The climate strikes on the streets in cities across the world, make me remind one of the best books I read in my teenage years. ‘Crusade in Jeans’ blends a fictional story with the long-standing story of the children’s crusades of the Middle Ages in Europe. The book follows the steps of a 20th century teenager in jeans who is transmitted back into the early 13th century where he joins a movement of children who are on a crusade across Europe to liberate the holy city of Jerusalem. When they arrive at the Mediterranean Sea they come to realize that they have been betrayed by the priests, who sell them off as slaves to the merchants. ‘
There is true evidence of this children’s crusade who endeavored to march bare foot across Medieval European continent. I realize that the children of our time are walking their own crusades against the odds. But there is at least one big difference: these 21st century climate crusaders do not have to cross the entire continent to realize they have been betrayed by adults. They know.
“Don’t trust the adults in the room” (Greta Thunberg)
The question, however, is whether they will choose their own paths to a better world or will also be transported into the slave drivers’ galley ships. Will they become just like us, the 20th century generations, seized by greed, power and money? Who offers them a way out to a better world? Who holds the key to this diabolical dilemma?
As a Dutch children’s book writer Thea Beckman was ahead of her time. Her books — written mostly in the 70s, 80s and 90s — mix true historical events with dilemmas of our time: the generation gap, freedom fighters, or the utopian world of the children of Mother Earth after a fictitious Third World War. Unfortunately, it was also the time of economist Friedman (Capitalism and Freedom, 1962), with his plea for neo-liberalism and the start of unbridled capitalism, which is confessed to this day in many boardrooms.
Trapped in free trade
Friedman’s right was reaffirmed when state socialism imploded, allowing the countries behind the Iron Curtain to share in the joy of free trade after some time. China also shifted gears to (state) capitalism. Multinationals saw their opportunity and connected the world with their global supply chains, making clever use of free circulating capital, tax havens, and virtually free movement of goods and information. Where the business climate was most favorable, activities were set up or closed elsewhere, without taking care about people and the environment.
There were also skeptics in these days, but they were and still are put aside as left-wingers, hippies and tree huggers. For a long time, they must have wondered why the student revolts did not happen. Why didn’t they get out on the streets like they did in the turbulent 60s? The children who populated the universities in the 90s were already infected. Popular studies such as business administration or economics preached Big Capital, raising masses of higher educated people for Big Business and unbridled capitalism continued to grow at banks, oil companies, law firms and consultancy firms.
The tide is turning
The tipping point came, not from university students but from school children. While Dutch politicians were still fighting for the abolition of the dividend tax in favor of the large corporation, a little girl was sitting on the streets in Stockholm.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
She was initially ignored. In the Netherlands, some girls were on the sidewalk as well, but they were told with a smile to go back to school soon. The smile turned into a frown during the school strikes in Spring. Later, the children were angrily approached to stop this foolish game, while the climate hysteria had burst out in full force.
We don’t want to go back!
Child and capital have approached one another very closely at the General Assembly of the United Nations (23 September 2019). While world leaders are zigzagging, children do not want to go back, but forward to a clean future. In The Netherlands the sign is on the wall with a Supreme Court ‘Urgenda Arrest, the Groningen earthquakes caused by the exploration of gas, and the latest Nitrogen crisis in The Netherlands. “Now, full speed ahead“ a seasoned sailor would say, but politicians persist in taking the electoral votes as the measure of good and bad policies.
It’s about time for Big Capital and especially the energy giants to move into action mode. The top 20 largest energy companies have accounted for 35% of all CO2 and Methane emissions in the world since 1965 (The Guardian). And still a company like Shell dares to ask for a permit to abandon oil platforms in the North Sea because it is not profitable to remove them. Exxon Mobil still thinks it can get a green ribbon with a public offensive about CO2 capture and storage. A strong example of linear bookkeeping and green wash marketing. They would do better to use their enormous capital and know-how to transform the world’s energy management.
If we want to work more seriously on sustainability objectives, it’s not only Big Capital. We should also be open to social capital. Social capitalism has been mistaken for years and has been (wrongly) compared by Neo-Liberals to Communism. However, social capital stands for the human measure of capitalism. For close-knit networks of companies that want to develop the technology together to achieve zero emissions from, for example, the transport system or port and industry.
Message from the future
At the end of the story of the crusade children, as Rudolf leaves the Middle Ages he sighs that this beautiful world will change, that everything will be lost. He praises the achievements of the 20th century, but is amazed at the loss of values such as love, goodness, compassion and loyalty. Perhaps that is what the children of our time are looking for. Our generation can play a bridging role. We — children of the 60s and 70s — grew up with stories about the ideals of the hippies generation. We could remove the disbelief and incomprehension of our children by connecting us to their destinies and being more aware of the nature and environment in which they grow up. We could link business models with the human dimension, natural values and thus live more consciously of and with our ecosystem.
How will we look back on this time in 20 years? Will the children’s dreams become fiction or will they become reality? The key to the future is in our hands.
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By: Maurice Jansen (10–10–2019)
Note: section titles in this essay refer in part to the titles in the book “Crusaders in Jeans”. Original book in Dutch ‘Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek’ by Thea Beckman (1973).