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Julia Steinberger

27.01.2023 – SUSANNE WENGER

Last autumn, activists blocked ten busy streets in Swiss cities. The movement refers to itself as Renovate Switzerland. It is campaigning for more buildings to be renovated so that they save energy. Activists claim this could be implemented quickly and contribute to protecting the climate. The protest was designed to draw attention to that. In Berne, Julia Steinberger, an internationally renowned climate scientist and Professor of Ecological Economy at the University of Lausanne, also put on a high-vis jacket and sat on the motorway. The 48-year-old said, “Our planet is being rendered uninhabitable before our very eyes. We have to do everything to save our future.” When the police arrived, Steinberger glued her hand to the asphalt.

She was then roughly dragged away. The rather dangerous blockade lasted half an hour, the commotion afterwards lasted a lot longer. That was the plan, but the scientist’s radical behaviour was harshly criticised by some in political circles. Some said it was an unseemly way for a public official to behave. Even the media asked: aren’t research and activism supposed to be separate? Steinberger’s answer was that science has spent long enough delivering data. The Geneva-born scientist worked on the report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2022. She realised that all the research results had failed to produce enough action. An alternative approach was now needed to make people realise the urgency of the situation. She feels that “peaceful civil protest” is legitimate. The University of Lausanne did not prevent its lecturer from protesting. Professor Julia Steinberger thus became the serious face of the climate movement in Switzerland.