Writers search for words that can stop global warming

Statue of Silvia Celliberti

Last month, the fifteenth report from the IPCC Climate Panel was published. Like all its predecessors, it appeared on the front pages of newspapers. Not because it contained news, on the contrary; we have known everything in the new report for years. The news was more that we despite seems to be a little busy averting a global catastrophe. Facts, the bitter conclusion sounds, apparently no longer mean that much in the alarming climate file.

But what then? The answer is a bit to be found in the piles of climate-related books that have been published in recent months. Here it is no longer, or at least not only, about degrees of warming, centimeters of sea level and ecological disturbances. Instead, writers are clearly looking for compelling insights that can really set the climate action in motion. To words that can stop global warming.

Words like the Flemish writer David Van Reybrouck, known for his impressive colonial stories from Congo and Indonesia. On December 12 last year, he gave the fiftieth Huizinga lecture in Pieterskerk in Leiden. It is one of the thinnest booklets in the latest climate stack. But nonetheless, or perhaps because of it, one of the most impressive.


Van Reybrouck talks about climate change as a colonial problem in his lecture. No colonialism in the spatial sense, of overseas territories. He sees the climate change we are causing with our greenhouse gas emissions as a temporal form of colonialism. To be precise: we deprive the future of the generations after us. “Man will take over the coming century with the same ruthlessness, greed and short-sightedness with which continents were taken over in ancient times.”

It seems like a play on words and not a serious tool to save the climate. But the idea of ​​colonizing the future, the title of his book, lays a moral foundation during the fight against climate change by presenting it as ordinary robbery. To rob our own children and grandchildren. And it happens so fast that we even deprive our future selves. Starting with the old colonies, by the way.

In his flawless essay, Van Reybrouck looks for ways to act. He is in favor (again because he was already experimenting with it in Belgium) of the Citizens’ Council, which circumvents politics and its electoral short-sightedness. Ordinary people, is his idea, care about their children and the world, politicians are not; they only think about the next election.

Icelandic author and journalist Andri Snaer Magnason makes this idea of ​​future generations visible in an exciting way in About time and water. In a style that almost turns his book into a novel, he interviews his grandparents and his children and finds out that a human life does not last eighty or ninety years, but actually extends over 250 years via relatives. He thus connects today’s melting ice caps to the icy world of three generations earlier, including old photos of ski trips and stranded American bombers sunk in the ice. The world, he notes, is now changing faster than humans can keep up. While his family history also shows how quickly people can adapt if they want to. ‘The world must be reinvented, and it must be done as fast as the invention of aviation, nuclear energy and the computer – and preferably even faster.’


It is probably not entirely coincidental that the Dutch journalist Eva Rovers in her booklet Now it’s up to us makes a similar prayer to the Citizens’ Climate Council as her life partner Van Reybrouck. But she captures the idea of ​​new and interesting forms of democratic decision-making with inspiring examples from Ireland and France. “This kind of consideration is not about debate, it is about dialogue,” she writes.

The Netherlands, Rovers also notes, likes to use big words, also in the climate issue, but does not prepare much in this area. In fact, the state had to be forced through the courts to abide by its own emissions agreements. She recently presented her latest to-do list to Minister Rob Jetten on Climate and Energy. In the hope that he will smuggle the idea into the polarized political bell in The Hague.

The question, of course, is still what topics need to be discussed in such a grassroots democracy. While we state that it is not a good idea to continue on the current path, we continue to look for ways to do so. Some writers keep it easy and fun, such as the nature columnist Koen Arts, the man who once slept out in nature for a whole year. IN Polar bears with optimism in fifty stories he tries to find a middle ground between facts and emotions, but all too often he leaves the conclusions to the reader.

null Statue Silvia Celliberti

Statue of Silvia Celliberti

The former commander of the armed forces Tom Middendorp, who is now a climate thinker, is particularly practical. In the sound Climate general he notes that climate change is leading to instability in the world, but that the issue does not play a role in military decisions. In fact, the military, he says, is one of the most polluting sectors we know of.

Almost the opposite of this approach is the Wageningen philosopher Vincent Blok, who in From the world to the earth goes deep and quite abstractly into what he calls ecological ontology: a realization that the earth is responsible and not the philosophizing human being. Something that will especially fascinate philosophers.


Harder nuts crack fellow philosopher and essayist Ton Lemaire, who in By the time makes a frontal attack on the idea of ​​green growth. The overexploitation of the planet and its climate is the only possible consequence of the pursuit of growth, of more and more. ‘If people can not free themselves from the growth constraints of capitalism, inequality will increase, the rich will become richer, violence will increase, and humanity will not survive or survive with great difficulty on a ruined earth.’

Environmental journalist Jaap Tielbeke van The green Amsterdammer shares, albeit in a slightly less steely language, the anti-capitalist analysis. Green growth, he notes in We were warned, for fifty years with vain warnings of a climate catastrophe, has screwed up for itself. In the end, business interests always win over the environment and climate. The free market has no interest in realizing that less is more habitable than more.

Tielbeke also wrote the preface to The ocean from eco-hero Rachel Carson (with the classic Quiet spring the first to warn the public about the disaster caused by pesticides). This new translation of 1951 The sea around us is interesting because it shows how Carson even then realized that the Earth is a fragile system, rather than too large to break.

Much more with a human touch, political scientist and author Mounir Samuel also argues against unrestrained growth and self-regulation via the market. Van Reybrouck’s colonialism also reappears. The colonization of the future, Samuel writes in the sometimes very personal Jonas without a whale, still starts in the poor South, which did not create the problems but will suffer the consequences first and almost defenselessly. He borrows the code word in this regard from the Leiden sociologist Shivant Jhagroe: climate justice. Which even applies to the climate tables in Dutch. ‘For the majority of Dutch people, regardless of color, orientation, gender, validity and origin, the large inevitable climate investments will not provide any economic benefit (not to mention the young).’

Words mean something in the climate issue, and more than we often think. But the redemptive word? Van Reybrouck’s idea of ​​colonizing the future is inspiring, as is Magnason’s actual human life for a quarter of a millennium. But the word that is stopping global warming has not yet been found.

Koen doctor: Polar bears with optimism† northern book; 208 pages; € 19.90.

Vincent Blok: From the world to the earth† Tree; 240 pages; € 24.90.

Rachel Carson: The ocean† Translated from English by Nico Groen. Athenaeum; 288 pages; € 22.99.

Ton Lemaire: By the time† Ambo Anthos; 256 pages; € 22.99.

Andri Snær Magnason: About time and water† Translated from Icelandic by Kim Middel. De Geus; € 22.50.

Tom Middendorp: Climate general. Scene; 312 pages; € 21.99.

David Van Reybrouck: The colonization of the future† The busy bee; 100 pages; € 16.99.

Eva Rovers: Now it’s up to us† Correspondents; 184 pages; € 15.00.

Mounir Samuel: Jonas without a whale† New Amsterdam; 192 pages; € 17.99.

Jaap Tielbeke: We were warned† Das Mag; 184 pages; € 17.50.

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