Why the climate debate is paralyzing free thinkers and undermining democracy


Over a year ago I decided to invest my saved money in a completely independent documentary, “The Uncertainty Has Settled.” It was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.

The past nine years I worked non-stop for several foundations and TV-stations as a documentary maker. Mainly focussing on human rights, environmental issues, and international development. My aim as a documentary maker is to make independent films about important topics which will open debates in order to spread awareness and find solutions. I did very well over those years and made over 50 documentaries within nine years.

So I went off and decided to make a film about the effects of globalization and energy policies on agriculture. I’m originally from a small agricultural village and feel strongly connected with farmers. However, I’ve seen them change radically over the past ten years. The planned documentary “The Uncertainty Has Settled” tells the story of thousands of German farmers who changed their inefficient food production into the production of growing ‘energy’ crops. A highly subsidized and attractive business which is pushing valuable food production abroad. Not only do farmers have difficulties in maintaining a livelihood, but last year over 600,000 families couldn’t pay their energy bills anymore because they were skyrocketing. Also included in the film was the introduction of different scientific beliefs where I interview climate critics as well.

I believe in the importance of having different opinions to stay critical and focused toward important system shifts. All to maintain a balance between people, planet, and profit.

Advisedly, we decided to produce a film in the purest form. No propaganda or truth-claiming but rather make a film “to encourage them to think critically and independently.” In the end, my film doesn’t claim a side but does expose the uncertainties within climate science.

We applied to more than 45 film festivals worldwide and planned our release in Berlin in February 2017. The people who saw the film during rough viewings were enthusiastic and full of expectations on the impact the film would have on viewers. We sent out over hundreds of press releases, towards the bigger media channels and waited. However, it remained silent, very silent.

After calling journalists for reviews they simply refused. The story – according to them – was too confusing to the public during a time when ‘climate change was under pressure’ and populism was on the rise. They called it their ‘journalistic responsibility’ not to give it any positive attention (?!) Not only the journalists but almost all the bigger film festivals rejected the film as well for the same reason. Dumbfounded I was left behind.

I started campaigning the film via social media by myself. But at a rapid pace, I saw my general left-liberal followers disconnect more and more with my platforms. Hundreds of followers left me within two days. Cinema distributors, managers, and TV channels, who we wrote, asked for a confidential screener link. Not one of them wrote a single line back. I instead received a bunch of aggressive hate mails and threats afterwards. What did I do? What was my crime?

Ah, what the heck…we decided to self-distribute the film within independent cinemas. We succeeded and organized a tour through cinemas in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and the U.K. I traveled to most of the screenings for discussion with the audience. I wanted to find out how the audience was experiencing the film. It turned out to be a movie where the discussions were longer than the film itself. It was clear I made a controversial story, which was not what the ruling class and media elite wanted. However, the majority of the audience were very open. They experienced the film as a tool, which was providing oxygen to the suffocating debate on climate. People are afraid to have a different opinion on climate change and energy. Social pressure and mainstream politicos are sucking the oxygen from the free thinkers and preventing any form of discussion.

Those who dare to speak out differently are being labeled as a “Trump voter” or “Far right.” Journalists and politicians we invited to attend a screening or discussion – and who pledged to come – reported sick one day in advance…They might call it responsibility, but in my opinion, it’s nothing more than censorship. Propagating the exclusion of opinions by “experts.”

It was very clear to me: The debate on climate and energy were even more sensitive than the debate on refugees, terrorism, and religion combined.

Where are the independent, critical journalists who are, despite the controversy, covering the different perspectives? Being the critical voices in times the world needs nuance to open up a debate for the benefit of the people?

I’m from the progressive left myself, son of a passionate journalist. I learned that we should believe in debate, no matter how different the others are or how dangerous the heretics can be. Debate is the key for a healthy society. Debating a healthy environment, protecting nature, biodiversity, religion, cultural diversity and even forms of extremism. With only one goal: Getting a workable solution and balance at the end of the debate.

From my dad, I learned that journalism is nothing more than providing information based on adversarial coverage, with integrity and respect. Exclusion of certain perspectives and groups only creates frustration, anger, and in the end, the populism we’re facing today. As a matter of fact, if democracy excludes opinions, dictatorial censorship will replace it.

To make a long story very short: The investment of roughly 60,000 Euros to produce the most important film in my life, left me behind with a sour taste and skimpy bank account. But not only that, it left me with an even bigger fear. It wasn’t the loss of my friends or the climate fear. It was openly excluding opinions and groups from the debate. Under the skin of that specific ‘responsibility’ were the frustrating ideologies fueled by radical movements and dividing society with extremism.

Frankly, I knew the film would face challenges, but not as much and aggressive as it eventually did. It let me experience and understand the deeper cause and consequences of polarization in a time where critical thinkers are needed.

Although there is a disappointment, this adventure fueled me with an untameable urge to break the silence and depoliticize the debate. Independent journalism is the key to nuance. However, I do realize we are a dying breed.

The film “The Uncertainty Has Settled” is screened in over 100 cinemas inside five countries, and has received three awards in Los Angeles, Berlin, and Austria. We opened heated discussions during congresses and screenings. It’s currently still touring until late July. Universities have purchased the movie as part of their education programs and we released the film online worldwide on Vimeo. It’s still rowing against the wind. But as I learned from renowned physicist and Professor Freeman Dyson: We are building beliefs on who is saying something rather than looking at observations and actual evidence. That’s why the world needs independent heretics! Published elsewhere: DIE WELT Das passierte, als ich „Klimaleugnern“ eine Chance gab

De Doorbraak Klimaatdebat verlamt journalistiek en democratie

Climate Change Dispatch Why the climate debate is paralyzing free thinkers and undermining democracy