April 15, 2024 | Monday

Children Offer Hope for Climate Change Solutions

Interview with Arben Kllokoqi, Energy Market Expert and Author of the “Planet Defenders” Children’s Book Series

Arben Kllokoqi is a senior energy expert at the Secretariat of the Energy Community in Vienna, an international institution established based on a treaty signed between the European Union and countries from the Balkans, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. For Arben, the connection between electricity and environmental issues is inseparable. Despite his high-level institutional work, recently, his commitment to a greener environment has extended to a series of children’s books published by the Europe House in Kosovo titled “Planet Defenders”. The book series was launched in February at the Europe House in Prishtina. In the following interview with the author, we delve into educating the younger generations as a key to solving the issue of climate change.

Europe House Kosovo: From what we’ve seen, the four children’s books recently published and promoted at Europe House Pristina are the result of your increased commitment to environmental issues. Can we start with this and then gradually talk about the content of the books? 

Arben Kllokoqi: If I were to label myself, I am an expert in the energy market. This is also my title at work in the Secretariat of the Energy Community in Vienna, which is an international institution established based on a treaty signed between the European Union and countries from the Balkans, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. 

What has happened in recent years is that the environmental and climate sector is closely linked to the energy sector because the energy sector is seen as one of the main causes of climate change. Being connected, on a daily basis, I must also deal with the climate and energy or with energy and the environment. 

Among other things, the electricity sector is seen on the one hand as a cause but on the other hand also as a key to solving the problem of climate change. If we electrify our processes, industry, and economic activities in general, and produce this electricity from renewable sources rather than carbon-emitting sources, thus gases that have a greenhouse effect, then, in a way, we solve the problem. This is why I am increasingly connected to the climate aspect as well as the environment. My primary job is indeed energy, but it is linked to climate because every policy made in the energy sector has a tick box that fulfills those climate and environmental aspects.

Europe House Kosovo: All your commitment is at the institutional level of policymaking and strategy development. However, recently, you’ve also become the author of four storytelling and illustration books related to environmental issues for children, which is something very beautiful but also surprising.  How do you see the need for this bottom-up approach, because you are working on mitigating the problem of climate change, but at the same time, educating younger generations implies creating an environment where this problem no longer recurs? 

Arben Kllokoqi: As much as we try to educate governments and older generations, or make their obligations clear, I still see hope in the younger generations. And not just hope but also the fact that they will be more affected by these changes than we are. In addition to that, now, in my role as a parent, there is a need to do something, simply to facilitate how I explain things to them. 

Europe House Kosovo: I suppose you’re familiar with policy drafting, reports, and surely academic writing. How was it confronting this form of writing, creative thinking? How was it trying to step into a child’s shoes? 

Arben Kllokoqi: It seems I might have had a talent for it, and I actually know that I write well.  

When my children were a bit younger, I started discussing climate issues with them. I gave them the title of “recycling officers” and gave them name tags, and one evening we would go and sort the waste, glass, metal, plastic, and compost.  I tried to explain to them why certain things are recycled now, why something is a bottle today and a glass tomorrow, then a vase… I tried to find a way to explain to them that is simpler for them. 

Europe House Kosovo: What is the correlation between the stories each book deals with, and why did you think it’s important to treat these stories in four books to convey them to children? Do they communicate with each other or can they be read separately?

Arben Kllokoqi: They can be read separately, actually, I didn’t want to make too many connections.  I wanted them to be distinct, not too long so that children wouldn’t lose attention when reading them or when someone reads to them.  

The first one is “Climate Change”.  Here, I wanted to leave this title because I had the impression that this is a term that children need to learn.  They need to learn that climate change exists, and we need to fight it.  I don’t know if it’s mentioned in schools or not as a term, but it seemed to me that when I talked to other children, “climate change” seemed like a foreign term to them, it seemed they didn’t understand it at all, and I wanted to explain something to them practically, like the story in the book where the grandfather tells the grandson that there used to be a river here, but now there isn’t.  So, for a lifespan when the grandfather was a child, maybe for 50-60-70 years, now there is no river, and if there is no river, there are no animals around because they don’t come to drink water, and we know that animals need water to drink. If there are no animals and there is no water to irrigate, then the land, flowers, plants diminish, there are no more parks, no insects, no bees, and if the village can’t irrigate the lands, it has to be relocated.  

It means a place that used to be very rich, very lively, now has become somewhat like a desert or something that simply doesn’t offer optimal living conditions. Of course, a book can’t explain everything, but the idea is that children can then ask, ask their parents, ask at school.  Just to arouse a kind of curiosity in them. 

Europe House Kosovo: Then it’s “The Bees”…

Arben Kllokoqi: In “The Bees,” it was simply about throwing away trash, which seems very easy for us to just throw something away, a bottle cap or something out in nature, we say it doesn’t matter.  And what happens if we throw away a bottle cap, in this case, in the book, it was the bottle cap, but also the bottle itself… The bottle cap has been swallowed by a squirrel because it seemed to the squirrel like the color of a nut, and it swallowed it, and then it died. I wanted to express that it matters little whether the man who threw away that bottle meant to suffocate the squirrel or not; due to carelessness, he in a way becomes a murderer. Then the illustrations also play an important role because they show the part that cannot be shown with text.  Through the illustrations, it is shown that this man is also in distress about his action.  Then the bee gets into the bottle, the other bees cannot get her out of the bottle, and they organize a protest.  In this book, I wanted to show that humans are not the only beings that live on Earth, but we share the Earth with animals and insects, which have rights just like us. 

In the book, the children take the side of the animals and join the protest, and in the end, they save the bee.  More or less, the idea was for them to join and in the end to show them that this is a kind of coexistence. 

Europe House Kosovo: How was the meeting with the children at Europe House in Prishtina?

Arben Kllokoqi: Very good! An extraordinary experience for me! Even perhaps unexpected because I saw how seriously they took the questions they asked. 

Europe House Kosovo: Did you get the impression that they understand, internalize the importance of the issue?

Arben Kllokoqi: There I tried to explain it to them practically through an experiment.  I took two jars in which I put a little bit of dirt, and covered one of them with a plastic bag and left the other one open.  Then I put the bag on the other one later and pretended to burn some matches inside it and said, “These are two Earths. One is where we light fuels and others, cars, industries that produce electricity, and this smoke coming out, creates a kind of layer like plastic,” and covered one with plastic. We put a thermometer in each of the jars beforehand. We did this at the beginning of the meeting, then at the end, I said, “Let’s see what temperature each of these two Earths will have. At the moment, they have the same temperature because they are both open.” I said, “Imagine there’s a sun that heats both of these worlds.” Then we continued with reading, questions, and at the end, we opened the two jars and asked the children, “In which world would you want to live, in this one with plastic, or in the other one?” They all naturally said, “In the other one!” And in the end, I said that this plastic is precisely what is created in the atmosphere by gases, and in the end, we took the thermometers to check, and the one with plastic showed a higher temperature.

Europe House Kosovo: Thank you very much, Arben!