Professor wants to keep toga dry at climate demonstration

The last time Wim Uijttewaal stood on the blocked A12 as a citizen he got splashed by a water cannon. He does not want this to happen again on Saturday. Because of his toga.

Riccardo Riva (left) and Wim Uijttewaal are scientists demonstrating against fossil subsidies. (Photo: Jos Wassink)

At the previous climate demonstration on 27 May there were two professors in togas, Spinoza laureates even, Uijttewaal recalls: Klaas Landsman and Thea Hilhorst of Radboud University Nijmegen. Scientist Rebellion, the club of activist researchers, asked members to check their networks for more professors willing to demonstrate in academic gowns. Riccardo Riva, a sea level specialist and member of Scientist Rebellion, approached Wim Uijttewaal, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering. Both are at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CEG).

Wearing a toga adds weight to a demonstration, whether it’s judges, lawyers or pastors taking to the streets. Or professors. But there is always the question of whether using the authority of professional dress is justified or even permitted.

(Photo: Jos Wassink)

Uijttewaal knows that wearing a gown on the street is outside academic protocol, yet he’s going to do it anyway. “I’m not standing there as Wim wearing a toga, I’m standing there to highlight the scientific underpinnings of climate change.” As a hydraulic engineer, he works on the effects of climate change in terms of droughts and floods. Climate mitigation as it is called costs a lot of money, so why then subsidise EUR 37.5 billion a year to fossil industries that are causing the problem? “That’s putting the cart before the horse, isn’t it? I think I’ll make a sign: ‘You don’t have to be a professor to see that this is going wrong’.” Don’t argue with him about the impartiality of science. “I really need to channel my anger. It makes me so angry when I see how much disinformation is being spread!”


This time, Uijttewaal will not go near the A12 blockade, the illegal part of Extinction Rebellion’s programme, to avoid water cannons. He will be at the legal part of the demonstration across from The Hague Central Station. There the call is to end fossil fuel subsidies. The occupation of the A12 pursues the same goal with stronger means: a daily occupation until the subsidies are withdrawn.

Science editor Jos Wassink

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