Climate Change: don't let anyone tell you it will end badly.
Do you know what I find most annoying about climate change? That it doesn't go away. It is there all the time. A constant threat. The knowledge that this is just the beginning. When I was growing up in the 90s and the beginning of the noughties, there was a belief in progress. Everything changes for the better. I had a Nintendo, an Eastpak, and 99 problems, of which the climate wasn't one of them.
How different is it for the children who are growing up now. They take to the streets because they are so worried about their future. Psychologists warn that a generation is growing up with 'eco-anxiety'. I know that feeling. It feels like a thick blanket of fear and guilt that you can't get away from. Fear of the consequences of global warming. Guilt for causing it, for your influence on the climate, which is everywhere: in the stuff you buy, in the food you eat, and in the journeys you make.
Everything has an impact on the earth, and there is far too much of that impact. And so it doesn't go away. The 'climate problem' is not going away. Because of us, humans, the temperature rose just a single degree, and that extra warming that we are now causing is irreversible in the coming centuries. The ice caps that are now disappearing will not return. The oceans that acidify because of the CO2 emissions will remain acidic in the coming centuries. The coral that dies remains dead. And you can regret that we are changing the world so radically, but the Earth doesn't care what we need.
That's the tragic part: the climate doesn't negotiate with us. It only responds to one signal: the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As long as we continue to emit, that concentration increases. And as long as that concentration increases, it gets warmer and warmer. Inexorable. We cannot deal with such uncompromising logic. We are not used to it. If I say something mean to my mother today, I can apologize tomorrow and bring a bunch of flowers. But you can't say sorry to the climate. A higher sea level is a higher sea level, period.
I would love to return to the carelessness I felt at the beginning of the noughties. But I don't succeed. I recently read that car emissions are still rising, despite the fact that there are more electric cars on the road. The reason is that people started buying more SUVs at the same time. So while we know what's going on with the climate, we're making it worse all the time.
I recently heard one Shell chief say that "the earth is dying." A week later, another Shell CEO said his company has no choice but to continue drilling for more oil and gas. Because "that's what the world economy demands." Intolerable, but true. And yes, Greta Thunberg has given furious speeches about it. Yes, protesters took to the streets. But what has that gotten us?
The main consequence of more climate activism sometimes seems to be more resistance, more polarization. People get the feeling that they are not allowed to do anything anymore. That their freedom is taken away.
Flying to Bali - not allowed anymore.
Eating meat - not allowed anymore.
Driving a normal gasoline car - not allowed anymore.
If you could design one problem that would provoke as many people as possible, then it was climate change. Nobody wants to be responsible for a problem that we are all responsible for.
Now the climate debate is developing very quickly. One day it'll all look better than the other. But when I look at the climate debate now, I do not get the feeling that we have started a "transition" as a society, as a collective. I rather get the feeling that we are falling apart like a badly mixed meatball.
I know: I won't tell you anything you don't already know. I only repeat the problem for the umpteenth time. And add an extra bit of despair. But when I thought about it a little longer, I realized that it does connect us, that despair. We would all rather that the climate wasn't there. So we are all in this together: we actually have never been so connected.
My emissions have an impact on heatwaves in India. The emissions of an Indian have consequences for our coastline. We are really sitting together under one blanket, and that blanket is the atmosphere. That thin shell of air that surrounds the planet Earth. The only place we know that harbours life: our home. So it doesn't make much sense to wish the climate problem away.
Climate change is here and it’s not going away anymore. We have changed it, and that has disastrous consequences for millions of people, animals, and places. For the tens of thousands of people, for example, who already left the Mekong delta in Vietnam because saltwater intrusion makes agriculture impossible. For the people in Miami, where spring tide causes streets to flood. For future generations of Dutch people, who will have to build higher and higher dikes so as not to lose the battle against the sea. For the countless animals that have almost become extinct because there is no room for them on this earth anymore.
This is it. And it sucks.
We're all under that blanket. And we all have to learn to live with that. We all have to change, even if we don't feel like it. That connects us. We can act from that connection. We have to do our utmost not to let it get out of hand. We have to limit damage in the only way that works anyway: reducing greenhouse gas emissions at lightning speed.
And you already know what that means. It means that we have little choice. We have to:
- and stop flying,
- and stop eating meat daily,
- and get rid of that gasoline car,
- and make good examples of synergy between environment and industrial policies,
- and make agriculture sustainable,
- and buy less stuff,
- and so on, so on, so on...
And I know that many people will find this a tiring list. Just as tiring as the climate itself. And yes, it's annoying that a lot needs to be done, I think so too. But we don't have to do it all by ourselves. Politics has the task of creating basic conditions capable of producing development that is good for our planet, which promotes green measures and that overcomes challenges made by interests within the fossil-fuel industry. Simply said: things that are bad for the climate become more expensive and difficult, and things that are good become cheaper and easier to achieve. And then, to some extent, it becomes second nature. And as long as the government does not implement the right policy, we have to ask for such a policy.
And do you know what it is? If we look back in a few decades and see how society has been made more sustainable, then all those steps that we ourselves have taken were not sacrifices. They were necessary steps to collect a huge loot, namely a sustainable way of life on the only planet we have. Imagine what lies ahead:
less heat waves,
less sea level rise,
no more wars over oil,
less conflict over scarce resources and water,
a stable food supply.
Justice for the people who have contributed almost nothing to global warming, and yet are hit hardest by it. For those people, we've got to get everything in order and clean the world up. Do you know what I hope for? That we learn to talk about climate change in a way that doesn't drive us further apart. That we find connections, instead of deepening the gap. And I think that's possible, as soon as we realize that we are all participating, that we all live under that same blanket.
Every step makes sense. Every tonne of CO2 that we do not emit is a win. Every piece of forest that is not cut down, is a win. Every nature area that is preserved is progress. And don't let anyone tell you that he already knows how bad things will be at the end. Because we can't know that at all.
In the end, that is always the biggest source of hope for me: the behavior of CO2 particles is predictable. Humans are not.