Marie-Claire Graf, a student at the University of Zurich, initiated the climate strikes in Switzerland and took part in the first youth climate summit in New York. She is determined and has clear ideas, arguing that a decisive shift is needed to save the planet – and ourselves.
“We’re in the midst of a crisis and we have to act accordingly,” she says. “We cannot continue to put economic profit before the health of the planet and of people. We need a substantial change of system and mentality.”
We meet her in a park in Zurich, near the train station. Grafexternal link travels only by train and by bike. A vegan, she gets annoyed whenever she has to justify her decision to lead a “sustainable lifestyle”. For example, when she declines invitations to spend a weekend in a European city. She flies only if there’s no alternative.
“Flying from Switzerland to London, Paris or Berlin is absurd,” she says.
Graf, 23, was born and raised in Gelterkinden, canton Basel Country, in northern Switzerland. She studied natural and environmental sciences for a year at the federal technology institute ETH Zurich and is currently in her final year of a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Zurich.
Passionate about nature and the mountains, she has seen for herself the effects of global warming.
“As a child, I often went with my parents to the Morteratsch Glacierexternal link. Every year, the signs indicating the edge of the glacier moved farther and farther back,” she recalls.
‘Sad, frustrated and angry’
Graf is president of the Swiss Association of Student Organisations for Sustainabilityexternal link and co-founder of Sustainability Week Switzerlandexternal link, an initiative launched in 2017 currently involving 14 Swiss cities. She is also vice-president of Swiss Youth for Climateexternal link, an association that aims to give young people a voice in the political debate on climate change, and regularly participates in international climate conferences.
Her diary has grown even busier since she began organising climate strikes in Switzerland, inspired by the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg (Fridays for Futureexternal link).
“I met her last year at the international climate conference in Katowice [COP24]. She’s a fantastic person, but we’re different. We have different approaches. In Switzerland we don’t want to give a face to the strikes or create idols – we want to show the diversity of the movement,” Graf says.
The idea of calling on young people to demonstrate on the streets was born in December 2018, after the Swiss House of Representatives rejected a revised CO2 law.
“I was sad, frustrated and angry,” she explains.
Time for action
With their strikesexternal link, young people are asking the authorities to declare a climate emergency and to commit to achieving emission neutrality by 2030.
“We need bold, ambitious and innovative policies. I don’t expect everyone to become a vegetarian and stop driving, but we need to reflect on how we produce and consume. The situation has got completely out of hand,” she says.
But almost a year after the first climate strike in Switzerland some things are changing, according to Graf. “The media, families and politicians have started to talk about it. Now, however, concrete action is needed.”
After representing young Swiss people at the first Youth Climate Summitexternal link in New York on September 21 and attending the United Nations Climate Summitexternal link, the young activist is preparing for another international event.
In December she will accompany the Swiss delegation to the COP25external link in Chile. She may reluctantly have to board a plane, although she has not ruled out travelling to South America by boat and bus.
September 28 is World News Dayexternal link, which aims to raise public awareness of the critical role that newsrooms and journalists play in providing the public with credible and reliable news and views.end of infobox
(Translated from Italian by Thomas Stephens), swissinfo.ch