I swear, I did try to write a “year in review” for 2019, but again, I was very much failing to compress a year with massive ups and downs (with a mild emphasis on downs, I think) into one cohesive blog post. So I think, what I’ll do instead is try to write several posts on the various themese that dominated 2019 and that will probably dominate 2020 as well for me.
This first post is, well, you may have guessed it from the title, about our climate crisis. 2019 was, after the foreshadowing by the super hot summer of 2018, the year where nobody could (any longer) deny the existence of a climate crisis. Now, of course, I was aware of climate change for a long time. As a studied environmental engineer and with a somewhat solid base of knowledge in natural sciences, it’s not as if I could have escaped it in any way. In fact, during all of my time at university (1996-2002) this was already an ongoing discussion. Heck, my main work experience project was a thing called “climate network” (Klimanet), a website that educated public schools on how to save energy. My diploma thesis was working on solar chargers for rural Namibia, a project meant to aide rural communities in cutting down on gas lamps and open fires.
But even with all that information available to me, I have to admit that I was able to push this knowledge rather far to the back of my mind and I haven’t been a particularly good exemplar of a climate protecting citizen. For one I wasn’t (and still ain’t but more on that later) a vegetarian or vegan. But also, my okay-ish popularity as a public speaker at tech conferences lead to a pretty solid record of flights within greater Europe (and just last year, I added a flight to Singapore).
But also, while I did shake my head at the failures of our politicians to take the climate crisis seriously quite regularly, my actions were pretty much limited to the usual snarky tweet and the occasional blog post. That is obviously not enough given the direness of the situation. It is hard to pinpoint the exact time at which I finally realised how far into a full blown crisis we a have already descended, but I do remember that seeing the images of the wild fires in the arctic (mainly in Siberia) did throw me into mental turmoil and a sense of dread I have probably not felt before in my life.
I will not try to summarise the current state of the climate crisis, other people are much better at that than I am. Just so much: Given all information I currently have, I am quite convinced that we have roughly 10 years to turn this ship around and decarbonise the world’s economies. Otherwise we’ll head towards unimaginable human suffering that will lead to billions of people dying of hunger, war, famines and freak weather incidents.
And so I started to look for ways to do more. Traditional politics still doesn’t really feel like an option to me and so I started to work in a movement you may have heard of, called Extinction Rebellion. I am still not 100% sure this is the right choice and there’s tons of things I am not happy with, but I am not sure this would be different with any other movement. I am not very good at hardcore civil disobedience (which is the main protest form of Extinction Rebellion), but I am somewhat okay with community organisation and so I took a couple of background roles where I organise events and help in some other ways.
I also helped as a marshal during the last few Fridays For Future protests here in Hamburg, which is a very satisfying and low effort way of helping one of the movements that gave me the most hope through this last year. The amount of pressure (albeit with abysmal results so far, but that’s not their fault) FFF was able to put on for such a young movement is super inspiring. This friday, FFF’s founder, Greta Thunberg, will be in Hamburg and I hope my marshalling job will somehow allow me to see her speaking.
Political activism is something that doesn’t come naturally to me and I am still somewhat struggling with it, but at least I have the feeling that I’m doing something useful.
But what are you personally doing
You may wonder now, what I am doing personally (apart from the activism) to help. To which I have to answer in two parts.
The first one is an outright rejection of the actual question. We need to stop focussing on the individual contributions. Our personal, individual impact on the emission of green house gases is not zero, but in contrast to the biggest contributors (mostly fossil fuel companies like oil drillers and coal diggers) it is almost neglegible (with two notable exceptions…). Also, consumer choice, which is alway given as an example of how people are supposed to be able to influence “the market” is much more limited than we think in many cases. Which is why the most important change needs to happen in the bigger economy and thus via political change, which is why political protest and activism is so important.
Now, there are two things we as individuals can actually do that do have an impact. The first one is fly less. I’ve already started to take this more seriously, with considering trains within Europe wherever possible or just outright refusing to travel if it feels not important enough given the impact that it has. For flights I have to take for one reason or another, I am trying to do a proper CO2 compensation which is only the second best thing, but it’s also not completely usesless.
The other thing is eating less or no meat. For a lot of people I know, being a vegan or vegetarian seems to work fine and that’s by far the solution with the most impact. For me, personally, I haven’t yet been able to go full vegetarian or vegan. That being said, my intake of animal products, whether it’s meat, dairy or eggs has been drastically reduced over the last few years. Not being super strict about it allows me to give in to my cravings occasionally while still very much minimising the impact. I know this can sound a little like a cop out (and it does have a questionable focus on the CO2 impact while largely ignoring things like animal cruelty), but given my current resources it seems to be the best I can do right now. If I can find the time, I will probably write about my current diet to explain this a bit more.
Image on top: Taken from US Department of Agriculture @ flickr and processed.