climate change

Mature Ladies Showed Us How to Protest Climate Change

They brought homemade Earth-shaped cookies to the protest.

by Philippe Stalder
Jan 20 2017, 4:28pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Alps.

The mood on the train to Davos is more giddy than militant. Eight Swiss women in their late 60s and 70s make jokes and share snacks while painting slogans on banners. "Let us breathe," the banners say, or "Act on climate change now." They're the Klimaseniorinnen (the Climate Seniors), and they're on their way to fuck up the World Economic Forum—or at least make their voices heard by protesting outside it. This year's motto is "Responsive and Responsible Leadership," and according to these women, that only holds up if the political and economic elite take strong action against climate change.

A 2014 study by the World Health Organization showed that climate change and the extreme heat associated with it lead to public health issues like dehydration and heart and circulatory problems, especially in older women. So last autumn, the Klimaseniorinnen filed a lawsuit against the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. To them, global warming is a health risk as much as anything else. As of yet, there has been no action on their lawsuit.

Once the train arrives in Davos, the women wrap their banners around their necks as scarves, so they won't be so easily recognizable as protesters. They stroll through the center of Davos past security personnel on the street and snipers on rooftops, to their destination—the last security checkpoint before the entrance to the World Economic Forum.

Once they get there, they take off their scarves and hold them up as banners for the press. Sadly, the protest is short-lived. A group of policemen quickly come along to escort the ladies away—they're not allowed to protest here. The Klimaseniorinnen try to charm them, but to no avail. More police arrive, and, as a last act of defiance, the women dole out the homemade Earth-shaped cookies they've brought along for the protest.

On the way back to the train I have a little chat with some of them.

Marie-Claire Comment, 67

VICE: How many protests do you think you have been to in your life?
Marie-Claire Comment: Oh, I've been to so many. Against nuclear energy, supporting immigration, against the gap between north and south. And it's necessary—I think public awareness for climate change has improved but politicians are doing nothing about it, and as a result, the global inequality has worsened.

What is your message for the youth of today?
If you want to stay alive, you have to ask the hard and interesting questions.

Dominique Blazy Rime

VICE: A police officer took your banner away, didn't he?
Dominique Blazy Rime: Yes, it was a bit awkward seeing ten burly policemen coming out of a truck just because I had a banner saying "Let Us Breathe." One of them said that was enough and took my scarf. Oh well.

You've worked as a journalist. What do you think of the media coverage of climate change?
I'm not impressed. The media too often focus on superficial trivialities instead of on what matters. We need political and economic solutions to climate change. The economy always takes priority over everything, and nobody really challenges that anymore.

Don't you?
No, I just live—I don't want to quarrel. I am happy and healthy—I'll have a beer once in a while, but I recently walked 125 miles in one week. I don't see you doing that.

Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, 67

VICE: How did you get involved with environmental issues?
Rosemarie Wydler-Wälti: I was in the movement in '68—we occupied the nuclear power plant in Kaiseraugst, and we dyed the Rhine red after the Sandoz chemical spill. And I was always involved in smaller projects, like collecting aluminum in my neighborhood.

Why aren't you just quietly enjoying your sunset years?
I want to do something meaningful with my time. I also advocate for the values of spirituality, body consciousness, and nutrition to be better represented in schools—instead of just looking at the economic efficiency of a student's education.

What do you hope to achieve with the lawsuit you ladies filed?
We're hoping for stricter laws concerning CO2 taxes, energy-efficient housing, and air traffic, for example. We're absolutely prepared to take it up to Strasbourg. Everyone is affected by climate change, and fighting for the future of our kids is our main concern.

Edith Hiltbrand, 79

VICE: When and how did you join the environmental movement?
Edith Hiltbrand: In the 80s, I read To Have or to Be by Erich Fromm, and it completely changed my politics. Before, I voted for the FDP (the liberal party) and drove a Porsche. That book started a green movement in me.

What do you drive now?
Nothing at all.

Anne Mahrer, 68

VICE: How much of an activist are you?
Anne Mahrer: This is my first time in Davos, but I've been to many protests—especially against nuclear energy.

What sacrifices do we need to make for the environment?
I don't think it demands sacrifices, we just need to be more efficient with how we use energy. We need to make our transport and housing more energy-efficient, use hydro-energy. That's not a sacrifice.

Beatrix Braun, 66

VICE: What kind of world do you think your grandkids will live in?
Beatrix Braun: I am not as optimistic as I used to be. I think we'll soon have to wear sunblock when we just go for a swim, like in Australia. I wouldn't want to live on this planet in a hundred years if something doesn't change drastically very soon.

How do you feel about the protest today?
I'm happy, but a bit surprised that police stepped in so quickly. They should have seen that we posed no threat. But it's always better to act than sit idle.

What would you say to young people today?
Don't make the same mistakes we did, like driving around in polluting cars and only thinking about the economy. I hope this generation is smarter. It's like smoking—even though you know how bad it is for you, it's easier to keep doing it. I hope this new generation won't be like that when it comes to the environment. Live more consciously.