Columnist Bob van Vliet.
“I would like to believe that I had dared to deflate SUV tires this when I was still a student.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Among the tens of thousands of TU Delft students, why does not even one attach themself to something demanding the defossilisation of the curriculum, wonders Bob van Vliet.

Lees in het Nederlands

I always end my lectures with a short quiz about the topic of the day. The last question is a standard one: ‘What was least clear today? What questions do you still have about that?’ Later in the day, I post a document on the course Brightspace (the digital learning environment, ed.) page with answers and extra explanations. And I really do answer everything, even when students ask about my choice of footwear, birthplace, favourite YouTube channels, or purpose in life. If at all possible, I do my best to respond seriously.

Recently, I was asked what I thought about climate activists who attach themselves to things, or throw paint around. Well done, was my answer. Even more so, I added, it has surprised me for a while that there have not been even more radical actions now that the severity of the problem and the power of our collective answer to it diverge so strongly. Things like deflating SUV tyres (in Dutch) for example. I rounded off by saying that I would like to believe that I had dared do this when I was still a student.

A colleague of mine protested to that. They emailed me to say that this kind of answer in an educational setting is really not acceptable. Yes, I thought at first, maybe it did indeed go too far. It did, after all, come pretty close to encouraging vandalism. But at the same time, I try to be honest to students, and it really was how I felt.

Sabotaging petrol guzzlers seems pretty innocent to me

Last year, I read The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson – climate fiction that sketches a detailed and convincing picture of what the path to a more sustainable world could look like. In the book, attacks and other violence targeting fossil technology (by and on behalf of the victims of climate disasters) are a critical link in bringing about the needed societal change. The longer the plans of Western countries remain inadequate and even limited promises are not kept, the higher the chance must be that this prediction will come true, no? And compared to that, sabotaging petrol guzzlers is relatively innocent, it seems to me.

In response to the Executive Board’s recently announced growth plans, Trivik Verma of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management rightly wondered how many of our graduates still go and work for the same kind of large companies that have caused untold damage to humans and the environment. Many, it seems. Perhaps even the majority?

How is this possible? And how is it possible that among all those tens of thousands of students at TU Delft not one has attached themselves to something or smeared the statue of Prometheus on campus and demanded the defossilization of the curriculum? At this point, you would expect this, wouldn’t you?

I am getting an ever stronger schizophrenic feeling that my job during the day is in a different world than the world that I see on the news at home in the evening.

Bob van Vliet is a lecturer at the 3mE Faculty and is specialised in design education. Reactions are welcome via