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“Inspire the next generation about sustainability.” With Franz Alt

The world today needs a new big peace and environmental movement, which as many people as possible can join. Only if we exert more pressure on politics from below, the politicians will make a more reasonable policy. It is absurd that today we spend more money on armament and the military than on environmental and […]

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The world today needs a new big peace and environmental movement, which as many people as possible can join. Only if we exert more pressure on politics from below, the politicians will make a more reasonable policy. It is absurd that today we spend more money on armament and the military than on environmental and climate protection, peacekeeping and education. We must at least reverse this trend.

As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Franz Alt. Born in 1938, Alt studied theology in Freiburg and Heidelberg. In his long-term career as a journalist, he has repeatedly made his mark as a critical spirit that questioned current interpretation of environmental and peace policy issues. His latest collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World, is on-sale November 17th.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a small village in southern Germany, near the Black Forest, and studied political science, history, theology and philosophy in Heidelberg and Freiburg.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

My parents were coal and oil traders. Therefore I noticed at a very early age how climate-damaging coal, but also gasoline and gas are for the environment. As a young person I was still in favor of nuclear power. But after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, as a television journalist, I reported a lot about the dangers of nuclear power and became a supporter of renewable energies. I became friends with the head of the Chernobyl clean-up operations. He also became an opponent of nuclear energy after the nuclear accident. For a good and positive future we neither need fossil nor nuclear energy. The sun alone sends 15,000 times more energy to the earth than we consume on a single day. In addition, there is wind energy, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, bioenergy, and the energy of currents and waves in the oceans. We can use the entire symphony of renewable energies. And: Sun and wind do not send us a bill. They are gifts from heaven.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

The most important thing is to realize that today we use as much fossil energy in one day as nature has accumulated in one million days. This means that we live, work and do business in the ratio of one to one million times against nature. And therefore against ourselves and against the future of our children and grandchildren. This is why global warming has become the question of survival for mankind. My suggestion: Every young person should consider what contribution he or she can make to the future of humankind.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

I almost eat no more meat anymore, for 95 % of my trips I use public transportation and we generate more solar power on the roof of our house than we consume electricity in our home. Within Central Europe I no longer fly, but use the train. To irrigate our garden, we use rainwater.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

What I just pointed out, almost any reader of these lines can do as well. My experience: This is not a sacrifice, it is a gain in quality of life and good for the environment.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

First: Parents should go out on the streets with their children and demonstrate for more effective climate protection policies of their government.

Second: Parents and children should consider together how much energy they can save in their homes.

Third: Parents and children should try to generate as much energy as possible themselves using the sun and wind or by obtaining green electricity.

Fourth: Consider together whether we need a large car or whether we should switch to a smaller electric car. Can we produce the electricity for our electric car ourselves?

Fifth: Do we want to change our food to healthy organic food?

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

First: Reduce paper consumption. Second: Minimize water and energy consumption. Third: Less travel and more video conferencing. Fourth: E-cars instead of gasoline cars. Fifth: More work in the home office.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

In a book we coauthored, I asked Mikhail Gorbachev: “What would a nuclear war be like?” His answer: “It would be the last war in the history of mankind, because afterwards there would be no more people who could still wage war”. The lesson to be learned: Either we abolish the atomic bombs or they abolish us. Or: I once asked the Dalai Lama: “What is love of the enemy for you? His answer: “I do not know any enemies, there are only people I have not met yet”.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The world today needs a new big peace and environmental movement, which as many people as possible can join. Only if we exert more pressure on politics from below, the politicians will make a more reasonable policy. It is absurd that today we spend more money on armament and the military than on environmental and climate protection, peacekeeping and education. We must at least reverse this trend.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

Anyone who thinks that Jesus’ proposal of loving your enemies is impractical is not considering the practical consequences of hating your enemies in the nuclear age. Nothing is more important for the survival of mankind today than a world free of nuclear weapons and a rapid change to one hundred percent renewable energy. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “The sun of the Father shines for all”. This makes it environmentally friendly, free of charge and forever. What are we still waiting for? We have everything in our hands.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

On my website www.sonnenseite.com in German and English. There you will find daily news about peace, disarmament, climate protection, renewable energies, energy transition, transport transition, construction transition, forest transition and water transition.

You can also follow “the sonnenseite“ on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Franz-Alt-SONNENSEITECOM-221072987903953/ ), Twitter (https://twitter.com/franzalt ), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/franz-alt/ ) and XING (https://www.xing.com/profile/Franz_Alt ).

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