It started last spring. Something didn't feel right. It was exceptionally dry for weeks. We have a 3600-liter cistern for our small garden that was already empty. It would normally fill up from time to time and get us over the summer. But not that year. What started as a long period without rain, turned into an extremely hot summer and it just didn't stop.
You could see how the forest around us dried up, how the grass changed its color to a grayish yellow that reminded me of Southern Europe, but not Germany.
Then later in September 2018, we went camping in Portugal. Just a few weeks before, Portugal had been struck by a heatwave up to 46 degrees. We were lucky we missed that. We stayed at a campsite in central Portugal, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was incredibly beautiful but haunted by wasps. What looked like a nightmare, turned into a weird spectacle. The wasps sat on our legs, on our arms, and in our shoes, but they didn't sting. They besieged the front of our camper and followed us by the dozens when we went to fetch water. I've never seen anything like this before. We asked the owner of the campsite and he told us how the wasps are incredibly exhausted after the heatwave. They were licking our sweat, eating the dead flies from our camper and were attracted by anything that looked like water. They didn't have enough energy anymore to attack or hunt for themselves.
The empty cistern, dry forest, yellow grass or the exhausted wasps were by no means scientific evidence for climate change. I have no scientific background at all. They were personal triggers though. For the first time in my life, I was deeply worried by the heat and drought.
All of this was accompanied by more and more bad news from climate scientists from all over the world. Greta Thunberg started her first school strike in Stockholm. I began to read and learn more about it and I felt worse and more hopeless every day.
I thought that the summer of 2018 is a tipping point though. With the school strikes, there was a new form of attention. I was sure that from now on more people will follow and understand what's really happening and eventually enough politicians will follow as well.
But while kids and students around the world kept on striking and fighting for their future, the rest of the world seemed to move on. Like this is just another minor crisis we can shake off.
And yet, 2019 brought more horror scenarios. The fires in the Arctic, the Amazon, Australia, and Indonesia.
What seemed to be a crisis of the future is a crisis of today. We are right in the middle.
Let's put in a joke from Twitter to lift the mood: "Many say that this is the hottest summer in the last 100 years. But I prefer to think positive: this is probably the coolest summer in the next 100 years."
(Sorry, I can't find the source anymore)
But with all the evidence around us, why are we acting like everything will be alright? It won't be alright this time.
I've collected some of the reactions you can see and hear online and offline all the time:
- Climate change isn't real
- Climate change is real but will pass by
- Climate change is real but it's exaggerated and Greta is an alarmist
- Climate change won't affect us because …
- … it's too far in the future
- … we live in a pretty cool part of the world
- … we live in a pretty wealthy part of the world
- We will be able to fix climate change in time because …
- … someone will invent a technical solution soon
- … we also fixed the ozone hole
- … politicians will fix it
- … some god will fix it
- … someone else will fix it
- I can't do anything about climate change anyway because …
- … we are just a small part of the world
- … it has to be solved by our politicians and not by me
- … it's too expensive
- … I like the way I'm living right now and don't want to change
- … it's already too late so YOLO
- I want to do something but …
- I don't know what to do
- I can't afford it
- I don't have the time
- We are humans. We are superior to any other lifeform and we will adjust to any kind of change. Let's just buy an AC.
- I'm quite excited to see how humanity ends
All of those reactions, wether serious or not, are just a form of denial. It's too tough to accept that our way of living is no longer working out.
I see this in myself. While being deeply worried, I'm also petrified. I don't know what to do. My commitment to change hasn't gone far enough yet. I'm part of the problem. I see my kids and want a healthy world for them. I want them to grow old without worrying. But I'm also stuck in my privileged way of living. Just one more steak, one more trip with the car, one more cheap purchase online. How bad can my impact be? After all, the system around me has to change. But that's just another excuse. I'm aware of that and I'm willing to do more than I'm currently doing. I often just feel lost.
There are no simple solutions. Radical change is hard. But it's necessary this time. This crisis won't just go away if we simply wait until all students lost their energy to protest.
The more the world around us tumbles into chaos, the more we look for simple solutions. We see those large political shifts to the right in many parts of the world. The right is very good at providing simple answers to complex problems. When they can't blame them on somebody else or pretend they don't exist, they look backward to find their solutions. "We've always done it like this. It's perfectly fine to keep on doing it that way." Trying to preserve the status quo is a human instinct. Change always carries risk. It's easy to fall for their agenda if you don't want to think or act too much yourself.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking seems to erode many parts of our society. The political center here in Germany is using the same methods less radically. Stick with the status quo as long as possible and as long as it is profitable.
I often wonder if we manage to turn around fast enough before it's too late. The clock is ticking relentlessly and there's not much time left.
Sometimes I try to imagine the future in ten years from now. What happens when each year from now on will be as hot and dry as the last years – or even worse?
Looking at Western Europe: What will happen to our agriculture? To our vegetation? To our water supplies? Can we handle all of that?
Looking at the world: What happens when the wildfires around the world return and increase every year? More CO2 will get emitted, more Methane released.
Many people say we've already reached a tipping point this year. I'm not a scientist. I cannot put all of this into a realistic perspective. Everything I read sounds like a doomsday scenario.
Is this an alarmist way of thinking? Too negative? I hope so. I wish I'll look back in ten years from now and realize that it wasn't that dramatic after all. Maybe we found a way to adjust. Maybe we started to accept reality and changed our way of living.
But there's also a good chance that we will look back at today with anger and despair and wish we weren't so ignorant back then.
It's time to wake up.
Join me at the Global Climate Strike this Friday, September 20th, 2019!
I will be taking part in Heidelberg.