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Earth Strike: „It’s Not Hysteria. We’re the Realists.“

Young Austrians have gathered for the Earth Strike, will their pressure translate into political change?

By Chris Cummins

The Earth Strike, a series of climate protests, is being held today in dozens of countries from Paraguay to New Zealand. In that country, which is 10 hours ahead of Austrian time, early reports suggest that 170,000 people took part; a figure which would constitute 3.5% of the entire population.

The protests are also being held in all Austrian provisional capitals with the biggest protest expected in Vienna. Early this morning, at the Heldenplatz, I met, Johannes Stangl, a co-founder of Fridays for Future, Austria. His phone was constantly buzzing as workers were building up a stage where, later today, there will be speeches and performances from Dunkelbunt and the Science Busters.

Johannes Stangl am Wiener Heldenplatz

Chris Cummins / Radio FM4

Johannes Stangl

It was a far cry from the first Fridays For Future that I’d watched at the site at the turn of the new year with barely enough attendees to make up a football team.

This Earth Strike is more inclusive than the regular Fridays For Future gatherings, Stangl told me, because 80 separate organisations and even corporations have joined the call to action, including the Red Cross, the Scouts and the Catholic Youth. It’s a message that climate action is not a concern of any corner of the political spectrum but the expression of a sense of urgency that transcends any political affiliation.

“We are here to show the politicians that Austria is ready for ambitious climate politics.”

Heroic or Hysteric?

These strikes come at a sensitive and important time in Austria, of course. The aim of Fridays for Future was to get the issue of protecting the climate on the political agenda. They have certainly achieved that. The latest proof was the sight of the lead candidates of all the main parties being grilled on their climate credentials in the Elefantenrunde last night; most of them paying credit to eco-activism of young Austrians.

There was one dissenting voice at that televised discussion. Freedom Party leader Norbert Hofer had accused Fridays for Future of spreading “hysteria” with their activism. Stangl laughed when I mentioned this:

”I don’t know if ‘hysteria’ is the right word,” he told me. “Greta uses the word ‘panic’ which is a bit more active I guess and gets to the root of the issue. We have been sleeping for 30 years. The climate crisis is going to affect all of us and all future generations. It is going to hurt us really hard if we don’t do anything about it. It’s not hysteria. We are the realists. Scientists say we have ten years to halve our emissions and we must be carbon neutral by the middle of the century. If we don’t start now, we are going to lose this battle and we have to be very open about this.”

Earth Strike in Wien


Despite the 10 months of regular climate protests, little seems to have changed in Austria’s climate policy and that is what frustrates Thomas Eitzelberger who is marching with Fridays For Future Graz where thousands of people are expected to gather on the Griesplatz today. “Nothing has changed,” he says.” Since the protests started the only thing that the politicians have done is thank us for protesting. They say it is ‘cool’ that we are engaging with them. On the other hand, I think that politicians are slowly beginning to realize that Fridays For Future is not something that is going to go away and is not something that will stop growing. It is one year, and we have moved from one person to millions of people, and it is not going to stop.”

Stangl says that there have been political changes. He sees the Climate Emergency law that he helped draft and which was adopted by parliament on Wednesday as a major stepping stone towards a more ambitious climate policy.

It has been described as purely symbolic by some observers but Stangl argues that with the system of climate checks envisaged by the law, governments can be held to account for their carbon footprint of their future policies. He says whoever takes office in the chancellery after the elections must be aware that the activists will be watching them carefully and will be regularly on the streets until they see evidence that the law is being taken seriously.

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