CSH Alpbach



CSH in Albpach: the great green transformation


We have full evidence that humans are responsible for the unfolding climate crisis. We know the problems in great detail, and we have thousands of solutions at hand. Yet, humanity is not making decisive progress in tackling the catastrophe. Why are we moving so slowly? What are the problems in getting the Great Green Transition going?

These questions were the focus of a plenary session at the Alpbach Technology Talks 2021. The panel – entitled “The Complexity of Great Green Transformations” –  was organized by the CSH in cooperation with our founding member AIT Austrian Institute of Technology and the Austrian radio broadcaster Ö1.


In his opening statement, CSH President Stefan Thurner made clear that solving the crisis would actually be quite simple: Stop using fossil fuels. Yet as we are living in a complex world, the implementation is all but easy. “The climate system consists of an enormous number of networks of intertwined physical, chemical, and biological processes,” Stefan said. “The climate is linked to the economic system, which also consists of a huge number of interwoven networks. And the economy, in turn, is coupled to society – a system that is probably the most complicated thing of all.”


What is needed to curb the mitigations are behavioral changes in about every aspect of our lives, from consumption to mobility and housing, to diet, the construction of infrastructure, etc. But such big changes have a massive influence on societal and economic networks. “The ultimate solution would be to change people’s behavior and habits in such a way that socioeconomic networks transform towards relieving pressure on the climate system rather than leading to its collapse,” Stefan said.


The Hub chose an innovative setting for the following discussion on how such a transformation could be shaped.

We invited the young Austrian climate activist Katharina Rogenhofer (Klimavolksbegehren, Fridays for Future) to briefly introduce to the position of climate activists and then interrogate the other panelists about what hinders progress in climate protection in their respective areas.

The prominent round of panelists consisted of Austrian Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler, Andreas Treichl, former head of the Erste Bank Group and now president of the European Forum Alpbach, human ecologist Helmut Haberl from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU), and Rudolf Zrost from Leube AG, a company that produces cement and building materials, as representative of the industry.


Rogenhofer requested that “business and politics in particular must stop delegating responsibility and using only empty words and promises.”

Minister Gewessler pointed out that “we have to change quite a lot to keep things the way they are – that’s what makes it so complex.” The Climate Protection Act, currently in the making by the Austrian government, “needs time to become a really good law. It needs to be valid for many years, and we have only one try. We won’t release it too early,” said the Minister, but promised it for 2022.

Andreas Treichl highlighted the many opportunities for the financial sector in meeting the crisis and supporting the transition. “The EU rules for green investments [“taxonomy”] are an enormously powerful lever for climate change, but are still not enough,” Treichl explained. Moreover, they represent a risk for the banks and have an impact on their earning power. Referring to these rules, Minister Gewessler spoke about huge discussions about single taxonomies to be expected this fall and ruled out her consent to label gas as a green energy.


In contrast, Helmut Haberl showed with clear data that it is not enough to delegate climate protection to individuals, but that public investment and fundamental reforms, for example in infrastructure or settlement structures, are also highly needed.

The scale of the necessary transformations is still underestimated, he said. “It can only be compared with the transformation from agrarian to industrial society.” In response to Zrost, Haberl added: “The world won’t join in if we don’t set an example that there are good ways to do things.”

“It is not all about sacrifice and renunciation; many of the necessary changes make life better,” Haberl concluded.

The main problem with the Green Transformation is timing, said Stefan Thurner in his final statement. “Climate change will produce social stress. To ensure that the stress does not become too big, behavioral changes must happen slowly enough. But we just don’t have another 50 years.”


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