Our Climate Catastrophe The Kids Aren't Nearly Angry Enough

The school children who have been protesting to stop climate change every Friday have understood a basic truth: They are being betrayed. By politicians. By business leaders. And by an entire generation of denialists.
Participants at a Fridays for Future demonstration against climate change in Berlin

Participants at a Fridays for Future demonstration against climate change in Berlin


Imagine this: You and your partner have a child of primary-school age with a rare hereditary disease. By the time they're 18, they will begin to experience increasingly severe pain and other unpleasant side effects. Their life expectancy will be severely reduced.

There is, however, a treatment that could potentially hinder the outbreak of this disease. It's expensive and, because it's still experimental, it isn't covered by your health insurance. To pay for it, you'll have to make some financial sacrifices, like selling your car or not going on any trips abroad for a while.

Would you tell your child that you had thought about it, but they were simply asking too much?

Would you tell them that the practicality, the sheer experience of driving a car and your family's annual road trip were, frankly, more important than their well-being? Would you tell them to stop making such a fuss, after all, it's impossible to know how bad the pain will eventually get and how much shorter their life will be?

Would you, if your child protested, call them spoiled and selfish?

One Day We May Not Have Clouds

At the end of March, the German governmental commission tasked with developing measures for the reduction of street-traffic CO2 emissions "agreed" on so-called targets. But these targets have one minor flaw: They won't be sufficient to fulfill Germany's already underwhelmingly moderate climate goals by 2030. This might have something to do with the fact that lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry and the automobile industry's trade association were on the commission. It was as if Boris Yeltsin and Amy Winehouse were put in charge of reining in alcohol abuse.

It's now clear that man-made global warming is already having serious consequences. In the near future, these will become catastrophic. Anyone who still struggles to imagine this should read an editorial  by David Wallace-Wells, author of the book "The Uninhabitable Earth."

The consequences will include cities with millions of inhabitants rendered uninhabitable by heat, widespread flooding of coastal regions (in which hundreds of millions of people live), catastrophically long droughts, water shortages, crop failures, gigantic forest and brush fires and, as a result, untold millions of climate refugees. It will happen at all once, and it will only get worse and worse. If we're very unlucky, one day we may not have clouds.

Today's Children Will Either Suffer or Die

Each day, I find it harder to fathom how people with children and grandchildren can ignore all this. Their cognitive defense mechanisms must be working at full tilt, devaluing dissonant information or devaluing -- often aggressively -- the conveyers of such information.

Just read the comments under the Facebook posts of regional newspapers that cover the Fridays4Future/SchoolStrike4Climate protests. Protesting students are told they could use a good "smack upside the head" or "a good thrashing." At times, sending them to go to "work camps" is considered as a punitive measure. It's shocking -- and revealing -- just how much aggression is being targeted not only at Greta Thunberg, but also at others who have been inspired by her.

The metaphorical child from the opening paragraph faces a future in which he or she will suffer terribly and die early. But if they dare complain, the older generation will happily give them a licking. That's the current state of things for the world's youth.

And please spare me the retort "but Professor So-and-so said." The debate around whether mankind is to blame for climate change is over. There is global consensus. The only people who refuse to get onboard are Donald Trump and far-right populists like Germany's Beatrix von Storch of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. For years, countless lies were told and people were deliberately misled about the climate -- by people on the payroll of the very industries that make their shareholders rich with fossil fuels.

The Kids Aren't Nearly Angry Enough

Between 2011 and 2017 alone, the German federal government spent over 8 billion euros ($9 billion) on coal subsidies, but less than 6 billion euros on research on renewable energies. Since the 1960s, coal has cost taxpayers between 200 and 300 billion euros. We Germans are all helping to finance the catastrophe. Even the automobile industry gets money from us every year.

Think about this every time you hear someone say that renewable energy "isn't competitive."

In my opinion, the kids aren't nearly angry enough.

My suspicion is that the adult climate-change appeasers -- let's not even talk about the deniers anymore -- are telling themselves stories to keep themselves calm.

"It won't be so bad."

"It will be bad in Africa and Asia, but not here."

"We will find some kind of technological solution in time."

"It doesn't matter what we do, the other countries aren't participating."

That is all self-deception. We have another 10 years to change course. Not more.

Imagine a world in which 10 or 20 times as many people are refugees.

To hope for a magical technological solution would be like the parents in the aforementioned example waiting for a miracle. Don't get me wrong, I hope everything will work out in the end. But there are risks that one simply doesn't take.

It's Time to Fight Back

And if Germany, a high-tech nation, can't reach its own goals, then how -- and why -- should a developing nation try to do it? If we followed the argument "but all the others are doing it," we might as well start dealing heroin, state-sponsored.

The generation of people that are currently under the age of 25 will suffer the worst from the catastrophe. That makes it surprising that the world's entire university student population hasn't been starting to take to the streets on Friday as well. But I suspect that will change.

There are currently a lot of vivid examples of older people consciously making decisions against the interests of the younger generation, out of dogmatism, greed or recklessness -- or a mixture of all three.

But it's becoming increasingly clear that this betrayed generation won't allow this to go on for much longer. That they will use their deep knowledge of the digital public sphere for their own purposes, and the examples are already there: U.S. gun laws, EU copyright law reform, Brexit and climate policy. The young have started fighting back.

And they shouldn't stop.

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