For decades, scientists have been trying to draw attention to the threats of the climate and environmental crisis through classic science communication. Nevertheless, the long overdue transformation of society is a long time coming. Given the urgency of the situation and the slow pace of politics, it is time for scientists to step out of their ivory towers and engage in more direct forms of action to position themselves in the public discourse. Researchers at the BOKU Vienna took action.
Written by: Nicolas Roux and Reinhard Steurer (both University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna)
This month, Austrian Scientists showed solidarity with the protests of the movements "Last Generation" and "Erde Brennt" (the Austrian branch of the global movement "End Fossil – Occupy"). Beginning of January, 40 scientists in Vienna stood behind the activists of Last Generation and supported both the activists' demands for a 100 km/h speed limit on motorways and the legitimacy of opting for civil disobedient forms of protest. In addition to co-initiator Reinhard Steurer, there were numerous climate, ecology and political researchers, including Helga Kromb Kolb and Austrian researcher of the year Franz Essl, who spoke out against the criminalization of activists through statements such as "climate terrorists" and the tightening of penalties.
At the same time, 250 scientists signed an open letter in support of the Erde Brennt movement, which occupied university lecture halls in Austria and globally (together with End Fossil – Occupy) in December. This letter praises the activists for creating through their demands a holistic bridge between climate mitigation, social solidarity and sustainable education. Erde Brennt also pointed to the responsibility of universities and appropriated itself a space to philosophize democratically about just solutions to the various crises. In Barcelona, the occupation even succeeded in introducing a compulsory course on the climate crisis for all curricula. In Austria, the activists are also calling for a mandatory module on climate justice, critically discussing the interlinked climate catastrophe and the social crises, and their systemic origin.
We have now been experiencing unsustainable societies for several decades to centuries. As Foucault argued, scientists and universities hold significant power over society, at least in the long run. It would hence be illusory to think that academia is not part of the system that has led to the current climate, environmental and social crisis. Nevertheless, the university and its researchers can also embrace this responsibility, becoming a key actor to drive a just and democratic socio-ecological transformation. Such an endeavor would require scientists to involve directly in the public discourse and position themselves to weigh off societal power imbalances. This is, however, not possible with more of the same. Scientists also need to rethink the way they have always been doing: We need to get out of our comfort zone, out of our ivory tower.
► More on the topic (in German): https://www.wienerzeitung.at/nachrichten/wissen/klima/2174172-Vom-Elfenbeinturm-auf-die-Strasse.html