"How can that be?" asked the older Austrian man sitting on the next barstool. "How can that many people deny accepted science?" I didn't have an answer for him, or at least not one that would seem reasonable from his perspective. This was a conversation that I would have regularly with Austrians throughout my time there. If I told Austrians how climate change and environmentalism were such widely and furiously debated issues in American, it always drew a reaction of shock.
It was because of this reaction that I decided to attend Vienna’s climate march on April 29th to see European environmentalism first hand. In a previous article of mine, I wrote about the demonstrations that commonly take place in Vienna, and the annual climate march is one of the largest of the year.
The march began at Vienna’s Prater, a massive park and amusement park in the city, with a brief keynote speech from Greenpeace before marching through the city’s first district to the Austrian Parliament for a live music performance and continued demonstration. Hundreds if not upwards of 1,000 people turned out for the march down the Ringstrasse that was so massive it shut down traffic on this extremely important thoroughfare in the center of the city.
This march also saw the representation of numerous organizations, including Greenpeace, Neue Linkswende, and System Change Not Climate Change. As the march moved through the city center, the crowd shouted chants for a number of causes besides environmentalism, including pro-refugee and anti-corporate messages. Not only was the march massive to begin with, but also ultimately more would join along the route, perhaps intermingling their personal commute with demonstrating, and many others leaned from the windows of their apartments to look on and join the chants in solidarity.
This massive gathering is in many ways indicative of something larger in Europe. Unlike the United States, the citizens of European nations, especially Austria, wholeheartedly recognize the implications of climate change and the peer reviewed science that proves its daunting existence. Where this is a hot button issue of debate in the US, Europeans are actively concerned for the future effects of the harm done to the environment by human actions, and this concern is not partisan but instead has become a cause for people of a variety of walks of life, political dispositions, and creeds. Perhaps one day, we will see the same response to climate change in America - hopefully sooner than later.