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Encounter with the Rebellion

It is Friday evening and I am on the way home. It is one of these days where the sky clears up just before sunset to make way for a beautiful play of colours. The city is buzzing with life, the Bruxellois are enjoying the start of the weekend outside. The chatter and laughing mixes with the sounds of music and clanking beer glasses.

The lively city streets are in stark contrast with the thoughts that are swirling through my head. I just attended a talk by Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the Extinction Rebellion movement. Given the waves they’ve made in recent months, there is a good chance you heard of them before. But for the uninitiated, let me quickly introduce them before heading into the beef – or tofu for the vegans – of this blog post.

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Career for the Climate

It is the beginning of summer here in Belgium and that means the academic year is over. After an undoubtedly excruciating exam period, students have left the library and are now to be found on festival grounds or on the Mediterranean beaches in Southern Europe. For most of them, July is the beginning of a long holiday, for others, it is also the start of their career. A small army of young graduates is lined up to enter the work force anytime soon. Are they ready to take it by storm?

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It’s time to fix democracy

I am writing this blog post at the end of election day in Belgium, May 26th 2019. I headed out to the polling station early this morning to cast not one, but four votes: for Europe, Belgium, Brussels, and the Brussels representation in the Dutch-speaking Community (if you don’t know what that is, don’t bother, it’s complicated). Holding my convocation letter ready, I entered the voting station feeling a tad nervous.

Nervous, you ask? Yes. Nervous, because in the democracy of 2019, voting day is still the only day I truly participate in it. The only day in five years’ time. These two minutes in the voting booth are precious democratic time. During 120 seconds, I finally hold (a tiny bit of) democratic power: the power to give away my power. That’s what representative democracy looks like. I better get my vote right, I thought.

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The Planetary Accounting Dilemma

Ever since I published my blog post ‘System Change not Climate Change’, I have felt slightly unsatisfied. Sure, I dare say my analysis of the failures of the current economic system was pretty accurate. But I fell short on the solution side of the story. After 21 paragraphs on what is wrong with free market capitalism, I did not get farther than 2 paragraphs on a possible way out. Because I didn’t see one.

The absence of a feasible alternative at hand should not withhold me – or anyone else – from criticising the shortcomings of society. But truth be told, this blog is all about finding a sensible answer to the climate challenge and I would very much like to succeed at that.

Therefore, I am revisiting my conclusion of the article I – somewhat hesitantly – threw at the world nearly three months ago. Finding my way in the web of interdependencies between science, economics, politics, and human psychology is by no means an easy task. But we are not here for a PhD defence, as a close friend pointed out recently. So, we’ll take it in manageable bites. Paso a paso, as my Spanish teacher used to tell me when I lived in Barcelona.

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Empower the complainers

How are you all doing? It has been a while since my last post, which solicited a lot of responses. Thanks a lot for that! It was exactly my goal to stir up the debate around our consumerism-centred economy. While that post focused a lot on problems, I want to turn back to a vision for solutions today. I want to make a case to empower the complainers around us to become doers… the doers who will solve the societal and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

I presented this vision last week at the World Resources Forum Conference –  a gathering of scientists, industry leaders, and policymakers to discuss innovative use of materials and resources. Based on my experience from the citizen’s initiative fighting plastic waste, that I have set up with a couple of friends in Brussels, I showed that bottom-up solutions can turn the impossible into possible. In what follows, a slightly adapted version of what I told the men and women in suits last Tuesday. Enjoy!

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System Change not Climate Change – my protest sign explained

Sunday the 27th of January, 11 am. I am preparing myself to leave the house, putting on an extra sweater before I get into my warmest winter jacket. I am about to navigate myself through the rainy streets to the North Station of Brussels, where soon another climate protest will start to demand action from the Belgian governments. It’s the second march this week, the 5th in the last two months. The last thing I pick up before I head off is my protest sign. It reads: ‘System Change not Climate Change’.

Rained out but full of energy after walking with more than 70 000 through the streets of Brussels to demand system change over climate change (own photo)

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