Science For Dummies

by Joana Kollert

Taken from pexels.com

As a scientist, when reading the “Scientists For Future” statement supporting the Fridays for Future protest marches, my initial response was disappointment. The statement uses an extremely basic language to summarize the demands of the Paris Agreement, and the key steps necessary to avoid the most perilous climate change hazards. There is nothing innovative, provocative or unexpected about this statement. Thus, I was very doubtful about its effectiveness.

However, one has to consider the political message behind this petition, which now has 23,000 signatories in German-speaking countries alone. Until recently, scientists have kept quietly in their laboratories or behind their computer models, delivering the data which screamed for immediate action against climate change. However, as soon as this data was handed over to politics, the scientists retracted, and felt that their job was done. I routinely imagine Donald Trump’s office, in which climate data spreadsheets are used as scrap paper for cost calculations of the infamous wall to Mexico.

This discontinuity between scientific advice and political response hit a peak with the IPCC’s publication of the Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Whilst scientists had demonstrated that reaching even the 2°C was highly optimistic and unrealistic, the IPCC was asked to research an even more utopian target. Call me cynical, but the scientists were silenced by being told to play with their numbers a bit more, while international politicians were busy trying to find excuses not to reduce emissions.  By condemning scientists to stick to their classical role of pure researchers with no political voice, it was easy to justify mitigation inaction with the fact that the scientists were still working on exact numbers, and that the uncertainties were too high to take any definitive action.

Scientists have completed their role as researchers. They have delivered the numbers, and they have been ignored. It is high time that scientists assume their role as concerned citizens. With this petition, scientists are no longer hiding behind numbers and big data. Their message is clear.  The simplicity of the statement is indeed its greatest strength.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

“Yes, but-narrative in the German climate debate

by Manuel Kreutle


“Fridays for future” protest in Hamburg (wikimedia.org CC-by-sa 3.0/de; March 1, 2019)

As Fenja and Michael earlier commented, the “Fridays for Future” movement is getting more and more media coverage in Germany. The climate strike is triggering many positive, but also nasty reactions, e.g. grown-ups insulting children in commenting sections in a manner you could easily find on any schoolyard [1]. However, in the same breath they want to delegitimize the student’s protest and brand it as naive or inconsequent. Nitpicking in the manner of “they were probably driven to the demonstration with their parents’ SUV” and pointing out other apparent inconsequent behavior of protesting students can be observed all over the digital social networks.

School authorities were the first ones to publicly comment on the matter by threatening students who skip classes to participate in the strikes with monetary fines for their parents.
Lately – and this might be boosting the media coverage considerably – high-ranking politicians have also been publicly commenting on the student’s strikes. The tenor here is clear: “How nice that you care about this topic, but now go back to school!” You can observe this within the tweet of Hamburg’s senator responsible for schools, Ties Rabe (SPD) [2], or the interview of Germany’s federal minister of education, Anja Karliczek (CDU) [3], and in many other cases. All of them place the focus on the fact that students are skipping school and are therefore violating compulsory school attendance. In this sense these functionaries pursue the aim of shifting the debate from climate inaction to blaming students by reducing the political motivation of the strike to the simple wish to skip classes. Overall, this only helps in covering their own inaction. The entire debate is a simple example of the “Yes, but”-narrative one can observe within the climate debate in Germany. Let me give you more examples to illustrate the concept.

We encounter a similar situation by looking at the (not surprisingly) disappointing report of the so-called “Kohlekommission” (committee of politicians, economists and NGOs that discussed the terms of a coal fade out), where you can condense the whole matter down to: “Yes, we have to stop burning coal, but maybe within the next twenty years (2038)” [4]. The fact that this “compromise” focuses mainly on corporate interests rather than the needs of millions of people in the Global South and thousands in danger of eviction in the mining regions is tightly entangled with this narrative. We can also apply this to the whole topic of Germany’s climate policy and climate goals [5]. “Yes, climate change is a threat, but we will still not even do enough to reach our own climate goals”, is yet another form of this ambiguity leading to dangerous climate inaction.

All the examples of “Yes, but”-reactions to climate issues have in common an apparent acceptation of the urgency of climate change, but still they illustrate the insufficiency of the responses. Furthermore, these reactions demonstrate how people who want to point out the obvious shortcoming are delegitimized and offended, some of them even put into jail for drumming in support of activists. [6] The responsible actors would probably call this “democracy” and “compromise” between different interests. However, they still fail to recognize that climate change is an urgent, global issue that comes along with an immediate need of action. They ignore or even accept the fact that all the climate policy approaches taken so far are no compromise for millions of people currently living in the Global South – or for future generations all over the world.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

[1]: tagesschau.de; https://meta.tagesschau.de/id/141233/klima-demos-von-berlin-bis-sydney
[2]: Twitter; https://twitter.com/TiesRabe/status/1101407836670775296
[3]: faz.net; https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/vor-klima-demo-in-hamburg-karliczek-pocht-auf-schulpflicht-16065462.html
[4]: zeit.de; https://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2019-01/klimaschutz-kohleausstieg-kommission-reaktionen-regierung
[5]: tagesschau.de; https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/deutschland-klimaziele-101.html
[6]: taz.de; https://taz.de/Kolumne-Gehts-noch/!5521006/

Blogpost series: Current protests for climate protection

As the protests for more political engagement in climate protection have spread to even more countries and expandend from schoolchildren protesting on “Fridays for Future” to “Scientists for Future” supporting them, we have decided to publish a series of blogposts on this social movement, its coverage in the debate and in media reporting.

This post will serve to compile a list of the blogposts related to this topic.

Part 1: “Fridays for Future” – Can the next generation save our world?, January 27, 2019

Part 2: Public protests “for future” as part of citizenship – children and scientists included, March 15, 2019

Part 3: “Yes, but“-narrative in the German climate debate, March 20, 2019

Part 4: Science for Dummies, March 20, 2019

There is also a report about the climate change protests in Boulder, Colorado (USA) on our partner blog.

Public protests “for future” as part of citizenship – children and scientists included

by Michael Brüggemann

Schoolchildren protesting during the Fridays for Future march in Bremen. (Private photo from March 15 2019)

Today, I went to the streets with my ten-year-old son. It was his first protest march, and my second. We went with his elementary school class, loudly shouting: “don’t steal our future!” And while German politicians claim that they understand the children’s concerns, they also claim, more or less implicitly, that the children do not really get the complexities of politics and should “leave it to the professionals”.

However, politicians have failed to keep their promises with regards to climate protection. Today, 23.000 “scientists for future” affirmed: the children’s concerns and anger adequately reflect both the size of the climate change problem and the associated policy failure.

The demonstrations and the scientist’s petition will not immediately change German government policy, but they have generated two groups with the chance to (re)claim political agency. The two groups could not be more different: a new generation of youths that has awoken with a political voice and will hopefully sustain its lobbying for stronger environmental policies, and a group of scientists who increasingly felt entrapped in an ideology of value-free science. The idea of the application of the scientific method regardless of one’s personal interests is sometimes misunderstood as the duty of scientists to pretend to have no personal interests and values. Yet, it is the application of scientific methods and not the scientists themselves who should be neutral. As scientists with the privilege of a more detailed insight into the issues we study, we do not only have a right, but a duty, to raise our voices if things go wrong. Going to the streets is justified, especially if warnings about the risks of a climate crisis remain unanswered by the “professionals” in government.

Sober and cautious warnings have been included in scientific reports for decades now. Yet, it turns out that politics yields to political pressure and not to scientific reports. Therefore, it is the right and duty of every citizen to increase political pressure on neglected matters of common concern.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.