“Some politicians make fun of us, saying that we do not know anything or that it used to be better because children kept their mouth shut.”
An interview with Pina Helsen, Marian Jones and Roos Monbaliu
By Stijn Devillé, Director of Het Nieuwstedelijk
Photos Ewoud Monbaliu

It is a sunny day in February. We meet Marian at home, where the atmosphere is relaxed straight away.' Adults say that we have to go to school or play outside, instead of getting involved in the climate debate. But how can or our future children be able to play outside if our world is suffocated by too much CO2 in the atmosphere?

To start with: if I have informed myself correctly, you cannot sign a petition on-line. You must be at least 13 years old to sign something.
Marian: That makes me actually very angry and sad at the same time. Pfft. We were really disappointed when we heard that. We cannot go to climate skipping demonstrations nor can we sign petitions. Apparently,we are not allowed to do anything apart from keeping our mouth shut. That is why we want to go to the children's rights commissioner. It’s us who will suffer the most from climate change. While it is not our fault. And we will not be able to change anything once we have finished studying. Then it will be too late. Starting this petition and making our voices heard now is all we can do. We call upon all children around the world to sign our petition. Even if this can only be done with the help of our parents.
Do children understand anything about climate change? Aren’t you just skipping school because others are doing so or because it’s easy to copy the behaviour of big kids? Or do you just find it exciting to skip school for an afternoonso that you’re not bored in class?
Roos: We are primary schoolkids, but that does not mean that we don’t know anything. We watch the children's news almost daily and sometimes we even watch the regular news programmes on tv. At school we make presentations and so-called “actuas”. You should not assume we are not aware of what is happening in the world.
What are “actuas”?
Pina: I think you use the word “speech” for this. In such a speech we choose a relevant topic that is in the news at that moment and which is interesting forthe other kids in the class. After the talk we then discuss this with the whole class. Sometimes we also invite scientists from university to come and explain a more difficult topic, like biodiversity.
Roos: But it can also be about food production, fair trade, social media, party politics and of course climate change. We are stimulated by our teachers to read library books, newspaper articles or Wikipedia posts on these topics. With our class we also visit expositions and theatre plays. We even go into debate with artists. And we interview experts and produce our weekly school newspaper.
Do you actually understand what these experts and scientists are talking about?
Marian: Obviously we don’t understand all technical details yet! But apparently we seem to understand the main conclusions much better than our politicians do. We know the climate system is getting very close to a point of no return: that’s the moment in history where we lose control over the climate system. Then it is too late to do something about it. I think they call this runaway global warming. Once that starts happening, we know this will have terrible consequences for the lives of many people in the world.
Pina: There is a famous British biologist (Sir David Attenborough, note from the editors) who even claims that this can be the beginning of the end of humanity. Do you realise how scary that is when we hear that on television? It makes me very afraid. This is about us you know!
Alright. It seems to be nice and useful if you work on those topics at school. But if you are already doing this in class, why are you still complaining?
Marian: Talking about it in school is not going to solve this problem, is it? We have to contribute more, just like Greta Thunberg and Anuna De Wever (the 17-year old girl leading the protests in Belgium, note from the editors)! That’s why we launch this petition.
Pina: What makes Greta Thunberg and Anuna De Wever really angry, is that our Ministers don’t seem to understand that global warming is the mother of all problems, which needs to be tackled NOW before it is too late.
Greta Thunberg and Anuna De Wever are your heroes. But they aren’t scientists, are they?
Marian: Of course not. But our Ministers aren’t scientists either, are they? Greta and Anuna are basically just saying: start listening to what the scientists are telling us what needs to be done! Greta Thunberg states this as follows: if scientists have the evidence that there is a real problem with our climate system and the consequences will be terrible, then it’s logical to conclude that we should do something about it.
But there is a lot of money needed for that. We need the economy to sort this out.
Pina: The way the economy is working now, is making us sick. It’s like a doctor who tells you that you have cancer. And he goes on to say you can survive if you start a treatment NOW. Then it would be stupid to try and find another doctor who tells you that you don’t have cancer. What is the point of trying to find excuses to do nothing? No, the only good answer is then: OK, tell me what I should do so that I can survive!
Roos : Or compare it with a nut allergy. If you continue to eat nuts, you will die! Are you then going to tell yourself I will stop eating nuts in the weekend but will continue to eat them in the rest of the week? That’s crazy. But that is exactly what adults are saying about our CO2 emissions. Isn’t that completely stupid?
Pina: It is only logical that we tackle a serious problem like climate change in a proper way. Why are politicians always looking for excuses to not solve this problem. Why is it so difficult for adults to understand this? For us as primary school kids this is very simple.
Marian, your father is an environmental scientist and climate author working at the University of Leuven? Isn’t he just using you for his own benefit?
Marian : Aah. I find that an insulting question. Is this the benefit that we want to survive on this planet? Isn’t that what we all want? Obviously, at home we speak more about climate change that in other families. But as kids we can see what is happening, can’t we? I was my own idea to give a speech at the climate demonstration in Leuven (January 31, when 3,500 primary school kids joined a climate demonstration in front of the University library, note from the editors). And it was my own idea to start up this climate petition. In reality it is exactly the opposite of what you are claiming. I have been using my father and his network to get this done. Of all people living on this planet at the moment, it is our generation that will be hit hardest by climate change. While we are not responsible for causing this problem. It will be too late to change things by the time we have finished studying. Starting this petition and letting our voices be heard is the only thing we can do now.
Roos: Some politicians make fun of us, saying that we do not know anything or that it used to be better because children kept their mouth shut We will not be silenced. Until governments start listening!

Toespraak Marian Jones

Herbekijk hier de speech van Marian op Le(u)ven voor het klimaat.

Geplaatst door Freinetschool de Zevensprong op Donderdag 7 februari 2019