Wake Up Call on the Environment: a Student Manifesto

Written by Manifeste étudiant pour un réveil écologique, consisted of students from various French higher education schools: AgroParisTech, CentraleSupélec, Ecole Polytechnique, HEC Paris, and ENS Ulm.


We, students in 2018, make the following observation: despite the many calls from the scientific community, despite the irreversible changes already observed around the world, our societies keep moving towards an environmental and human disaster.

Need we remind you? Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the previous one and all the other decades since 1850[I]. In 2018, even the Scandinavian countries have been affected by forest fires of an unusual magnitude[II]. 60% of species in Europe already reached an “unfavorable” conservation status[III] and one third of humanity is affected by desertification[IV]. As a result of an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, of declining crop yields and rising disease levels, more than 100 million people are likely to fall below the poverty line by 2030[V]. By 2050, 250 million people are expected to migrate due to extreme events related to climate change[VI].

The list is long so let’s try to be concise. On a global scale we have crossed at least 4 of the 9 “planetary boundaries”[VII] beyond which the environmental degradation risks causing brutal changes of the Earth system, compromising further human activity. Do we have to wait until all boundaries are crossed? Of course, at COP21 in 2015, 195 countries, supported by groups of experts and NGOs, agreed on the need to contain global warming under 2°C to avoid climate change going beyond any control- but they agreed on that in a non-binding agreement. Given the gap[VIII] between the promises made by the States and the emission reductions that are in fact required, we can only notice with frustration that the actions taken so far are fundamentally insufficient to face the challenges ahead of us.

Insufficient because they do not address the root causes of the problem. The way our modern societies function, the fact that they are based on GDP growth goals without taking into account the issues linked to this indicator -that is the main reason why environmental and social challenges arise. Our economic systems have not yet comprehended the fact that resources are not infinite[IX] and that some of the damage caused to the environment is irreversible. They are unaware of their own fragility in the face of environmental disruption and widening inequalities. Our political systems are constrained by the expression of opposing interests, often very different from the public interest. As such they fail to offer a long term vision or to make ambitious decisions which would effectively renew our societies. Finally, our ideological systems value individualistic behaviors that pursue profit and unlimited consumption; behaviors that drive us to label as “normal” ways of life that are yet far from being sustainable. We confine ourselves to ignorance at best, to denial at worst.

We, the signatories of this manifesto, are nevertheless convinced that this bleak picture is not inevitable. Two options are open today. Either we stick to the destructive path our societies have chosen, being content with the commitment of only a minority of people, waiting to sift through its aftermath. Or we take our future into our own hands and collectively decide to anticipate and incorporate social and environmental ambitions into our daily lives and jobs; take action to change direction and avoid stalemate.

The first option has an advantage: it is easy, since it is about not changing anything, or going on with only superficial changes. But then we young people are simply supposed to watch the system run out of steam as we get older -without reacting? We refuse to accept this. More and more of us think that a radical change of course is now the option offering us the best future prospects. Even though we might still have a bit of time before our rich and temperate countries suffer serious damage due to environmental issues, we do not want this timeframe to serve as an excuse for inaction. Especially not when others are already suffering from consequences of our development model. Nearly two planets are needed to bear our current way of life[X]. G20 countries represent about 80% of the world’s energy consumption in 2015[XI], according to the OECD, having coal as their first source of energy. We are currently benefiting from such unfairness and we will be all the more responsible for it without a clear commitment to fight it.

Given the scale of this challenge, we know that individual commitments, while laudable, won’t be enough. Indeed, does it mean anything to ride a bike when you work for a company whose activities contribute to increasing climate change or draining natural resources? As we get closer to our first job we realize that the system we are part of steers us towards positions that are often incompatible with the result of our reflections. This system traps us in daily contradictions. We are determined, yet we cannot act alone. The only way we shall overcome these contradictions is with the active involvement of economic and political decision-makers, whose sole purpose must be to serve public interest in the long run.

We, future workers, are ready to question our comfort zone in order to achieve a deep social change.

We want to take advantage of our power as students by turning to employers that abide by the demands set out in this manifesto the demands set out in this manifesto. We affirm that it is possible to live decently without drowning into either overconsumption or utter destitution; that the economic system must be aware of its dependence on environment in order to be sustainable; and that solving environmental issues is key to reducing inequalities and conflict risks. The society we want is not a harder, sadder society of deprivation. We want a more peaceful and more pleasant one, a society that chooses to slow down. Indeed, slowing the pace of the destructions caused by our economic model is not at all incompatible with human well-being -quite the contrary. For all these reasons companies should be prepared to place the ecological perspective at the heart of their organization and their activities.

As citizens, as consumers, as workers, we affirm in this manifesto that we are determined to change an economic system in which we no longer believe. We know that this will imply changing our way of life, because it is simply necessary: it is high time that appropriate measures were taken to stop living beyond our means, at the expense of our planet, of other peoples, and of generations to come. We need a new goal, something different from fighting to be able, at all costs, to consume goods and services we can live without. We must place the ecological transition at the core of our social project. We need to give birth to a collective momentum if we want to achieve this. And since the scale of the project requires everyone’s energy, we are prepared to make ours available with enthusiasm and determination. Through our mobilization, we want to encourage all actors in society -public authorities, businesses, individuals, associations- to play their role in this major transformation, and to make the changes necessary to a finally sustainable society.


[I] 5ème Rapport du GIEC sur les changements climatiques et leurs évolutions futures (2013)


[II] Sarah Sermondadaz, “Incendies en Suède : un avant-goût de ce qui attend l’Europe, prévient Jean Jouzel”, Science et Avenir (23 Juillet 2018)


[III] Agence Européenne pour l’Environnement, l’Environnement en Europe : Etat et perspectives (2015)


[IV] Comité Scientifique Français de la Désertification


[V] Banque mondiale, “Plus de 100 millions d’êtres humains pourraient continuer d’échapper à la pauvreté grâce à un effor immédiat en faveur d’un développement respectueux du climat”, Communiqué de presse n°2016/164/GCC (8 Novembre 2015)


[VI] ONU Info, “Climat : 250 millions de nouveau déplacés d’ici à 2050, selon le HCR” (10 Décembre 2008)


[VII] Stockholm Resilience Center


[VIII] Programme des Nations Unies pour l’Environnement, The Emissions Gap Report 2017 (31 Octobre 2017)


[IX] Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers et William W. Behrens III, The Limits to Growth, Universe Books (1972)


[X] Global Footprint Network


[XI] WWF, L’autre déficit de la France (2018)


November 9, 2018


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