Climate & Civil Disobedience Speech, delivered on 5.4.19, written by Tsenala Paul

Part One: History of Failure

The FFF climate strikers have been criticized for missing school in order to take part in demonstrations like this one. You have been accused of not wanting to learn, of just taking a day off. But let me tell you: for me and for many others, you are an inspiration! Your voice is being heard!

And for those who criticize, well, perhaps it is time for little history lesson:

In the mid 1800s, we understood that CO2 and other gases trap heat. Way back in the 1890s a Swedish scientist warned the world about the global impact of burning fossil fuels.

We started measuring CO2 in the atmosphere in the 1950s. And in the 1960s, the first computer models of global climate change were created.

Finally, in the 1980s (when I was in middle school), the global temperature began to rise sharply.

When I was in class 9 (in 1985) experts agreed that global warming was inevitable (unvermeidbar) and called on governments to act. THEY DID NOT ACT.

In 1988, 31 years ago (and the year I graduated high school) the first international climate conference took place in Toronto, Canada. They called for strict limits on CO2 emissions (Abgase). Governments DID NOT ACT.

The very next year, in 1989, the fossil fuel industry got organized. They formed their own climate group. It’s job? To make sure governments DID NOT ACT.

Since then, one climate change report after the other has been released. Each report is more alarming than the one before. The dangers of inaction have become clearer and clearer. The alarm bells are ringing louder and louder. And yet, our governments DO NOT ACT.

In fact, we have actually increased our use of fossil fuels, increased our greenhouse gas emissions, and increased our energy consumption.

Part Two: Urgency to Act Now

And the climate has only just started to change. The planet has only just begun to warm up. There is much, much more to come. Here’s what we can expect to happen in the near future – within your lifetime:

  • As the chemistry and currents (Strömungen) of the oceans, which help cool our planet and take carbon out of the atmosphere, change, the cooling effect of the oceans will become less. This means even more warming.
  • As the forests, which take carbon out of the atmosphere, become weakened by heat and drought (Dürre), forest fires will increase in number, in intensity and in frequency. As a result, the forests, which naturally take up carbon, will instead be releasing massive amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere. This, and deforestation in general, means even more warming.
  • As the permafrost thaws in our arctic regions, it will release massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. And methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon. More methane means even more warming.
  • As the ice, which reflects light and heat away from the earth’s surface, melts, even more heat will be absorbed. This means even more warming.

The time for inaction is over!

The time for excuses, delays, and discussion is over!

The time for half-measures and comforting words is over!

Part Three: Civil Disobedience

Which leads us here today.

Society has a long and powerful tradition of civil disobedience (ziviler Ungehorsam). Of peaceful, non-violent rule-breaking.

Civil disobedience is called for when laws are unjust, when a crisis is being ignored, or when a government fails to act in the interest of the common good.

Henry David Thoreau, a man who literally wrote the book on civil disobedience in 1849 said: “Civil disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” This is strong imagery, but perhaps not incorrect:

  • We are slaves to the fossil fuel industry, which touches almost every aspect of our modern lives and has enormous influence on governments.
  • We are slaves to an economic system which demands unending growth on a limited and fragile planet.
  • We are slaves to our own fear and apathy, which stop us from truly confronting the global environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

But by being here today (when you should be in school), you refuse to be obedient (gehorsam) any longer.

You refuse to be obedient to a system which is misusing the resources of this planet in order to create massive amounts of wealth for a very few individuals.

You refuse to be obedient to a system which is causing the biggest mass extinction event this planet has seen in 65 million years.

You refuse to be obedient to a system which is destroying the conditions for life on earth.

By being here today – by striking when you should be in the classroom – you have become part of the long, strong and important tradition of civil disobedience.

And that: for your courage, your drive, and your willingness to act, I thank you.