This Changes Everything Vs. My Life on the Road


For NaNoWriMo last year I wrote a blog post a day and one of them was about comparative reading. I think it is such an amazing concept and I wanted to do it again. It gives you a deeper understanding of what you have read, how certain writers tackle certain aspects, and how you can shift your focus when reading.

“This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” is a book by Naomi Klein from 2014 which looks into the economic, social, and environmental aspects of climate change while also analysing how capitalism brought us there. It was a fascinating book and will probably be one of the main sources for my own project because it has so much wisdom in it.

Gloria Steinem’s memoir “My Life on the Road” was published in 2015. She describes her life as an activist, the people she has met and who have guided her throughout, and the issues women were and are still facing today. It was inspiring to read about a life lived so fully.

What I loved most about these two books was their inclusiveness, their focus on minorities and their unique struggles. Steinem writes about her experiences with people who have faced discrimination and how they dealt with them. What we can do about them. Naomi Klein is also very aware and she takes it a step further, linking these issues to climate change.

One aspect that made me look at “My Life on the Road” through an environmental lens in the first place was this one by Steinem in her interview with Emma Watson: If we had real equality between women and men, women would be able to decide for themselves if they want to receive children or not. They would have full reproductive freedom and would not have to have children they don’t want or cannot have. It would offer them opportunities to work, to invest in education, to live more sustainably. The effect of climate change also depends on global population size. This is why feminism should be one of the main strategies to conquer climate change. Naomi Klein adds to this as she says that every movement aiming for equality is a step in the right direction of conquering climate change.

Our environmental problems today are the product of hundreds of years of inequality, of exploitation, and expression of power over nature. In a culture where not everyone is able to work together because of prejudices and strong opposing opinions, there will be no unified action against climate change. One which we so desperately need. Gloria Steinem argues that these movements are indeed happening right now, though, and that she has experienced living right among them. Felt their power and the hope they radiate. This is also what I noticed in the end of “This Changes Everything”. There is a way to get through this. We have to transform our values and work for a more just world.

“My Life on the Road” examines how this is done in detail. Going around, talking to people. Listening to their struggles and spreading awareness. Giving talks to activists, forming groups, marching. These are the practical aspects of the great change Naomi Klein wrote about.

Since Klein’s book is researched to a great detail and could be seen more as a piece of journalism, it does not have as many personal stories in it as “My Life on the Road”. However, the part I loved the most, was her telling the story how she struggled to get pregnant and how her son was born. She wrote about the BP oil spill and its effect on the eggs and youngest fish in lakes and oceans. It was beautifully linked and thus all the more powerful. “My Life on the Road” as a memoir has all these stories and anecdotes which are linked to the pressing issues of our time. This taught me a lot: When writing my own book I have to connect my own stories to the issues I’m talking about. Otherwise, they will get too distant. I don’t want to be a preacher. I want to be an observer of the world, a storyteller.

Both books have changed my perception. After finishing “This Changes Everything” today I am a bit more hopeful that we can avert the crisis, but I’m also more painfully aware of the damage that we have done thus far. I feel physical pain in my stomach and heart when I read about oil spills, about devastating pollution, and the exploitation of people all over the world. Gloria Steinem assured me through the women’s movement that this can be changed. I have had the great amount of opportunities only through women like her. Once we recognise our power as a unified people, we can make a difference. Once we tell our stories and share our values, we will succeed.

Both of them showed me a journalism at its finest. Since it is a profession I could really see myself in, it was interesting to read about their lives. I felt a personal connection through the love of writing and the passion with which they dive into their topics.

What is the overall message of both books?
Be hopeful. Work harder. Be more inclusive. Listen and learn.

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NaNoWriMo Day 29: Science, Kids.


Today, let me make the case for science and technology. Why they are awesome, why they are important. How we should change our school systems to encourage children to learn about them.

I went to a primary school that was very science and language centred, so was my secondary school. I was always interested in these subjects, I loved school. I wasn’t that excited about technology, though. My dad is an engineer, he started to learn about it at a very young age. He invested his time in building and making devices I don’t understand even now. They are always a bit like magic to me. Engineers in general seem like magicians, I admire their paths of thinking and how they solve problems. I am more of a dreamer. I never took that path. If it were not for my parents, I would have taken a similar road to many of my fellow students in school. “We hate science. We hate maths.” I liked maths! You could never say that around your friends, you were looked at as if you were crazy. What is that kind of culture?

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. We have to go to school. I don’t blame teachers or parents, it’s really not their fault. The problem is, we make so many alterations in our school system which we can never predict the consequences of. The classical concept of a school, that all children learn about the same thing the same way – I think it is outdated in a way. I just watched a very good Ted Talk on this subject. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mummj4SwpU0) Our schools today are not participatory. They are following one straight path. Teachers don’t have the time to explain anything to their pupils anymore. However, this is such a vital part of science! You have to understand what you are doing.

I’m a private tutor for children from grade 7-10. Nearly all of them are there for maths or physics. “We don’t understand anything.” That’s what I often hear. Why? Because these children never learned how to learn. How to work on the problems themselves, ask others, pose questions. Very early on, these children are told that science is difficult. That you have to invest a lot into it. For me personally, it was much harder to learn dates in history. For tests in science, I needed to understand the concept, that was it. I hate learning by heart, still can’t do it properly.

We teach our children facts, not concepts. We narrow everything down to a point where these facts don’t make sense anymore. Yesterday I had a boy in my lesson who said that he was really confused. They had started three different topics in one lesson and jumped back and forth. The teaching today lacks structure because we don’t emphasise on science education anymore. There is simply not enough time to connect thoughts.

My dad did a really good job explaining everything about science to me. I would ask questions, he would answer them as good as he could. If I was not satisfied, he would look it up. We do that even now, which I love. He gave me that deep interest in everything science related. Science at the breakfast table. I wanted to know the underlying rules behind everything. This is also the reason I took physics as my advanced course in secondary school. Physics and Art. What a combination. It gave me a lot. It was hard, no doubts. I would often cry myself through exam prep and homework. But it was worth it. We had two really good teachers who would go into depth with certain topics. Who would explain to us where all the formulas come from. Why we did all that stuff. Who spoke with passion, with excitement and love for what they were doing.

Another problem I see in today’s schools is the lack of reason. Why do we learn that, my pupils always ask. I try to provide an answer. I often don’t have one. As the science education is so little these days, where should we even start? The building blocks of a good understanding are cut from the schedule and everything breaks down. Until many utterly confused teenagers need private tutoring to be successful in their next exams. Exams are not a sign of you being smart or not. I was very good in school and yet I wouldn’t consider myself as extremely intelligent. I just love to learn new things and to understand them. Exams are arbitrary measurements of how good you mastered to learn topics and forget them after two minutes. How good you can handle your stress levels.

Here is what I would love to have in schools:

More science education. We need engineers, we need inventors, we need people who take a step forward. We need thinkers and doers and people able to understand the scientific basis of this world. We especially scare girls away from science, which is horrible! How many of the girls in my year did actually pick up an engineering degree? One out of thirty. By stressing on this education we provide them with more knowledge and more understanding of the world. Which is particularly important facing our global climate change this century. We need solutions for that problem. Now. How will we do that if no one understands the basic physics behind it anymore? How will we tackle our energy problem without the knowledge of technology?

More time to explain. We should encourage children to ask questions. Those who never ask, they sit in my private lessons. They never dare to ask. We need to change that. It is important that children grow up in an environment where they are free to ask, free to learn. Encourage your own children to ask you questions. Try to answer them and if you can’t, look them up, just as my parents did. There is no shame in not knowing something, but in not trying.

More involvement of technology. There are amazing study programmes online. Many of the large universities provide online lecture material. There is Khan Academy, Crash Course (which saved many of my exams in uni), so many resources children can use. The only thing you need to do is inspire them. Stress the importance of science. Children are usually learning through the things they see their parents do. If you are excited about physics, your children probably will be, too. Using all these amazing contents, children don’t need to stop learning about a certain topic, like they would in school. You don’t have these short, insufficient introductions anymore. If your kid wants, it can become an expert in the chemical structures found on Neptune. It can learn all about superconductors. Make them excited for science! Learn from your own children.

Schools need to provide techniques how to learn. I never learned how to learn. I had to acquire that knowledge the hard way. Through uni. Through banging my head on the table every night and crying because I couldn’t put any more knowledge into my brain. I finally found a way. Visual Note Taking. Drawing in class, basically. Something that prohibited in every primary school. Great system.

We cannot teach other people. We can provide incentives and explanations. We can never do the actual process for them, though. That’s not possible. What I always try to do with my students, is draw pictures for them. I want to them to understand a process. If they have understood it, I want them to repeat it on their own. So that I can be sure that they really got it. That takes a lot of effort and energy. Most times it is worth it.

We had some conversations with the parents of my students last week and I was happy to hear that they liked my lessons. They liked that they understood more than in school. And they liked my passion. That is maybe the most important one here. Passion. Speak with passion about science and your children will love it, too. Inspire them to learn, to look deeper, to study more. Science is an essential compound of understanding the world around and becoming a more complexly thinking human being. A great person able to achieve great things. For the benefit of everyone.

Current Word Count: 49447

NaNoWriMo Day 13: Some Eco Stories


Story Time! Today I will present you some little tales from my journey of becoming an Environmental Manager. I’m not a scientist, I’m not an engineer, I’m a little of everything and that’s why I love it so much. We are the ones to gather people together and discuss different approaches. That is also kind of the excuse for when we are failing at maths. Hopefully, someone will do those calculations for us… It’s important to have a general overview. We are getting little portions of everything. Just enough to keep us excited and let us stick our noses into our books.

Last Friday, we went on an excursion for our module Basic Soil Science, which is one of my absolute favourites. I don’t know what it is about the dirt beneath our feet that fascinates me that much. Maybe because it is so vital to our existence. Without good soil we couldn’t sustain our lives. Or maybe it is just because I grew up doing some gardening work. I remember my dad digging holes in our garden to plant trees or plants or breaking up the soil. It is fascinating how it takes such a long time to build a soil. Up to 200 years to form 1 cm! Yet, nowadays we are ruining our grounds with chemical inputs and fertilisers so that the ground we need to feed ourselves is decreasing rapidly.

We drove to the forest north of Cottbus, there is an end moraine with the hills that the glaciers brought with them. It was oddly silent there. This silence is something we rarely experience anymore in our fast moving cities. There is always a car, a plane, a train, construction work… In this forest, though, it was silent. And extremely cold. Who wanted to go to Sweden for her semester abroad? In winter? Yeah, me. Freaking out over frosty temperatures in Germany…

To keep us warm we started digging a hole in the forest ground. That was some exercise! All the tree roots through the whole profile… We were the only completely female group. They expected us to not manage to dig a pit in the ground. Well, we were the first ones to finish! Some first class girl power here! Our professor came and examined what we had done, the hole was one metre deep just as we should do it. Then he said: “I’m terribly sorry ladies, you have to go on. There is another layer beneath.” So we kept on digging. And who would have known? Another layer of darker soil became visible. We even build a step to be able to get out of the pit again. That was a nice deep hole in a lonely, we made there.

Then it was time to examine the soil profile. At the top, there is always a layer of organic material, moss and humus and needles and other leaf litter. Underneath that, the first horizon starts, the Ah horizon. It is made out of humus and normally very dark soil. Beneath that one is the B horizon. In addition, it gets a little w if it is weathered. Weathering is a soil transformation process, in our case the iron in our soil was transformed and it got a yellowish colour. Right under that one is the C horizon, which was also a little weathered. Then the interesting part began. There was another layer where there should be none. How to explain that?

In medieval times, the forest that surrounded us had been cut and the trees dragged into the valley we were standing in. That damaged the top layer of the soil with all its organic material. It became fossilised, therefore it is called “II (for second layer) fAh”. Because we had a lot of sand there, it was washed away by heavy rainfall and got into the valley where we were standing. It covered the top layer, the organic matter. A new layer was formed. A new A, B and C horizon. My friend Hannah took this amazing picture to illustrate that:

soil

There was also a lot of little charcoal pieces in our soil sample. That could be due to forest fire or a just a campfire workers in the woods made. Forever to be seen in the soil beneath our feet.

It was an adventure, it was exciting. We visited history by digging into the ground, just 1.40 m deep. That’s not that much! We dug ourselves to medieval times! Only in rethinking the day I am grasping how amazing that is. We can look into our past by making a hole in the ground. A very beautiful hole, my father said, he always wanted to build one like that.

Looking back into our history has always excited me. I grew up with books about history and tv documentaries on the past centuries. One of the first ones I looked at was a book about the ancient Egypt, which is my mother’s but I would always study all the photographs and become excited. I read novels about history borrowed from my grandparents. I had great history teachers! I would talk to my granny about her life. We always look at the old photo albums. I just love to hear stories.

One of the heroes of my mum is Heinrich Schliemann, who made the first excavations to try and find the ancient Troja. He did indeed find it! At least the Bronze Age one. Now we know there have been many more. That’s also fascinating to me. They build a city and after they left or it burned down or something else happened, there was always a new one on the exact same spot!

Schliemann was obsessed with his dream and did everything he could to get where he wanted to be. Educated himself, learned languages. He embodies what history means to my mum and through her stories also to me. I love to go to libraries and do research. I love to read biographies at the moment, to learn about the lives of people who are so very different from me. Who share their experiences and thereby teach what life can be about. That your path is not always straight and that you should let yourself be guided by interest, curiosity and passion. Today I started Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”. I really didn’t want to put it down but I have to write this text! 😉 It’s such a great book from by such a great man.

Concerning the stories we are told by our families: I asked them when they first became aware of climate change. I mean our generation basically grew up with it. In school we were always taught about it, the science behind it was all around us. I painfully became aware of how difficult and desperate the situation was in a geography, when we were talking about the Doha conference in 2012. The Kyoto protocol was extended but Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand left this Kyoto II contract. We realised that it is difficult to reach agreements on an international level. In our course we learned about renewable energies and sustainable city design, all skills that we thought we wouldn’t need after school. Who would have known that I would exactly use that, just a few years later?

My family told me varying points when they became aware of global warming. It was as early as the whole ozone hole discussion came up or when there were increasingly damaging hurricanes and flooding in the Indian ocean.

The problem with our ozone layer began in the last 70s. There were several international agreements like the Montreal Protocol and the Vienna Convention which did a fair job. Scientific evidence on what causes the ozone layer to deplete was not that established at the time. 2012 was the first year in which we could observe that the ozone hole got smaller again. To me it seems like that was nearly the only significant positive news concerning the environment we got until this point. Sure, we have had a lot of international agreements. I’m flipping through a whole law book at the moment trying desperately to find that one article. It feels like a lot of talking without doing anything, though. Maybe I’m being unfair to the hard working people behind these agreements. Certainly they will have an impact someday. But until we are not able to implement them, nothing is going to change. International environmental law is a difficult topic and we will have to work on that for decades to get a decent outcome. Hopefully stopping global warming. This vision, however, seems a little to optimistic to me. Unfortunately.

As students, we live in a helpful environment. We are a bunch of people eager to change things. We will gather together as a study course and will watch documentaries about food waste. Any environmental challenge. You name it. Forty people raging and crying about all the lost vegetables and other products we throw away. Gasping each time the shocking numbers are revealed. We want to do something about this. Nevertheless, we are also aware of the fact that change takes a long time. Just like soil forming! 1 centimetre in 200 years! Especially with the tireless lobbying of major cooperations who want to secure their own profits. Who only think in short term profit maximisation. It’s a frightening world we are living in and as the gaps between people are widening, it is sometimes hard to imagine a better and united world.

Only those who focus on their vision, will make it come true. My father always tells me that analogy: “If you are driving the car and something emerges ahead, do not look at it. Look to its side because that’s the direction you want to drive to.” People who look at their goal in front of them and not their obstacle, those are the ones who will succeed in the end.

Current Word Count: 21802

Education.


No matter what anybody tells you words and ideas can change the world.

says Mr Keating in the Dead Poet’s Society, which is one of my favourite films. If you are able to raise your voice and stand up for your rights, you can achieve wonderful things.

In the last days I have been very inspired by the many talks of Malala Yousafzai I listened to. Furthermore, I finished reading her book which I started ages ago. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Her endurance, her strength, her wise words show me that you always have to speak up and that education is the key for peace and development. Here are some awesome speeches and interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOqIotJrFVM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAhjiUh-Pho

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKIQ_AyLi30

I have had the privilege to get a great education, primary and secondary and now even university. I will forever be grateful for that. I love studying and reading and following my curiosity. I love to go beyond what is in the curriculum, ask questions and teach myself new things. When times are difficult I step back and tell myself what a great honour it is for me to have this opportunity and then I go on and study for that exam.

Today, I went for a run with my lovely friend Izzy today and our conversations are always very deep and honest. We talked about our school system and it was the reason for this little text. In schools in Germany you are often only taught what is in the curriculum. You do not learn how to study. You do not learn how to be interested in a topic. You do not learn how to solve problems and seek answers for yourself. You do not learn to think critically.
In their studies, teachers learn a lot about their subjects but hardly anything about how to teach. As I give private lessons now to students, I know how hard it can be to explain something to a pupil who doesn’t want to learn. In those moments I think back to my school experience, search for teachers I admire and ask myself what they would do. I find my answers in only two or three of them. Three from a period of 12 years!

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. Albert Einstein

I believe that it is as important to know about your subject, as it is to know how to talk to your students. How to motivate them. Being excited about is not required if you want to be a teacher. If you are highly motivated, you will soon see that not many people value that. You simply lose the spirit after some time. We do not value teachers who look beneath the surface or try to encourage critical thinking. We do not value teachers who want you to read and learn all by yourself. We do not value teachers who teach you about life and morality.

This is the situation in Germany. We still have a good school system, though, because every girl and boy is able to go to a school. Globally, the statistics are shocking. 60 million children in 2013 did not go to primary school which is devastating. Or as the UNESCO put it:

Among children of primary school age, 1 out of 10 girls and 1 out of 12 boys were out of school in 2013.

You can have a closer look at the figures here: http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/fs-31-out-of-school-children-en.pdf

Schools are the key to a peaceful world. Education teaches us respect, tolerance, patience, understanding. It teaches us about culture and values, about moral and our human rights.

When in September 2015, about one year ago, the world leaders decided on the new global goals I was thinking about which my number one priority would be. I decided for number 4. Here is why: If investing in education, we can end wars and therefore bring peace and better lives to people. Education for every child is the first step in the direction of gender equality. Children have to learn about our planet and how to treat it, how to act responsible and sustainable.

In sociology in the first semester we had an interesting graph: People with higher education are more likely to act environmentally responsible. Out of this group, women are more likely to do so than men. What are the consequences? We have to educate people from a very young age and provide them with primary and secondary education to show them the importance of treating our mother earth right.
Many girls are not able to go to school because of war, of cultural aspects and they will stay at home. They will raise their kids to believe in the same values as they do. There is no escape except, they receive a quality education. It empowers them, gives strength to their voices and makes them stand up for their rights and beliefs. We need more women leaders in the world and I believe that they will also bring change in the way we treat our environment. If they are not in positions for change, they will at least ask the right questions, they will speak up and their combined voices will lead to rethinking of the challenges we face today.

I’m curious…

Which of the global goals would you choose as your priority?

What are your thoughts on education?

Malala Yousafzai


A fighter for children’s rights, education, for women’s rights, the youngest Nobel Prize Winner, a writer and storyteller – and she is so much more. She has an extraordinary story that moved many people including myself, a true inspiration.

I painted it with acrylics on canvas and this was really my first proper painted portrait I guess… (I’m very proud of this one!) Hope you like it 🙂

malala

And her father saw the picture, he liked it! So happy right now!!!
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Painting Malala


I just wanted to share with you a quick glimpse at my new painting!
Uni has started again this monday and I have to use every free minute to paint. It’s a wonderful way to relax 😉 Still a lot of work to do but it’s progressing…

Malala is a huge inspiration for me, she is so brave and powerful, speaks with such wisdom and shows us to never give up. I’m also reading her biography at the moment ‘I am Malala’ where she shares her extraordinary story. She’s the same age as me! And she fights for children’s rights, for education even if she herself is still in school.

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