens and the Bavarian regional association for bird protection (LBV), already 10 percent would have been sufficient, so that the state government is obliged to discuss the new bill on Bavarian nature conservation law. However, critics disagree with these demands and some even find that the organizers have stirred up fear.

“The biodiversity petition uses the same tools as right-wing populists after all, and that annoys me”, says Mike Streibl, member of the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP). He argues that the slogan “save the bees” massively aimed to stir up fear and described a particular issue which gives people cause for concern and has been circulating for years: If the bee becomes extinct, humanity will be destroyed as well. In the petition, the content would hardly be about the bee, but much more about obligations for farmers. For example: banning the use of pesticides, keeping a distance of 5 meters to all streams and rivers where farmers are not allowed to grow crops. Nevertheless, the bee would have been paramount in the campaign. That’s why he tweeted: “The only thing, that this success shows, is that the people are susceptible to populism.”

Opponents of the petition can be found not only in politics but also at the Bavarian Farmers Association. Although Press spokesman Markus Peters is not a supporter of the campaign, he praises its slogan: “‘Save the bees’ is just well done – a topic focused on a living being.” In contrast to FDP, he doesn’t consider the petition as populist. “It would not be populist until parties engage in such a simplification, but I believe we have passed that point.” In the view of the Bavarian Farmers Association “save the bees” is too short-sighted. The campaign would just launch measures and bans on agriculture, which would not be an overall solution for the complex problem of saving biodiversity because also surface sealing by new buildings or commercial areas would threaten the species.

“If 44 percent of the area in Bavaria is used for agriculture, what happens on these areas certainly has a decisive influence on the development of biodiversity”, counters Georg Kurz, member of the board of the German Young Greens. Therefore, agriculture is required to take appropriate action to achieve the main goal of “preserving biodiversity”. For this purpose, several changes in the Bavarian nature conservation law are to be made: Among others, organic cultivation is to be purposefully expanded, biotopes are to be better networked, riparian strips better protected and the use of pesticides is to be reduced.

In addition, Kurz says, that the slogan “save the bees” is not just about the honey bee: she is a symbol of the other thousand species which are threatened. “It’s not a populist petition. We didn’t just invent demands. We’re supported both by practice, among others by the umbrella organization of organic farms, as well as by the science.” For example, the petition is being supported by researchers from the Max Planck Institute, who confirm that the current loss of biodiversity is curbed by the required changes in the law.

Regardless of the communication style, “save the bees” has led to disagreements among those affected. That’s why Markus Söder, leader of Christian-Social Union (CSU) and part of the governing coalition, will plan to find a solution that will “save the bees and the farmers”.