‘The time is right to do something about climate change’

| Michaela Nesvarova

Scientists4Future NL is an alliance of Dutch scientists striving for a more active role in the climate crisis. UT professor Arjen Hoekstra is one of the 1800 academics who have signed the alliance’s public statement. ‘We have been talking about climate change for thirty years, but too little is happening. I feel I need to speak up, because we simply don’t do enough.’

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK
Professor Arjen Hoekstra

scientists4future nl

Scientists4Future NL was established in the summer of 2019 by (mostly junior) scientists calling for a more active role of scientists in THE climate crisis. The initiative has put together a public statement declaring that ‘the concerns of the climate strikers are justified’ and that ‘failure to meet the challenges, as set out by the Paris climate agreement, will endanger the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, now and in the future.’ More than 1800 scientists from all over the Netherlands have signed the statement so far.

Why did you decide to sign the statement?

Hoekstra: ‘I was approached by the initiative in an early stage and I agreed to be a part of it. I signed the statement because I agreed with what it had to say. What is interesting is that we have witnessed a gradual growth of this movement, of people voicing concerns about climate change. There are many parallel initiatives all over the world. There is a buildup of people calling for action. The urgency is clear. The time is right to do something about climate change. The scientific evidence is becoming stronger and stronger. We have known that the climate is changing for decades, particularly since the publication of the First Assessment Report on Climate Change in 1990. For thirty years we have been talking about the need to act, but so far we have been little effective. The last five years were the warmest five-year period ever recorded. Droughts and floods happen more often and sea level rise is accelerating. We know about it, but actual measures are insufficient to remain within the maximum of two degrees of global warming - as internationally agreed in Paris in 2015. And the two degrees of warming is already highly risky. Governments claim to be doing things, and yes there are new plans being adopted, but it is by far not enough.’

What do you hope the Scientists4Future NL will accomplish?

‘With this movement we raise awareness that we better act quickly. Scientists are not involved in policy, but we can support the movement by communicating clearly about the causes of the problem as well as the solutions. The solutions are actually quite attractive: clean energy, protection of forests, greener cities and so on. To act, you need political will and for political will you need people to speak out. Politicians respond to what people want or what they think they want.’

You mentioned yourself that there are many similar initiatives. How is this one different?

‘What is interesting about this movement is that is it led by young people. Historically, that is unique because it is usually the powerful – meaning older – people being heard. Now the young people are saying “what you, the powerful older people, decide affects us”. To me, that is impressive and I want to give those people a little support. You can be cynical about young people going to the streets and striking, you can say they are just taking a day off school, but the fact is: they are right. And they need our support.’

The alliance has attracted the attention of many scientists, supposedly more than ever before. Why is that? Why is that happening now?

‘This is the tipping point. There is now a critical mass of people seeing that it’s not going well. Once that happens, you start to recognize each other and stimulate each other. The time is right to speak out. I feel like I need to speak up, because we simply don’t do enough. I speak up because it actually helps. It might make a difference.’

Will you join the Global Climate Strike on Friday in the Hague?

‘Yes, my wife and I are going. And I know some of my colleagues are going as well. Sustainability is becoming something that more and more people are driven by and focused on. It is becoming the talk of the day and that in itself is very important.’