I admit freely: I have never, ever been a fan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the contrary, I always judged him quite a jerk. I only saw one of his movies, the silly “Twins” with Dany DeVito. I have always detested violence movies, I found his recall campaign to become governor of California distasteful, his campaign promise that he would solve California’s near-collapsing budget situation without resorting to either tax increases, expenditure cuts or new debt ludicrous, his refusal to grant clemency from execution to a retarded criminal inhuman (this cost him the naming of his (and my own) hometown Graz stadium after him – which he reatliated with by returning his honorable citizenship), his non-politician’s attitude (reminiscent of a recent arrival to Austria’s bizarre election scene) anti-professional, his personal cigar-puffing, Hummer-driving, adulterous macho behavior more than disgusting.
However: on January 30, I attended one of his environmental conferences in Vienna, an so-called R-20 (the R stands for “regional”) which he had initiated. His drawing power managed to get EC President Manuel Barroso, UNIDO Secretary General Kandeh Yumkella, the Prime Ministers of Austria and Romania, as well as their environment ministers, plus a large number of IFI representatives, scientists, CEOs plus more than one hundred people into the conference. And did he give a rousing speech! Of course, this sounded more like an American campaign speech, but it was very well crafted, merging reminiscences of his poverty-stricken childhood in Austria, with homilies from his movies, plus a number of important climate change information – and it lectured the auditorium and politicians present to stop procrastrinating, to stop waiting for others to go ahead, sub-sovereign authorities to wait for the sovereing – and all and everybody stop act now, in the face of a severe threat to our and future generations’ well-being.
Hearing him, the contrast between European politicians’ bickering and leadership became more than apparent. Causes like the fight against climate change, which has been relegated from the headlines onto the backburner as a result of the misery caused by the economic and financial crisis, need inspiring optimists like Arnie to move ahead. Equally insipring was Yumkella, who told of the misery of indoor pollution in Africa and Asia, caused by their main cooking fuel of charcoal and wood – which kills more people every day than does malaria, of the fact that women in these countries spend on average 20 hours a week getting fuel and water, of the lack of access to energy, let alone renewable energy. He spoke about the fact that the technical solutions are already available, but that money and political will were lacking to apply them and thus improve the welfare of the poorest on earth significantly.
Also Manuel Barroso spoke convincingly about all the good things the EC and the EU are doing in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy, but neither he nor Austrian Prime Minister Faymann mentioned the non-fulfillment of the self-imposed carbon reduction targets. It was to be a day of positive thinking, not talking about the delays.
It is worth mentioning, however, that nearly everybody at this 2-day conference talked about technical solutions, about supply-oriented solutions to the energy and climate problems, nobody about demand-side solutions, about energy services as the appropriate objective of policy, about city planning, mobility solutions via bicycles and public transport, about behavioral changes necessary especially in the rich countries which cause more than 85% of carbon emissions. Here Arnie was especially bizarre when he mentioned that “no change in lifestyle is necessary” (reminding me of George Bush’s Iraqu war dictum that “we are there defending our life style”), so he just switched his gasoline-guzzling Hummer to an electric one – super! he only referred to behavioral changes when he talked about teaching his children to conserve energy, i.e. switch off the lights when leaving the room (he took out the lightbulbs) and to shower more briefly (by installing a 5-minute switch-off device). Older Austrians might be reminded of Chancellor Kreisky”s recommendations during the first oil crisis in 1974 to switch to razor blades instead of electric shavers and to take showers instead of baths……..
So, my verdict: Arnie is obviously a communications and rhetorical bombshell with amazing drawing power. He might think of redemption when throwing his weight behind the climate change issue – which he is doing very seriously! He also used his visit to Austria to attend the Kitzbuehel ski race, the skiing world championship next week in Schladming, but also to talk to 100 students for several hours during his Vienna visit. Once more, he received embarrassing adolation from Austrians: it was humiliating to see, how at the dinner reception given by Prime Minister Faymann Austrian CEO’s lined up to have their picture taken with Arnie.