The second largest city in Greece – and its northern capital as it is lovingly called – is Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is also the birthplace of the first eco-conscious movement and established organization. The Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki, or in Greek, the ‘Oikologiki Kinisi’ was officially founded in 1982 and is the oldest group of its kind in Greece. It was established during a period in world affairs when the science focusing on climate change was beginning to gather valuable and sobering data.
Although the concept of humans altering the climate was first proposed in the 1800’s, the 20th century was when technology really allowed for more concrete and conclusive findings such as calculating the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and the ability to create powerful and useful models of the atmosphere. The EMT has since become a more broadly political group whose eco-conscious policies focus on the environment, establishing peace and eliminating violence, and promoting human, rights and democracy in societies throughout the world. An important element of their methodology is to highlight the way our everyday habits and lifestyles affect the natural world. Referred to as social ecology, this critical view examines humans’ control of the Earth and thus our responsibility for it, and its concerns include tackling problems like our production and consumption habits, which have depleted natural resources but have also added to the growing piles of trash polluting the environment.
A movement like this is important for a major city like Thessaloniki but also for Greece in general. Such movements and organizations have saved forests and other ecosystems from being cut down or corrupted, but they have also created a network and gathering place for people to come together to build a better world.
The Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki has even sponsored an annual event called the GreenWave Festival. It has been a staple event in the eco-conscious community since 2011 and has inspired other similar festivals and events in the Thessaloniki area. This movement became an integral part of public policy discussion and public-consciousness in Thessaloniki, as is evident from the founding of a dedicated work space for new projects and ideas. The space, called the Oikopolis or ‘Eco City’, describes itself as a place for “a parallel city for ecology and social solidarity.”
The Thessaloniki community went a step further and established a similar free and safe space, but this time dedicated to helping the many refugees now living in Greece as a result of war and conflict in their home countries.
The Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki and other like-minded groups have evolved with the times. They are dedicated to aiding the needy and alleviating the social and political troubles our everyday life, which has of course changed in both small and vast ways for each generation. The Ecological Movement represents all that is good in people, which is the empathy and care for other people, animals, and the planet After all, we are all connected in infinite ways.
So what did it take for a movement like this to take shape in Thessaloniki? Within the last decade, the refugee crisis in Europe has become increasingly urgent. Due to the unrelenting conflicts in the regions surrounding Greece, many people searching for safety have come to our shores. In Thessaloniki, a group of people sought to help provide some relief for refugees. They began providing the basic necessities like clothing and a place to wash their clothes – as well as a food shelter which provides several professionally prepared meals a day. This group of people from the Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki were called to action by what they saw happening in the refugee camps near Thessaloniki and at the northern border of Greece. In addition to these material and nutritional aids, the EMT group also provided resources and assistance for mental and emotional health – those are perhaps the most needful things for people now living as refugees, as their experiences have caused them immense stress and trauma. They want to help refugees become part of the society they are now living in and create a social-equilibrium where every person is validated and appreciated.
In the shadow of these human and social crises is a still greater crisis that could curtail all the progress in society. Climate Change is the biggest threat to the survival of humanity. Our planet is at a tipping point where further deterioration could make our planet uninhabitable. Throughout Earth’s history, there have been slight changes in climate and that contributed to mass extinctions of species like the dinosaurs. Those changes and catastrophes can be traced to changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun or freak accidents of nature like an asteroid impact. But according to NASA, this incredibly fast and high warming we are currently experiencing is due to human activity and exploitation of natural resources. And as we continue to produce and consume through dangerous means and rates, we are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This molecule is good at trapping heat along with its even meaner cousin methane. When these elements trap massive amounts of heat, it creates more destruction in the Earth’s ecosystems by causing things like glacial melting, which leads to a domino effect of other problems. On average, the climate is warming ten times faster than before the presence of modern humans. These changes in geological processes are causing oceans to warm and sea levels to rise, as well as spurring more extreme weather events. The communities that will be most devastated by these changes are already vulnerable and in situations of poverty and lack of access to resources. The Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki and other groups observed the signs of these perils in their city, especially through the eyes of refugees in cramped camps.
In all its endeavors, the Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki has chosen sustainability, whether it be providing healthy food to vulnerable communities from markets that have would have just thrown it away, or using bikes to transports these goods. The movement is also sustainable in its human approach which educates and uplifts in dignified and impactful ways and it is an example of what can be accomplished when people invest in their communities. Thessaloniki may not be the capital of Greece but it is certainly can be called the capital of activism and progress in the country.