This text was written from a German viewpoint.
Even if our daily lives are not yet gravely impacted, we as humanity are standing in front of an existential threat. Our climate is warming rapidly. Technical progress combined with our standard of living have put us on a path to climate breakdown.
When I was twenty, my take on the climate crisis was “we will figure it out along the way”. I had the belief that with some kind of invention we would be able to pull around. Furthermore, the scenario did not sound so serious to me yet.
Today, ten years later, I think differently. I am a lot more sceptical about a magical technical fix. I accept the climate crisis as a huge global challenge. We cannot continue like this, we have a moral obligation to change. In this post, I want to tell my story: how I changed from a car addict to a climate activist.
Why am I doing this publicly? Unfortunately, many of us, including myself, often live in a state of denial. Climate emergency is too abstract, too far away or too uncomfortable. However, the problem is so pressing that the climate crisis needs to take center stage in our society and our collective actions. I want to contribute to this through taking up a public position. Also, it helps me to organize my thoughts into a coherent argumentation.
Human caused global warming is with extremely high certainty a fact. The scientific community is clear: we are on our way in a three degrees plus hotter future.
In the sixth report of the IPCC, which is the most prominent scientific body for climate change, it is written:
Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above 1850–1900 in 2011–2020. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals (high confidence).
That temperature increase has grave consequences for e.g. the risk to die of heat.
The consequence is that whole regions are becoming inhabitable without technical support. The IPCC has many more impactful figures. If the facts are so clear why don’t we act?
I am a child of the car. I grew up in a suburb of Stuttgart, Germany, one of the industrial centers of our modern world. Here the car was invented and exported to all over the world in the past one hundred years.
It is still a vivid memory how I visited my first webpage in the internet: www.ferrari.de. Regularly, I visited motor sport events and read Germany’s most famous car magazine. My school notebooks were full of car drawings and I enthusiastically visited the biggest car trade fair (IAA). One of favorite hobbies back then: kart sports.
For me technology always embodied progress. In the upcoming years, I built soccer robots, studied engineering and computer science with a focus on robotics. However, along the way, my worldview started to shift. It was not a single sudden event but a constant process that changed my view of the world.
Free and Open Source Software
In the beginning of my master’s studies, I changed the operating system of my laptop to GNU/Linux. Step by step I discovered the political aspect of software. People like Richard Stallman are fighting since decades for the rights of software users. I realized that the interest of companies are seldom the same ones as the users.
For more than ten years I have lived in shared flats with different people. My most beloved memories are the ones were we accomplished things as a community: big dinner parties, community gardening, house parties or climate camps. Everyone contributes what they can and even with little money a lot can be achieved. Contrary, marketing often shows us something completely different: that we are only worth something if we consume.
The people closest to us influence us the most. In my case, this is Marika, who long before me cared for climate change. Furthermore, her commitment to feminism had shown me how unfair the world can be.
A lot of modern technology frustrates me more than it excites. A good example is the smartphone. This device is more than any other developed to catch our attention. Hundreds of our generations’ smartest minds are working on increasing the time spent with their apps. They do it with success. Constant interruptions hijack our daily lives. Be it during conversations, beautiful sunsets or work.
For a long time scientists have been warning about extreme weather caused by global warming. The recent years have made clear that this is not only an academic discussion. Our European summers 2022, 2021 and 2018 have been unusual hot and dry. This cluster of events is no coincidence but caused by our greenhouse gas emissions.
For the biggest part of my life I believed that technology will save us from climate emergency. Today, I think different. Technological “progress” paired with a capitalist economy has brought us into climate emergency. I find it naive to think that the same means will save us. To throw overboard long-held beliefs was and is painful. There still exists technology which fascinates me but this one has another character: high quality hand workshop tools, indestructible kitchen helpers or improvised DIY hacks.
At some point I also took professional consequences. After spending many years with a focus on robotics and industry, working on self-driving cars would have been a logical consequence. My change of belief led me to work as a software developer for hospital IT.
What can we do?
As a first step, we have to acknowledge the truth. The situation is dire, we cannot do business as usual. Our material prosperity is based on the exploitation of earth, future generations and fellow living beings.
We have to start asking big questions. What is the good life? What do we value as a society? How can we create a future for everyone? Such a shared utopia can serve us a guiding light on our way out of climate emergency.
It is not up to us as individuals to come up with perfect solutions. That is the task of our government. With a clear picture of where we want to be, we can derive appropriate policies.
How can I contribute?
Only together we are powerful. That’s why collective organizing is our best bet. Only on the political level can we take decisions and implement policies that will bring change.
For many years, the climate crisis was pictured as an individual problem. This campaign was supported by the fossil industry and allowed them to continue with business as usual. While big corporations and the super rich are accelerating us into climate breakdown, we as individuals are supposed to solve the problem through “green” consumerism. Clearly, this strategy has failed. It prevents effective organizing which is the most important tool we have.
I myself have been active with Extinction Rebellion (XR). XR is part of the larger climate justice movement and points out the failure to act on climate emergency. Many other groups exist which in one way or the other put pressure on our political representation. All democratic parties in Germany pledged to the 1.5 degree goal. We have to make sure that this promise is kept and for this it needs all of us.