Climate strikes – why I feel uneasy about students missing school to join the protest

First, I probably should make one thing very clear: I am convinced that the way we deal with the earth’s resources needs rethinking. And I am thankful for every young person who points out the urgency of this endeavor. Yet I cannot help but feel uneasy about it at the same time. When I see the posters that are being carried through streets in cities worldwide, I get a feeling of déjà-vu: “There is no planet B”. It’s the very same thing I was shouting together with my peers two decades ago. And if they asked us in 1999 what our suggestions for improvement were, we had lots of simple answers: “Shut down the nuclear power stations”, “Ban cars”, “Go vegan”.

What has changed since then? Some nuclear power stations were closed, a few more coal power stations opened. The first generation of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels in Germany have reached the end of their subvention period. Keeping them in operation proves too expensive and their recycling now poses a huge problem to their operators. This, together with the discussions around the ban of diesel cars and the problems with huge soy bean and palm oil monoculture, to just mention a few of the challenges, point to the fact that none of these simple solutions are simple. Indeed, managing our presence on the planet is very complex: thanks to fossil fuel our living standard in many regions of the world has become extremely high – unsustainably high. But simply leaving fossil fuel out of the equation would bring enormous suffering to a large amount of people. If fossil fuels were to run out (or be banned) completely at this very moment, millions would starve, freeze to death, succumb to disease or violence. Looking at the actual numbers of how much energy our lifestyle spends (significantly more than could be fixed by just taking the bike and eat veggies instead of meat), the only clean solution seems to be wiping out half of humanity, and I hope that we can all agree that this is not an acceptable option. However, any other viable solution needs incredibly smart people who are willing to study the possibilities, honestly analyse the numbers and come up with new and improved solutions. We need better renewables, and someone needs to engineer them. We need better policies, and someone needs to develop them. We need a new approach to agriculture, and someone needs to find out how it can work. And now those who are going to be the architects of this transition are skipping school.

Therefore, I want to suggest an addition to the school strikes. Do skip your classes to make your point. We really need to act and raise our voice. But also: educate yourself about sustainability, learn about renewables. Find out how things work in detail, so that you can change them. Crafting a transition towards a society that is both humane and sustainable is not possible by just shouting slogans. Ask your school and university directors, your education ministers and your country leaders to include sustainability lectures and environmental issues in every curriculum! Skip your classes, but exchange them for detailed, thorough lectures about the current state of environmental science. Fight for the development of curricula that answer to this urgent need of change in every area. Environmental science cannot be treated as separate from other sciences, it needs to be integrated into everything we do. Let’s make it part of a teaching system that can educate for a sustainable future, and let your school strikes be the force behind this new teaching system.