Pay attention, Generation Doomsday
As a child of the eighties,
I grew up in a time when our planet was already badly battered. The hole in the ozone layer. Poisoned rivers. Dying forests. Bark beetle infestations. Acidification of the North Sea. Nuclear waste storage and reprocessing. You could only possibly find these things obscene. The only advantage compared to today was that the problems seemed more or less clear cut and we could shield ourselves from them. It was also a time when many of us got onto an airplane for the first time because flights finally became affordable. Successful holidays were coming back from Alicante with a sexy suntan.
There was indeed talk of climate change though, for example, when Der Spiegel in 1986 ran a front page with the headline “The climate catastrophe” with a picture of Cologne cathedral half-submerged in water. But global warming was always something slowly happening in the background, while our minds were more preoccupied with Pershing II missiles, Chernobyl and Frankfurt airport’s new runway.
But the climate bomb was already ticking away. In June 1989, one of the UN’s senior environmental experts, Noel Brown, insisted that the window of opportunity to stop global warming was closing and that we only had until the beginning of the new millennium.
It was stupid that hardly anyone listened to him. Eventually, the whole Western world descended into a collective frenzy: the Cold War ended, the Eastern bloc melted like Arctic ice in the sun. And the West German economy rubbed its hands together, because the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism opened up a whole host of new markets. From the former GDR alone, 16 million new consumers went from a planned economy to an industrial one. People, understandably, were after goods and freedom of travel, all things that pumped out more and more CO2.
"Hardly anyone was thinking about climate change of course."
When the East German economy collapsed in the 1990s, greenhouse gas emissions fell slightly, as more environmentally friendly technology emerged. Everything actually seemed to be on the right track, there was no reason to worry. In 1997, the global powers gathered in Kyoto to agree that climate change was a man-made phenomenon and that something had to be done about it. But when power politics came into play and the economy ramped up, CO2 emissions climbed again. Never in the history of mankind has so much CO2 been squandered as in the first decade of the new millennium, as low-cost airlines, home computers, and online shopping became commonplace.
Noel Brown’s window had already closed and the bill came swiftly due. The first decade of the new millennium broke all temperature records, Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans and Bangladesh was ravaged by natural disasters. Temperatures increased, floods struck Europe, particularly the Elbe in 2002.
And it’s gone on like this until today. 2014, 2015 and then 2016 were the hottest years since records began. This year is likely to continue that trend.
Climate change is not some crazy plan concocted by bored scholars shortly before falling into a drunken stupor. Contrary to what climate-sceptics would have you believe, 97% of scientists around the world agree that climate change is real, that we are firmly in the middle of it and it is largely driven by our way of life. Some even estimate that we have passed the point that Noel Brown pinpointed in the last century. The warming has already started releasing methane from the permafrost, a gas that has a greater effect on the climate than CO2. Climate change is out of control. Fortunately, there are still those who think it is not too late. Geoengineering, which could be used to combat the effects of climate change, is still in its infancy. And it also has its own risks.
So why does this affect us directly and immediately? Even in Germany, we have long been concerned with the effects of global warming: storm surges in 2015 in Hamburg, flooding in Braunsbach in 2016, the death of the bees and heatwaves are now everyday news. And what politicians and “concerned citizens” insist on calling “economic refugees” are in fact climate refugees.
21.5 million have been displaced by the climate, according to Greenpeace and a study by Hamburg University, because of things like flooding, scarce food and water and political and social instability exacerbated by extreme weather.
Nevertheless, we are still slow to act. Maybe it’s because we think someone else will give a damn, like the federal government for example. But we are sold a duff version of saving the climate. In Germany alone, we pump 906 million tons of CO2 into the air every year: the same as in 2009.
"The government can kiss goodbye to climate targets like cutting emissions by 40% by 2020 if we don’t stop using coal."
Five of Europe’s ten most damaging coal-fired power stations are still based in Germany.
We have been warned. Leonardo DiCaprio told us on Oscar night in 2016. In Cannes, Al Gore recently screened the continuation of his “An Inconvenient Truth”. Greenpeace protested at the latest G7 summit in Sicily against the policies of industrialised nations, particularly Donald Trump’s, who still believes in the fallacy that is clean coal and once claimed China invented climate change. Movies like Chasing Ice show how glaciers have receded, how the Arctic and Antarctic ice is melting and how flooding and rain are the results.
So we can see it coming. And if we want to know more, then all the information is freely available on the internet. Some of the links are provided in this text.
We won’t be able to say we didn’t know what was happening, if our children ask us why we didn’t do anything. It is now up to us not to be branded Generation Doomsday. I have dealt with the subject in our new book “Planet Planlos”, which will be published to coincide with October’s climate conference in Bonn. It is becoming ever more clear to me that there is only one path open ahead of us: we have to be a part of the change we want to see on this planet.
It is in the hands of our generation now how life on planet earth will continue. It can get along just fine without us. But we can’t survive without it.
Anne Weiss and Stefan Bonner are the authors of one of the decade’s best sellers, “Generation Doof”. Since then, they have been writing critically and humorously about their contemporaries, including “Wir Kassettenkinder”, a look back at the roots of their generation.
Anne Weiss studied in Bremen, the city where the non-violent action community Robin Wood was founded in 1982. She writes as a freelance journalist for Spiegel Online and other magazines, loves animals and wouldn’t think of eating them, volunteers at animal protection organisation Animal Equality, carries an organ donation card and sometimes even hugs trees.
Stefan Bonner studied in Bonn after it ceased to be the federal capital. High-level politics probably always seemed a bit batty to him and as a journalist he wrote for numerous business publications before realising that steady growth on a limited planet doesn’t make any sense.
More about the authors can be found at www.bonnerweiss.de
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