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Roque Rehrmann

Student, Technical University in Munich, Germany

01 - Across the generational divide: a conversation about climate change 


There’s no doubt that climate change is a multi-generational problem, but how do different generations think and talk about the crisis? To kick off 2023, we decided to get climate perspectives across generations. Father and son, Volker Rehrmann (EVP and Head of TOMRA Recycling) and Roque Rehrmann (student at the Technical University in Munich, Germany) join us for an enlightening chat on responsibility, challenges, and solutions 

Listen to the episode below, or use your favourite platform (Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcasts)


Show Notes

  •  What is the upcoming generation thinking in terms of climate change? [00:26]  

  • Who do you think is responsible for this state of affairs?  [03:40]

  • How does climate change impact everyday life, if at all? Is this something you and your peers even talk about? [07:58]

  • Are we moving fast enough to actually turn the tide? [10:11]

  • Every responsible business in this world is now working on a sustainability agenda.[14:08]

  •  Energy, it's still not enough, but it has increased dramatically over the past years  [17:52]

  • The willingness to want to really make authentic change.[19:24]

  • how difficult it is for people to change their way of living? [23:48]

  • Electric car and got a lot of sarcastic comments.[24:54]

  • Final thoughts [27:38]



Mithu: Welcome to Tomra talk Circular where we explore how businesses, municipalities and governments are collaborating towards a circular economy. I Mithu Moran, to kick off this new season, we wanted to change perspectives a bit. What is the upcoming generation thinking in terms of climate change?

After all, it's them and the generations after them that will be most impacted by decisions we've made in the past and those we continue to make today. So, in this special episode we are going to ask just that question. In fact, in this episode we are going to ask a father and son to have a chat about all of this. Joining today is Roque Rehrmann, 19 years old who just started his studies at the Technical University of Munich in Germany on the virtual couch with him is his father, Volker Rehrmann, we won't mention his age, executive vice president and head of Tomra Recycling. This should be an interesting conversation and I am most certainly looking forward to it. Welcome to the program, gentlemen. So, Roque, let's start with you. Do you ever think about climate change?

Roque: Yes, I think everyone does from time to time because it's always in the media, climate activists and so on. But I think the awareness of how bad the situation is just not there because as I did my research for this podcast. I saw how many irreversible changes there are just if it gets worn and just by a tiny bit. So, there are tipping points as they are called and this whole system is a self-reinforcing circle, so there is a domino effect and. I fear that it is not stoppable anymore, so if you think about it every day it gets warmer and warmer and we're not doing enough in my opinion. At least what I know, and there was the Paris Agreement, which was very good, and I think it is a good idea behind it to limit us to 1.5 or at least 2 degree cell.

Yes, but as far as it stands now, we will stop with the current regulations at about 2.7 degrees and that's very grim. There will be food shortages, extinction of species and so on. To be honest, I'm terrified because as the World Health Organization stated by 2100, 50 to 75% of the world population will face life threatening climate conditions from time to time, and if you think about it, that's just absurd. That there are so many people that are affected by it and your generation, the older generations, say will not face these problems. But by generation, especially my children, the next generation will face all these problems, all these lives threatening. Problems and to think about it in that way is just right frightening, I think. And so, what I'm asking myself, is it even possible to avert this at all? Or can we just flatten the curve and reduce the effects that it will have and how that will it be?

So, I just hope that there are more severe actions from now on because it is my life and the life of my children that will be affected and not yours.

Mithu: OK, so let me ask you this and maybe you've already answered the question, who do you think is responsible for this state of affairs?

Roque: So, I think I was pretty clear in my last sentence that I think that the generations before mine are responsible, but I have to also say that my generation is also not perfect because. I think we are all part of it. My generation is not as old, we are just growing up. I mean I'm 19 I don't think about climate change when I'm 5 or 10 or so.

Mithu: But you shouldn't.

Roque:Yeah, we're just starting to get old and to get to an age where we could think about these problems and we do, in fact, in some way fight is for future so. But to be honest, I think it's not enough and it's just. I think there is not much awareness in my generation, how bad the situation is and what consequence we will face.

Mithu: Volker, you've been quite in this whole conversation I'm not used to that anything you'd like to respond with to your son.

Volker: You know, I'm not quiet, you know, I'm just listening to what Roque has to say and thinking about it. And I think it Is quite clear, I mean, he tries to be polite, but it is quite clear that it's our generation that, uh, that has to take the responsibility for it, but even us reflecting on it, you know we shouldn't be blaming too much on this. If you look a little bit back into history, and especially here in Europe after World War Two. I mean, we were really in a devastating state here and then we all tried to work our way up and the only thing that was important was to become more wealthy and we have all been educated like that.

Basically, we are becoming more wealthy, have a better life and all we have been doing is then doing everything that was necessary to become more successful and we have overlooked that this comes at a price. We have been exploiting our, you know, mother earth much more than it, than it has been sustainable. But at that time it was not clear to us think about it, we came out of catastrophe. The World War and we were trying to make a life and then capitalism really became so successful, and it became a thing in itself more and more and more you know the motto of our lifetime of our generation is, you know, has always been higher, faster, wider. That's how, we have been educated, but it's time to rethink and we shouldn't do the same mistake with our kids. Therefore these conversations we have now also between roque and myself are important because I should not do the same mistake. I should not educate him in the same way, telling him the only thing that counts is that you make more money that's you know higher, wider, faster, but it's still important you know, make a life for yourself to become successful.

I think this is very important, but we need to take more factors into account, and we have to think about sustainable ways of doing business in the future and that is something, we just have to reflect about and too many are not doing it in in a proper way.

So I'm happy that the young generation is starting to challenge us. You know, even though I'm not agreeing to everything that you know this Friday for future generations, for example. Us and I don't have to agree to everything what they do. I think it's important that they do something. Yeah, so that is important.

Mithu: And if I might add you, you mentioned we have to start doing business in a sustainable way. I think we also have to start living in a sustainable way and that impacts all of us on individual basis, so as you said, you didn't really think about this when you were five years old, and you definitely shouldn't have been.But do you do you think about this now?Is it something that you and your peers talk about?

Roque: In fact, yes, I by myself, I am living in an own apartment now and so on that I can look up what I want to buy? I can look what I want to recycle and so on. And that's what I try to do, so I try to reduce my meat consumption. For example, that's one thing I try to recycle or buy recyclable packaging and so on. I reduced my heating and that's what many people did. I think this winter, but These are all things I don't have a car or I use the bus or a train and so on and. That's what I do personally, and I think the awareness of my generation is not high enough for the climate change itself, but I think the innovations and so on, so breakthroughs in technology like fusion reactors are so that's a great of great interest to me and all my friends. We talk about these innovations because we are interested in the science behind it and that's a first step I would say and if we could combine it with a more awareness of how grim the situation is, I think that could be a great chance.

Mithu: I agree and one thing that I and I don't know how you aren't and I'm very happy to hear some of these measures that you're taking, and I'm hoping some of your peers are taking the same.One thing that I do notice with your generation is and something Volker has also addressed is this bigger, better, faster, more. This level of consumerism that our generation has had, and I see going forward in your generation, It's the same and potentially increasing. You've heard his fears and his concerns, and you've shared some of your thoughts are what can you say, if anything to calm his concerns, are we moving fast enough to actually turn the tide?

Volker: That's a very good, very good question and I wish I could, to be honest, I'm not super optimistic on this one, even though I think you know me, Mithu. I'm a very optimistic person and I think it's the only lifestyle that makes sense for human beings. I mean, I think you should be optimistic by nature and on this one, it is very difficult. You know, we shouldn't also do capitalism bashing or something like that. it has done a lot of good to the planet as well because the average income has increased significantly. You know millions and millions of people were brought out of poverty so. There are also different ways to look at it. The way of living has done also a lot of good to this planet and to the people living on the planet. No question about it, but just you know there are a few areas where we definitely need a fast change and that is of course, the use of fossil fuels. we cannot continue to use fossil fuels for you know producing energy and stuff like that that is one of the most important areas on the other hand energy is the driving of the drive of our economy and you know Germany is the 4th biggest. consume all this of what would happen to us? I mean, you will see a revolution. I mean that that is also not the solution. So, we need to find ways.

That's why I said we need to find a way to do sustainable business, more sustainable living and the solutions are actually quite obvious. we need renewable energy sources. We need to get out of fossil fuels. The problem is if we do it here in Germany or in Europe, it doesn't help as long as others increase to burn coal or so it is a very complex question and you know the other countries who are just now starting to increase. Their way of living, they of course challenge us and say, oh, you want us now to not use fossil fuels for our energy consumption, so that we can start growing our own economy. So these are very complex questions, and it also has to do with change management.

People need to change the way they are thinking and this we all know is difficult, takes time. Just look at the at the last COP 27 climate conference not very promising. What happened there very small progress. So is there a reason to be very optimistic? I'm not so sure, but still.It doesn't help.Yeah, we all need to do what we can in order to progress. But I wish I could tell Rocket. Don't worry, everything will be good. You know our smart governments will fix all this and everything will be fine. It will be a tough way to get there. What makes me optimistic or two things the businesses in this world have started to understand it. Every you know responsible business in this world is now working on a sustainability agenda. And seriously, working on the sustainability agenda not like 20 years ago when they also had sustainability agenda which was just blank paper or just words on paper.

Mithu: Well, why do you think that's changed for that?

Volker: Why has this changed? That is actually a good question because I think finally, we see the consequence that maybe also question to Roque. We have this young generation that is challenging, Yeah, we see that there are, you know more and more. I think we cannot just close our eyes anymore, it's everywhere.I mean, human beings are very good at that closing their eyes and hoping nothing will happen. I think that doesn't work anymore. Roque how you see this? But it has become so obvious now and 10 years ago there were even many scientists who said there is no climate crisis and I think those voices are getting fewer and fewer, nobody seriously today can deny that there is climate.

Roque: And I think that that's why the businesses have to do these agendas because they can't do it in any other way because they would just get cancelled. As we say in our generation they would receive such a shitstorm they would receive so many messages or so because the awareness has risen and it's everywhere, it's as you said it's clear there is a climate change. I think we can all agree on that and that's why they have to because now. Now everyone in quotes knows. 

There's one thing you said the nations are starting to reduce as I did my research there. I found numbers and statistics that China is still increasing their output.

Volker: You know China is a growing economy and they had historic growth rates of you know around average 8% a year that has slowed down. But it's still, you know, growing. Economy and they bring more and more of the people here. Over 1 billion people living there that want a better life and a better life typically means higher ecological footprint, at least if they follow the western way of living which they do actually in many ways even though China is taking a lot of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emission, the high growth of its economy still requires a lot of energy which so far, they can only produce using fossil fuels and so they are increasing the coal they're burning for energy year by year. it's scary, so the hope I see, if there's any hope, Yeah, you know I'm a technology guy me to and by chance it turned out that Roque is little bit like that as well, I think.

 Roque: I think I am.

Volker: Technology is what we really need.What else can help us in this situation? People will not change that fast, we need innovation, new technologies alternatives and we see that. And who would that believed? If you look at the production in Germany of renewable energy, it's still not enough, but it has increased dramatically over the past years and if you had asked people 10 years ago, would that ever be possible? They would have denied it. They would have said no that is impossible we can never make it. Still we have made it and if we are really serious we can also Increase that dramatically. But we also have to accept just that is not sufficient. we need more intelligent solution, but there are a lot of smart people thinking about it so my biggest hope for the future is really technology.

Roque: I think that's the only way how we can conquer it, because we will need this energy as you said.
I mean, if we take China as an example, ask them to stop growing ask them to just stop your economic growth. It's not good for all of us. They will never, no one will and that's yeah, that's what we also said. They want to grow everyone wants to go. Oh, and if they can only do it in that way because there are no alternatives, at least now, and they will never, and we also want to grow so we don't have to say only China wants to grow. We all want to grow, we all our nations want to improve their economy and I think in the long term it's only possible if we find better solutions better production measures for renewable energy.

Mithu: I would dare to couple this technology, the advancements in technology and this is something Volker you also mentioned before and in a different way the willingness to want to really make authentic change. Yes, it is extremely important, and this is what you mentioned before.

This is what we're really starting to see now a little late, but still we're starting to see it, and the combination, hopefully will slow the tide and I think you've already addressed this a little bit. A question to both of you, what can be done now? Is it the technology which you've already mentioned? It's also the willingness which you've already mentioned, or if you don't mind, I'd like to start with Roque on this one.

Roque: Yeah, I think, I described a few measures. so what I'm doing everyone can do and I also have to do it in a more dramatic way, just reduce the consumption of meats fish reduce your heating. Maybe you don't need 24 degrees you can also do with 22 or even 20.

I said if I dare say so everyone can do these little things you can. You can buy less plastics, use paper bags. All these little things so everyone can do these little things and maybe a bit older for the older one.

Mithu: That would be us Volker the old us.

Roque: Use the train or the bus, or so, I think. In my generation there aren't many people who own a car. OK, I'm 19, but looking a bit up 20 , 21, 22 that there are people owning a car, but they are using the train and the buses more frequently I think.

Volker: I agree, I think your generation is a good example of what is possible, because many in your generation live a different lifestyle as you said, not everybody is driving a car, you know people are happy using public transport system. I see a lot of good initiatives coming out of your generation, I don't see so many coming out of our generation Mithu to be very honest. But it's clear for us it's a little bit more difficult to change the way we have been living all our life as I said, change management is so difficult changing our behaviors.

Roque: Take for example the electric car so as the electric car started, I was totally keen on it. I'm a fan, I like electric cars and I think as, I was talking with people from an older generation than mine they were not willing to change, there are so many prejudices and sometimes just facts that weren't facts, so there was so much prejudice.As I said, they weren't willing to change and this willingness to change, I think is what's most important because an electric car it's getting better and better and it's just one example.So my teacher at school she was keen on using paper, I was trying to use an iPad to preserve paper and so on.I was trying to be more innovative in a way, but they pushed me down. We needed books, we needed paper. I wasn't allowed to use my electronic devices in some case and that's just I think that's big problem, there's willingness to change.

Volker: Actually, that's a good example. The use of electric cars, I think facts are overwhelming today that using electrical cars, despite all those fake arguments against it are a good way of reducing our carbon footprint still there are so many people unwilling to change and coming with arguments that. Yes, it is a little bit less comfortable to drive an electric car because especially the range is not as high as it is with combustion engine cars. So yes, you need a little bit more time. You don't drive that fast, so you need to change a little bit your behavior, but is this us too much to do this? And that's where the hard time and you know when I discuss with, you know, friends of mine before my generation. They think I'm crazy that I'm driving, three years ago. Now I also see this slowly changing, also because our government gave a lot of subsidies. But it's a very good example how difficult it is for people to change their way of living, and if they have to forget something, you know to give up something on the comfort they're not willing to do so, but one thing is clear. We will all have to do a little bit less of the things we are, we are used to do.

In my view, this is acceptable, we you know we don't have to live in. The Stone Age but yeah, a little bit of our comfort that that we're used to we have to let go.

Mithu: Volker along those lines, I think Roque has already told us what he's doing, or to make some changes. What are you doing?

Volker: That's a very good question. I drive an electric car, that's a good start. As somebody in the generation as one of the early guys changing to electric car and rocky knows it in our neighborhood there, you know we got a lot of interesting comments because of it where we live. I think I was the first one Roque. I was driving an electric car and got a lot of sarcastic comments.

Mithu: OK.

Volker: Show up with an electric car and you know otherwise. Of course, with my business work I can contribute a lot significantly more than I can do individually. But that doesn't mean that I should not also do something individually, so you know same things that rocker set I have significantly reduced my consumption of meat and not as far you know to say I'm a vegetarian, but I'm getting close.
But look, how I have been educated, you know, I'm, I was born in the 60S and you know when, Germany became a little bit more wealthy and one sign that you're doing good was that every day you had a piece of meat that was just normal, and it was a sign of doing good, doing well. You know, we can't afford to mean that how I was raised that how I was educated so, It is not easy to change that behavior. But I'm doing this and when I'm in now Cantina downstairs, You know? I would say maybe. I think I'm down to one day a week where I eat meat and you can believe.
When I was twenty it was more like seven days a week. It was just normal and just natural. That's an area I have reduced significantly, but certainly there are more areas I need to work on because I don't consume so much water at home when small things that actually my father taught me when I was young. You know, when you take a shower, make yourself wet and then turn the water off, when you do your soap and shampoo and turn it on again when you just want to rinse it off instead of standing, you know 10 minutes below the warm, nice and cozy shower. Things like that, we're getting back a little bit to those things then there's a lot we can all.Yes, it will cost us something of our effort, but I think it's definitely worth it, but I want to be honest. It's not easy for me, so it's something I have to remind myself of every day and it's good to have two boys, two young boys who, remind me of that I should be more mindful in the things I'm doing.

Mithu: Roque you know you have, the next challenge, the shower challenge at home I think that's your assignment now and I'd like to know how that's going OK. Anything either one of you would like to say as we come to a close.

Roque: Maybe just a quick thing because we've talked about what everyone can do, so what we can do, but the most important thing is what my father said, what the governments will do? Because it is important to change legislation people won't change that fast, and I think we have to force them, if you can say it like that. In a way to reduce their emission their footprint, and I think that's most important.

That's what I get from my generation when I think about climate change that there is Enragement, or maybe they are disappointed in the government because the coal exit in 2035. We all think that's way too late. All these measures we think it's too late we think it's not moving fast enough maybe you could argue we don't know all the data. We don't know what's going on, but that's always what we are always told. In that way, we don't know the whole picture. We don't know, but we can also inform and I would say that there are many good formats on the TV or maybe. I would say more than YouTube or so that that do quite a good job of telling us what is going on, and I think we know what's going on in many times and.

That's just sad that that we are not hurt in that way. I think it's getting better, but think about Fridays for future when it started, they were belittling us, so most older generation people were saying, hey, I let them do. They will calm down and it happened in a way because the help is over and I think it's stopped because we were not hurt, we didn't feel like we were taken seriously and that's what I think is very sad.

Volker: Now you have a very good point Roque and we have not talked about this, but regulation of course is key. Actually we need some smart governments, but that's really what the world needs. We need to take some smart decisions, and regulation is also the key. I think we have all learned that and we you know we have seen this for decades, just hoping for. You know individual change of behavior will not work and also businesses need to be forced in a way and the that businesses are not changing to, you know to carbon neutral type of way of doing business. Every company has it on its plan that did not happen voluntarily. You know there was a lot of pressure from various angles and not at least from the consumer angles because that's where social networks really can help. As Roque said, they can make a boycott for certain products if they feel like they can organize it via social networks, but in the end we need smart government decisions. We need regulation to support that we need incentives to change our behavior to get it going, and I think it's fair to say that that is too slow and that is in democracies it's a slow process because you have to make compromises with different stakeholders, but that is certainly something that needs to happen faster. we are too slow on that side, but what work is right legislation regulation will have to play a key role.

Mithu: Well, as expected this has been one of the most interesting and revealing conversations we've had on this program. What I'm taking with me is that we all have a role to play in protecting our planet, and as both Roque and Volker demonstrated we can. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Volker: Thank you me too.

Roque: Thanks for having me.

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