Summer time is festival time – and in Austria this means classical music festivals all over the country with Salzburg as the frontrunner. Every year, the media coverage focuses on the rich and beautiful who meet in the small town in the Alps to attend concerts, operas and plays. What are they wearing? Who did they bring as their date? But this year, I was delighted to read that the 99th Salzburg Festival was opened by two strong speeches – one by Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen and one by American director Peter Sellars. Both had one message in common: climate change and our future.
Climate change may have become a topic which may be omnipresent yet overlooked at the same time. It feels a bit bizarre that a music festival in the heart of the alps, where crystal clear creeks make their way through the mountains and the air is clean and fresh, is used as a vehicle to promote climate change.
When I grew up in Austria, recycling was a normal thing. I actually never questioned it. I was also taught by my parents and in school that we should not through our trash out of the car window. Some of you may laugh at this. Unfortunately, this is not as normal anymore. On my most recent runs in the forest of my hometown, I had to discover that some people not only use the roadside as their dustbins but empty out entire carloads of trash in the forest. And do not get me going on the mountains of plastic in our supermarkets. Needless to say, when I am in Asia, I can see the impact of pollution even more: smog, lack of recycling, overuse of plastic. Therefore, Sellars and van der Bellen do have a point to address the topic at an idyllic classical music festival, un unexpected stage and probably a strategic move. Maybe this was a better way for publicity than another UN conference?
I was particularly intrigued by how Peter Sellars connected a Mozart opera with the current climate crisis. “Idomeneo” deals with an autocratic warlord who willingly sacrifices the future generation. Sellars’s stage set of this 18th century opera was a reference to the plastic pollution of the seas which was not the only bridge to the present:
“Globally we see decision makers who willingly sacrifice future generations by postponing their reaction to what our planet is telling us. How many more hurricanes, floods and melting glaciers do we need?”*
Similar to Mozart’s quartet and its structure of equal participants, every one of us needs to act. In my opinion, we cannot wait for those in power to do something. Look at all these old people, they will not be the ones who have to deal with the mess.
“The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.”, said climate activist Greta Thunberg in her speech at the COP24, the UN climate conference. I even ask myself if my generation – the millennials born after 1984, with a reputation for avocado breads, Instagram and being selfish – has not done enough either. Have we trusted the old boys club too much that they will save us? Have we been too comfortable to act?
I do not think that we all need to radically change our lifestyles. Because of my job and family spread across the world, I will also need to rely on air travel in the future, for example. Even though I want to, it is still challenging to only buy organic and biodegrable clothes, especially in Asia. And very often, I need to rely on a car because of lacking public transport alternatives. But let’s all try within our means – refuse the plastic bags and straws, bring reusable cutlery to the office, do not dump your trash at the roadside and also spread the word. Change starts with the first small step and if others see how easy it is, they will join.
In 2078, I will be 92. I may have grandchildren, or even great-granchildren or godchildren. I do not want I tell them that I was too lazy to take care of their future. In 2078, how old will you be?
* Translated from German; Der Standard, August 28th, 2019