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.