Until recently, I wouldn’t have described myself as a climate activist. I’d never been to environmental protests and I drove my diesel vehicle 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) to work every day. To be honest, I’d never understood the people who take to the streets in the name of the environment. The way I saw it, climate change represented higher costs for me and my family. And that was not without significance.
From a very young age, my parents taught me that the most important thing was to make sure there was food on the table and money to pay the bills. We were a typical working-class family, for whom going on holiday once a year was a luxury.
But through my participation in the Citizens’ Climate Assembly, some of my preconceptions about climate change have been proved wrong. I had the opportunity to listen to scientists and professors who explained climate-related issues to me in an understandable way. I’m not saying that suddenly turns you a completely different person, but it does get you thinking.
And once you realize how much our behavior accelerates climate change or contributes to species extinction, you want to act.
Knowledge influences how we think
Since learning more about rising temperatures, I’ve bought a bicycle, I consume more sustainably and avoid unnecessary waste. That alone won’t save the climate, but if a lot of people come together and take small steps, we’ll get a lot further in a short time than we have in the last 10 years.
The message I want to get across is that knowledge influences how we think, feel and ultimately, how we act. As the saying goes, “ignorance is no excuse.” It’s not a question of should we do something, it’s a question of how quickly can we do something to prevent, or significantly reduce, disasters in the years to come.
I see us as tenants of this Earth, and we have a responsibility to leave a habitable planet for the next tenants. To achieve this we need much more than superficial changes.
When you talk to people in Germany about the climate, the first thing that comes up is the high cost of electric cars and lack of charging stations. But climate protection is about much more than that. It’s not only the infrastructure we need to transform, but our thinking. Everyone needs to feel involved when it comes to climate protection.
That said, I understand people’s concern about rising prices, and I think the biggest task will be to bring social justice and climate protection under one umbrella. We need to ensure that families, in particular, are not put under even more financial pressure. With the rising cost of living, many are already struggling to stay afloat.
And children should not have to pay for the mistakes adults have made in recent years. We must try to prepare children and young people for the future. The education that is so important for the survival of our planet can best be delivered in schools, and the environment should feature on the curriculum from elementary school onward.
My wish for the future would be that German policymakers implement the majority of the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations as quickly as possible, such as bringing forward the mandatory phasing out of coal to 2030 at the latest. Germany should take a leading role in climate protection internationally, as well as at COP26. Nations should join forces and find international solutions to tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
And each and every person should have access to climate education. Countries can no longer shirk their responsibilities when it comes to implementing measures to combat climate change. That action must come now.
Adnan Arslan was one of 160 members of German society chosen at random to take part in the country’s Citizens’ Climate Assembly earlier this year. After a series of 12 meetings, the group presented the government with 84 climate action recommendations.