Féris Barkat




16 May 2023

FÉRIS BARKAT - Spokesperson for ecology in working-class neighbourhoods

At the age of 20, he is one of the leading figures of young people committed to ecology. By co-founding Banlieues Climat, he set himself the mission of raising awareness and training young people in working-class neighbourhoods about climate issues.

Féris Barkat was born in 2002, the only son of an Algerian worker father and a Moroccan mother. It grows between the popular and residential areas of Strasbourg.
His awakening to ecology begins with philosophy and continues with a course that will mark him on technique and the limit of progress. Finally, it is also a meeting, that of Vincent Thiebaut, parliamentary attaché who talks to him about permafrost.

He was admitted to the London School of Economics, which he abandoned in favour of his commitment to ecology. Back in France, he joined the Collège Citoyen de France where he will follow 200h of courses, accompanied by mentors of choice and where he will sharpen his ecological culture.

It is in spring 2022 that Féris launches using the power of the social network TikTok to get his messages across and he quickly imposes his style. In less than two months, more than 40,000 people follow him.

On the advice of Abdelaali El Badaoui (founder of the association Banlieues santé), he co-founded Banlieues Climat, aware that the future of cities depends on fighting the climate challenge.

Portrait of a spokesperson for ecology in working-class neighbourhoods.

How are working-class neighbourhoods more affected by climate change?

Inequalities are reflected in many aspects. In 2003, the heat wave killed 19,000 people, the Val de Marne and the Seine-Saint-Denis region suffered the most casualties because housing is less well isolated.

When you rank cities with the highest mortality rate, it’s always in the working-class neighbourhoods. And there are other inequalities such as food and air pollution. There are 30% more incinerators near neighbourhoods and in cities like Bagnolet, people live with a double interchange next to their homes. And if we’re talking about climate, just take concrete and green spaces. There are a lot of examples where we see a vulnerability related to environmental consequences.

Inequalities are quite strong but we are not necessarily in a perspective where engagement is a priority: they should not deal with these climate issues, Which I think is a double penalty, because we should totally take care of it precisely because we are the ones most affected and because ecology is not polar bears or some plants. It’s really a very holistic thing that starts with health and doesn’t really end, that touches us directly.

What are the priority levers to reduce climate inequalities in the suburbs?

We have to start with information. That is why Banlieues Climat is really focused on information. This is really the lever that we decided to give priority to with 9 hours of training on climate issues and we are working with the Ministry of Education to propose a certification so that the trainings are diplomas and that young people can value it on their resume.

The second lever would be resilience. When we ask young people at the end of the training, it is not necessarily the manifestation that affects them or eco-anxiety. What directly affects them is both training, being able to share what they have discovered and resilience by asking concrete questions about air pollution, food, etc.
And finally, the third would be employability.

Tomorrow, transition, ecology and the work of transition in general will be a new challenge of inequalities. And that’s also what motivated me in my commitment. Those who have the skills, the knowledge to undertake in these matters, to be faced with an employer and to be able to value skills and knowledge, they will have an advantage. While those who have not had the chance to be sensitized, trained on these issues, will not be able.

They will still be stuck in the old model because we are still rowing to catch up. How can we show that there are occupations that make sense, that are desirable and that can be useful, that we are legitimate in taking them. That is to say that there is a way out through ecology.

How can we change the imagination and adapt the stories when we talk about ecology to the young people of working-class neighbourhoods?

By speaking symbolically with cultural and symbolic references that will affect the audience concerned. This is all the more important in the neighbourhoods because there is a tremendous mental effort. I’m not saying that with Banlieues climat we have the solution, we try to propose tracks with rap or Japanese anime.

This kind of universe, they all have references and it contains within it a personification of nature and things that sometimes allow to overcome material accumulation.
But it is very difficult because they already have a lot of constraints and I add 9 constraints, the 9 planetary limits. To express precisely that these constraints are opportunities and that the opportunities of tomorrow lie in these constraints. Ultimately, it is just a framework that will allow us all to live properly and that will allow us to truly protect our parents.

To deconstruct certain misconceptions, it is essential to propose an imaginary that proves that everything is not centered on an individual who is full of money as in Naruto, in One Piece where the main characters are nothing without their friends, who do not necessarily seek to have a predefined objective, but it is the whole journey that takes precedence and therefore the treasure we don’t care.

There is a lot to be done to say that we have to change the model, even though it is still very complicated to make our voice heard. I never claim to have the solution to a new imaginary for neighborhoods. The claim of the new imaginary term would be to say that we are going to change the mental representations so that everything is desirable. My personal belief, maybe I’m wrong, is that we can’t change landmarks, mental representations that are already a little messed up, I could see it during workshops with CM1 classes-Fifth grade with students who already spend a lot of their time on TikTok.

And on the contrary, I was also able to intervene in a private school in Paris and I was shocked. There weren’t many students who were on social networks and they had climate knowledge that was super high.
If we go beyond the framework of training, what remains quite effective is art and especially music. We must ensure that artists or those who feel they are becoming artists can truly integrate these realities, these commitments, these questions, these challenges, at least in a global way. there are sentences, verses that will be able to mobilize.

And another lever is the training of influencers. There are many associations on the subject. Influencers are asking more and more questions like Seb the Frite who made a documentary about Kyrgyzstan. Things change, it is a matter of time and manner too.

You defend the idea of an emancipatory ecology, what is it?

For someone who is very rich, ecology remains a bit like a bit of a liberticide, which consists in reducing consumption or changing their behaviour. In working-class neighbourhoods, we still see that there is nothing. There is not much to reduce. The carbon footprint is already low enough.

The question is, how can you, as an individual, with the constraints that you suffer and that sometimes you do not see (e.g.: air pollution), you can emancipate yourself and ensure that there are fewer comorbidities? During the pandemic, we saw that the most comorbidity was in working-class neighbourhoods. So again there is a problem with health and sedentary lifestyles. So how do we emancipate ourselves from an individual perspective, how do we seize opportunities?

So it is for these reasons that I advocate emancipation because there are opportunities to take in the climate and ecological issue and on an individual scale to live better.

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