Given the uproar surrounding climate change after Greta Thunberg's infamous speech at the United Nation's Climate Action Summit, held at UN headquarters in New York, Estimator has decided to interview two econometrics students that were affected by the 16 year old’s words. Bente Presse and Sigita Lapina both joined other 25000 protestors in The Hague on the 27th of September, and in this article they are going to express their feelings about the current climate crisis.
How do you define sustainability?
Bente: I think my definition of sustainability is very close to Wikipedia’s definition: a state in which no more of a resource is extracted and consumed than the amount that is naturally regenerated.
Sigita: This is a hard question. Perhaps the ability to live for a long time, but not necessarily forever.
Why are you interested in sustainability?
Bente: Because I find it frightening to see how quickly our environment is changing and how fragile it is. We tend to think that climate change is something slow, something that we will see or feel in a far future. At the same time, the estimates of the year in which the northern polar ice cap will completely melt during summer for the first time are constantly being corrected downwards. Comparing pictures of alpine glaciers only 25 years ago and nowadays reveals big differences. Climate change is much faster than I thought when I was younger, and that’s why I’m interested in finding out what could be done about it.
Sigita: I am interested because I feel like the world might come to an end because of stupid human action, so we need to take care of this planet.
What changes did you make in your personal life that support your moral views?
Bente: I don’t like saying “I did this and that, look how great that is!”, because I don’t believe that the discussion should be about what a single person is doing or not doing. This is also what I hate so much about the whole sustainability discussion. As soon as someone publicly raises concerns about an ecological crisis, some people start to look out for something that person did in the past that would undermine his or her statements. For instance, in Germany, a video went viral of a YouTuber who outlined and summarized in a one hour video how little the German government has done in the last decades to move to a more sustainable economy. It was extremely well-researched and factual and thus came as a real bombshell. A few days later, some newspapers tried to invalidate everything that YouTuber said by publishing a picture of him snorkelling at Great Barrier Reef. I don’t remember the exact headline, but he was called a hypocrite for publicly condemning the government while having taken a plane to Australia in his life. To me, that’s such a dumb argument. It’s not because a person has ever taken a plane that he or she has no right to request more sustainable policies from state authorities.
Before this gets too long, my answer is that I try to do my best, just like most others. Taking the bike, buying fruits and vegetables that are not wrapped in plastics, buying local and seasonal whenever possible, trying to repair things before replacing them, and taking the train instead of the plane whenever possible. But obviously, I am no saint and there are many that have a much more sustainable lifestyle than I do.
Sigita: I am a coffee lover, everyone who knows me, knows that. If I took a plastic/paper cup every time I wanted a coffee it would around 50 cups a week. I use my own cup. Same with the water bottle. I always use mine. Lately, I have been trying to avoid plastic bags but I am failing on that one regularly. I am also trying to turn off the lights whenever I can. When I go somewhere by transport, that is not my bike or feet, I am ready to pay some extra money as a fee for the pollution. Nothing big but little things matter.
What is your opinion on Greta Thunberg? Do you believe that her political course of action is productive? i.e name calling developing countries (and suing them), sensationalist arguments, etc
Bente: First, I think that the whole discussion about Greta Thunberg completely misses the point because we shouldn’t be discussing her. All the energy that is being put into commenting on her speeches, her behaviour, her age or her situation could be put into constructive discussions about solutions. I’m very happy that she was able to finally give this topic the attention that it deserves and to raise worldwide awareness, but at the same time, even though this is not her fault, we are talking too much about her personally and too few about what she stands for.
To answer the question though, maybe she said some things I would disagree with, but once again, that does not invalidate her general stance to me. At the baseline, she is criticizing that too little has been done for too long already and that there’s an immediate need to act, which I agree with.
Sigita: To be honest, I do not know a lot about her. However, I do believe that what she does is productive. I think people should stop judging her but instead try to help as much as they can. I think everyone should do their own research to understand where all of this is going.
What did you think about the protests and why did you decide to attend them?
Bente: Many people felt like sustainability was too low on the priority list of national governments for a long time, but too few of them said so, including me. I think it’s great that people now try to make their voices heard and tell their government what they think and that’s why I also wanted to join. Usually, the equation goes a bit like the more people a protest gathers, the more likely that it will have an impact, so that’s why I also deemed it necessary to join. And I also want to say that I, in general, think that a protest is very healthy for a democracy, as long as it stays peaceful because citizens voice their opinion and signal to the government what the problems are. Even if people go on the streets for things that I do not necessarily support, I’m still glad they go. Political participation and active citizenship are what keep democracy alive.
Sigita: I thought I would feel useless, however, I felt like I am part of something bigger that can make some changes. I attended because I work for ESE as Social Media Student Assistant, so I was there for my work to show around. However, from now on, I want to go by myself. I know that some people see those as something stupid and useless, but we need to start from somewhere.
What do you think of the vegan movement and do you subscribe to it? If so, to which extent?
Bente: I am vegetarian, for multiple reasons, but the high carbon dioxide emissions linked to the production of meat products is a part of it. Saying that I have to acknowledge that dairy products are also emission intense, which is why I try to cut back on them, but I also don’t say no to cheese or an omelette.
I think consciousness is key when it comes to nutrition and every effort is fine. Buying meat just once a week is healthier anyway, and I also think that very few are able to see pictures of mass meat production factories without losing appetite.
What I also find interesting with regards to this topic is the cliché of vegetarians and vegans trying to force their eating habits upon everyone else. But that is a completely false picture in my opinion. I never ask someone why he or she is eating meat, and I’ve also never seen a vegan or vegetarian doing so. Most of the times, it is the person eating meat that starts to talk about it, “justifying” him- or herself, even though I would never ask them to justify themselves. Who am I to judge?
Sigita: I totally support vegans. If vegan cheese was tasty, I would be vegan. I am vegetarian because I cannot live without cheese. I was vegetarian for 5 years, for 2 years I started eating birds (chicken, turkey) every now and then, but I am back to being vegetarian. It is not only because I can help the world, but it is also because of how good I feel without meat. Especially the one you can buy in The Netherlands in supermarkets. It is just gross.
Do you disagree with anything within the sustainability movement? If so, what?
Bente: That’s a tough question because the sustainability movement is very pluralistic, reaching from partisans of anarchism to very moderate activists that simply want to raise more awareness for the ecological crisis. So, there are some subgroups with a different focus and different strategies. I don’t identify with all of these subgroups, but they are all united by the same general goal and that is what I identify with.
Sigita: I dislike that some people go so far that they make others live in a specific way or say that this and that is bad. I think it is easy to make people do their own research and they can realize themselves to do what they want. If that is not the case, are we still living in a democratic environment? Also, I hate when people that might not be so educated in a specific field think they know everything and think that they are the best and that there is only one way to go.
Do you want to work with sustainability in the future and, if so, how?
Bente: I don’t really know yet because I’m only starting to find out about all the possible paths my career could take, but I’m very much interested in politics and would love to have a job that has something to do with it. That could possibly be environmental policy, but I think I am doing the wrong study for that. However, I think sustainability will be part of the key strategy of every firm and every institution in the near future, so I don’t think it will be that difficult to find a job that has something to do with sustainability.
Sigita: I would like to work in a firm/company that cares about it. Something specifically does not come to my mind right now.
What is the most impactful way you believe we, both in an individual and governmental level, can support the sustainability movement?
Bente: As an individual, I can only repeat what I said. Making conscious choices, thinking about the impact of a choice before taking a decision. I will not say that everyone should stop taking the plane and consuming meat, but I’m saying that everyone should think his things through before deciding to do so.
On a governmental level, the answer is much less clear. Policy-makers have the difficult task of making sure that the negative externalities of pollutive actions are being internalized without disproportionately harming low-income citizens or rural population. This is not to say that environmental protection shouldn’t cost anything. The point is, if the money is not spent now, it will cost us way more to handle the damages in the future. We don’t even need to look far: extremely hot summers for consecutive years have hurt the agricultural sector. The damages of numerous floods, heavy rainfalls and storms have caused high reparation costs. Rising sea levels will make investments in higher and safer dykes necessary, and better water protection management.
So, to wrap it up, what is required in my opinion is more investment in a more sustainable and circular economy. That includes investments in renewable energies, subsidizing house isolation and the construction of energy-efficient buildings, improving the railway infrastructure and public transport connections, lowering taxes on train tickets, support sustainable agriculture, putting an end to climate-damaging subsidies, and finally putting a price on emissions (and before someone tells me that the market is able to regulate that: the European Emission trading system has been in place since 2005, and industrial emissions didn’t even closely drop as much as hoped and expected).
Sigita: Individually - always think if something is necessary
Governmental level - there should be taxes for companies that pollute too much in any way.