A letter of farewell
Letter from geoscientist Basti to his ex-employer and ex-colleagues.
Dear Geoscience and Engineering members, friends, colleagues and mentors,
this letter explains why I will not stay in academia for now, after I finished my PhD in the Netherlands.
After completing my Master's degree, I travelled to the Philippines for nine months. The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate catastrophe. What moved me most was the suffering of millions of innocent people in the capital Manila, who are exposed to the consequences of the climate crisis on a daily basis: increasing number of deadly typhoons, extreme flooding, rising sea levels, heat deaths. The voices of these people are not heard in the Global North. They are defenceless against the consequences of fatal climate politics of Western governments.
A recent example for the consequences of the devastating climate impacts is the flooding in Nigeria, barely reported by our Eurocentric media: 700 dead, 200,000 houses washed away, 2 million homeless. Another example are the floods in Pakistan where over 33 million people — almost twice the population of the Netherlands were/are displaced.
During my PhD, I signed petitions, participated in demonstrations of FridaysForFuture, StudentsForFuture as well as ScientistsForFuture. During a 14-day bicycle tour through Germany, I got in touch with local politicians, researchers, farmers and NGOs. It became clear to me that many people are ready for big changes. However, commitment at the local level is often blocked by profit-oriented climate policies at the national and European level. Further, I had direct contact with people from the Global South, for example with an activist from Indonesia. I was moved by the fact that millions of people have to be resettled every year in Indonesia.
I was regularly made aware of the consequences of government inaction and the large influence of lobbyism. Germany is the top ten CO2 emitter since 1850 and therefore has a great responsibility to reduce global injustices, but is not fulfilling this responsibility. Since the 1980s, more and more attention has been drawn to the impending catastrophe. Alternative ways of life and economies have been pointed out but still the crisis is not addressed adequately. A simple example is the lack of a speed limit on German highways, which is indicative of the great influence of the German car industry. I could not sit by and continue with science as usual in the face of continued policy failure by the German as well as other governments.
Therefore, in April this year (2022, editor’s note), I decided to join a direct action of Scientist Rebellion in Berlin, blocking a bridge to the German Bundestag (see picture). Scientist Rebellion are scientists from a variety of scientific backgrounds, calling on communities to stand in resistance against continued governmental failure. If we scientists don’t act like we’re in an emergency, how can we expect the public to do so? Due to the fact that our warnings are ignored since decades, non-violent civil disobedient actions from scientists are necessary as stated in Capstick et al., 2022. These actions are also justified, given that warning society and policymakers through reports has not bent the global emissions curve — carbon emissions are 60% higher today than when the first IPCC report came out.
For me, civil disobedience means showing civil courage and using my privileged position for a more just world. Civil disobedience is appropriate in this emergency because it is the strongest democratic tool available to me in European countries. I will continue to use this tool to advocate for a better world. I have cousins who are just starting school. They, like us, are facing the destruction of our life support systems. As Antonio Guterres noted recently, we are on a highway to climate hell. Knowing what I know, being alive at this defining moment in human history, I could not continue with science as usual and still look my cousins in the eyes. I feel compelled to throw everything at it to prevent the worst and try to secure a liveable and sustainable future. Do you do everything in your power to protect our livelihoods?
Since completing my PhD, I have been a full-time activist to give the ecological crisis my full attention. I will no longer stand by and watch politics fail. If you want to learn more about Scientist Rebellion, visit the website of the Dutch group.
With warm regards,