Friday the 15th of March 2019 marked a new beginning, or so they say. Kids all around the world took the future in their own hands and marched onwards in a desperate attempt to make their voices heard. “The future is ours, don’t take it away from us,” they shouted. “Time to wake up,” was written in big print. “We have no planet B,” was a common reminder. The enthusiasm was really overwhelming. Nobody expected close to 10,000 students demonstrating in Luxembourg alone. Hundreds of thousands of German students marched the streets, the biggest number of young kids demonstrating since the sixties. Even the politicians came to show, one would guess, their support. In France, a sizable number of the gilet jaune, for some reason, joined the Friday strikes. What next? An assessment and suggestions.
And then came Saturday. And then Sunday. And somehow it seems that the strikes came as quickly as they went. Everyone did their duty. We have striked. We have made our voices heard. Now it is out of our hands and in the hands of the politicians. In a sense it is similar to walking past a beggar, dropping him some coins, and feeling the warm glow encompass the body. Everyone knows that giving a couple of coins to a beggar is not bringing that person out of misery, but at least one did one’s part. I guess nobody is naive enough to believe that this climate strike is going to have a bigger effect on the world than the coin has on the beggar. It’s better than nothing, but it is not going to be enough to change the course of the world.
When I went to present the climate problem to some of the schools in Luxembourg before the Global Strike for the Future, one issue that I noticed was that the kids actually didn’t know exactly what they were striking for. Of course, they knew that it was for the climate and that there is some urgency to it, but they were missing the vital links and ingredients. It surprises me that in school they are required to know all the details about mankind’s history, but that at the same time they are so little aware about mankind’s future. While it is good to learn from past mistakes, it is also important to know how to prevent future ones. And climate change is a problem that we can learn little about when looking at the past. I would, therefore, urgently suggest that schools teach much more deeply about potential future problems, too. For example, issues such as climate change and environmental impacts, the changing family structure and life, the role of the internet, ethnic conflicts, migration, and especially human evolution via genetics deserve a much deeper look at.
Furthermore, understanding the reasons for some actions will help everyone to more carefully understand the choices involved. For example, the gilet jaune movement in France originated as a protest movement from the government’s wish to raise energy prices in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was thus even more surprising to see that a sizable number of gilet jaune protesters were actually at the Global Strike for the Future. Of course, it’s difficult to have both – low energy prices and low greenhouse gas emissions. If you strike for low energy prices you should not really strike for low greenhouse gas emissions. If someone prioritizes the climate, then this may have led to a much smaller gilet jaune movement.
I suggest this shows two points: Firstly, students, and everyone else, too, have to show that the Global Strike for Future was not a one-off event to greenwash their conscience. Why should politicians really change their approaches if they do not need to fear punishment from their voters? Why should the Global Strike for Future be constrained to students alone? What about adults? If you are too scared to strike because you may lose your job, then strike on a weekend. If you really want to make trouble, then go and organize large-scale events via labor unions. The key to success is to be a thorn in the eyes of the politicians and those naysayers who do not want to change their attitudes as they are too comfortable with their status quo. There are 52 Fridays in a year, not just one. And if that doesn’t help, then there are seven days in each week.
Secondly, everyone has to be aware that cuts in greenhouse gases tend to be costly and if you want to minimize climate change then you also have to have a willingness to bear those costs. This willingness depends on the individual’s knowledge of what drives climate change and the best ways to address this. Economists have predominently focused on efficiency tools here, such as taxes. However, individuals also care about fairness, and a common denominator is that the poor, who, compared to the rich, already spend a larger share of their income on energy, should not bear the brunt of the costs. Recognizing these issues helps to introduce policies that get a wider support.
Thus, if we don’t want same old, same old, then more education, more strikes, and a larger willingness to accept what is necessary, will certainly lead to the level of climate action that this world needs.