Photo above: The school strike for climate (FridaysForFuture) on Heldenplatz in Vienna (Austria) on March 15 2019 Credit: Jean-Frédéric
Nadia Baha writing from Vienna brings us up to date on the response in Austria to the Climate Emergency.
On the 25th of September 2019, Austria proclaimed a “Climate Emergency“.
What happened in the lead up to that point?
When it comes to climate change in Austria society in general seems divided. The division is, interestingly enough, also a political division. When the presidential elections took place in 2016 there were two candidates: Alexander van der Bellen (Green Party) vs. Norbert Hofer (FPÖ – Freedom Party – Far Right). People in the big cities mostly voted for Alexander van der Bellen, while people in the countryside voted for Norbert Hofer. The people in the cities tend to try and do things to protect the environment and understand that it is not just a “fashion“, whereas people in the countryside tend to have a different view on things. Many believe that it is just a hysterical outcry, and that we should focus on other things. This is not to say of course that everyone who lives in a particular place thinks the same, but generalisations can be made in terms of differing opinions along an urban/rural divide.
However, dismissal of environmental matters is definitely the opinion of the re-eleceted chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his party (ÖVP – Neue Volkspartei – New People’s Party, Conservative/Neoliberal) with printing on billboards the slogan “Because protecting the environment needs common sense“ You don’t need a lot of common sense to understand that this slogan is a clear statement against all scientific proof and boils down to:“Hey, let’s recycle a bit and everything will be safe and sound.“ The big issue of climate change wasn’t a big issue for the ÖVP in the elections. What happened? The ÖVP won the elections.
The party that was most concerned about climate change, unsurprisingly was the Green Party which was kicked out of the Austrian parliament in the 2017 elections but rising like a phoenix from the ashes moved back in last year and are part of the government now – but the “green new deal“ is not really green and seems more about greenwash – paint a brown tree green, rather than planting more trees.
Back to the (Fridays for) Future meanwhile… Austria has joined this international “Fridays For Future“ climate movement, with not only “kids for future“ but almost everyone “for future“: Babies, teachers, scientists, artists and workers for future etc! There are co-operations with the University of Vienna, e.g. one is called “OC4CC“ -“Open your Course 4 the Climate Crisis“. It’s great that young people are more aware of what is going on in the world – at least concerning the environment.
Another group that gets media attention is Extinction Rebellion. While Fridays for Future get mostly positive media attention, Extinction Rebellion is either seen as a strange group of people blocking roads or an organisation promoting civil disobedience. Last year there was a scandal as policemen hurt an activist by hitting him while lying on the floor (to put it mildly) during a demonstration while Extinction Rebellion blocked a road. You can imagine what happened to the policemen…
System Change, Not Climate Change is the third group that is known here in Austria – but only to people who are already aware and interested. System Change, Not Climate Change, as the name insinuates, want to change the capitalist system, as this is the real problem – the constant economic growth which has led the world to the point it is at right now…
Yes, Austria is a mountainous country. But do you really need an SUV? Every third car that is bought here, is an SUV .. yes … ridiculous! Especially in Vienna, where the public transport is great and cheap, but “ I’ve always driven a car, no-one will take it away from me“, is a common sentiment.
It should come as no surprise that here too activists get hate in the right-wing media and were even called terrorists by a member of the FPÖ in Vienna, Ursula Stenzel. She is known to be a real climate expert, when talking about CO2 emissions claiming they were counted in gigabytes. You can see: There are also quite a few crazy politicians in Austria!
Some people say if the end of the world is nigh, you should go to Vienna.
Everything happens 10 years later. If climate change goes on like this, it might be an option to stay a little bit longer for a holiday.