Dominik Waser and Josef Widler in an interview

You want to move into the Zurich city council on February 13th. In the NZZ election duel, Dominik Waser (Greens) and Josef Widler (center) talk about climate policy, activism and vegetarian retirement homes.

Mr Widler, should someone as young as Dominik Waser become a city councilor?

Josef Widler: He can be elected. Whether he will then be suitable to head a department and an administration is another question. I don’t see Sturm und Drang in the government, but in parliament.

Mr. Waser, is Josef Widler too old for such an office?

Dominik Waser: Even when it comes to old age, there needs to be a balance in government, and that is not the case today. The concerns of the young are not taken seriously enough – for example in climate policy.

The oldest and the youngest new candidate

dfr./mvl. There are elections in the city of Zurich on February 13th. The NZZ lets eight new candidates for the city council meet in disputes on topics that concern Zurich. This time Josef Widler (center) and Dominik Waser (Greens) discuss climate policy and activism.

Josef Widler is “the” Zurich family doctor. He has chaired the canton’s medical association since 2015. During the corona pandemic, the 67-year-old became the weighty expert voice on all channels. The general practitioner was in office for the then CVP in the city parliament for six years; he has been a cantonal councilor since 2015, now for the center.

Dominik Waser was politicized by the climate strike movement; since then he has been one of their formative minds in Switzerland. He has been involved in project groups with the Greens for several years. So far, he has not held a political office. The 23-year-old completed an apprenticeship as a landscape gardener and dropped out of his environmental engineering degree.

Mr. Widler, doesn’t politics need people who are loud and open to something?

Widler: For sure. But not in the executive branch. In the city parliament, the young people got through with their climate demands. A new strategy was decided upon, net zero by 2040. When it comes to implementation, pragmatism is required. If you neglect the minority, you won’t find good solutions. It takes a different tonality. Experience is an advantage here.

Mr Waser, as a city councilor, you would have to be conciliatory and accept compromises. Is that really what you want as a representative of the climate strike?

Waser: It’s a different role, no question about it. But when it comes to implementation, climate policy now needs a different pace. A lot of older, experienced people support me. It is clear to me that it cannot be done without compromise, but it has to be good.

They also differ in the way of life. Mr. Waser, one could read about you in the newspaper that you lived a polyamorous life with one female and two male partners. Is that even true?

Waser: Yes. Where is the problem?

Mr. Widler, are you shocked?

Widler: No, I can hardly be shocked, even if I did not know the term polyamory. These are different ways of life, that has to be right for those who choose. It’s not much of any business to the others.

They have been married since 1979 and have four grandchildren. Mr. Waser, that might shock you as well – as terribly conservative.

Waser: Why should that shock me? The point is that we have a society that accepts the traditional, but at the same time is open to all other forms of relationships and forms of life. There, too, different forms should be represented in a city government.

We have marriage for all, will you ask for a marriage for polyamors next?

Waser: It’s exciting that you’re so interested in this now. Of course, marriage isn’t enough for everyone. Too many people are still discriminated against. There are other demands, that is very clear.

Widler: Does sexual orientation always have to be legally safeguarded in the same way?

Waser: But have you already supported marriage for everyone?

Widler: Yes. But at a certain point you can say: it’s accepted. We don’t have to have it regulated by the state.

Let us go back to the opposition between the pragmatist and the idealist. Take the example of Extinction Rebellion, which had been trying to paralyze the city for days. That upset many. Is that really a good way?

Waser: I support such forms of protest as long as they remain non-violent. This is the only way for politicians to come under pressure and react.

Widler: You can do that once as a wake-up call. But then you have to arouse sympathy. Nobody says today that it is stupid to generate the energy on site or that it is intelligent to send the biggest gangsters in the world the money for oil. We will manage this climate change, thanks to technology. And when people see that it pays off.

Waser: We can now see that what we do is far from being enough. If we continue like this, we will come to climatic tipping points that have tragic consequences. The people on the street are getting impatient and do not want to support this inadequate climate policy.

Isn’t it tricky when democracy is decried as sluggish, when one demands climate committees and the like that should decide more quickly?

Waser: I am for more democracy at all levels. The Climate Council is about getting the population more involved, about an update of democracy. But we have to find solutions. And the longer we wait, the faster we have to act.

Widler: What bothers me: that you always say what others have to do instead of changing your behavior yourself.

Waser: First of all, many who get involved are quite limited. Second, we have structural problems where we simply don’t get anywhere with our own behavior – even if everyone would radically restrict themselves from tomorrow.

Widler: For example?

Waser: It’s about heating networks, electricity production – about fossil fuels that have to go in all areas of society.

Do we need regulations as to what can and cannot be sold?

Waser: We already have them today, just wrong ones. Our current consumer behavior is already restrictive for people in the south as a result of damage from climate change. And it will be the same for us in the future if we don’t change anything. The greatest robbery of freedom is when we just carry on as we have up to now.

Widler: It takes a rethink. When it comes to meat consumption, I have the impression that there is a change of opinion.

In a question in the city parliament, Mr Waser’s party suggested a consistently meat-free diet in old people’s homes. What do you think of that, Mr. Widler?

Widler: This is an absolute no-go. Even this change works through the better offer. Thanks to vegetarianism, enormous progress has been made in the kitchen when it comes to preparation. Please don’t tell me what to eat.

Waser: It’s not about absolute bans, but about increasing the plant-based content in the diet and showing that this does not have to be done without. We simply can no longer afford the very high meat consumption. The city of Zurich should be a role model here.

Widler: You just shouldn’t make a religion out of it. Nothing good ever comes out of it.

Waser: Agreed!

This is what you say as a representative of the former CVP!

Widler: The CVP was never a religious party for me.

In the city of Zurich, the big topic was the climate target: 2030 or 2040? In the end, the city parliament – including the Greens – decided in favor of 2040. A wrong decision, you say, Mr Waser.

Waser: 2040 is simply not compatible with the scientifically broad-based goal of no more than 1.5 degrees global warming – i.e. the Paris Climate Agreement. If you now say: “It will just take a little longer”, then you are not taking responsibility. After Corona, nobody has to tell me anymore that fundamental changes in behavior are not possible in a short time – it is a question of will.

Widler: I don’t like to set goals that I can’t achieve. If we just look at how long it takes before I get a building permit in the city of Zurich. . . If you want to change people, the only way to do this is to go “back right”. About the wallet. When the energy gets more expensive, something will move.

One could argue: whether Zurich will become climate neutral in 2030 or 2040 does not matter for the climate, because Zurich is simply too small.

Waser: That is a very short-sighted argument. Zurich has a global symbolic power. If we as an economic center fail to convert to a climate-neutral city, who will? The cities have to lead the way because too little is happening at the national level, as was the case recently with the rejected CO2-Law. We have many corporations in Zurich that are contributing too little. In Zurich, money is not the problem, but where it is used.

Widler: Cows that give milk should not be slaughtered. But I think it’s better to talk about investments than costs. The climate change should pay off.

Waser: If we don’t do anything, it will be a lot more expensive, that is very clear.

In the end, you had the feeling that Corona had replaced the climate issue – even with the boys.

Waser: Surveys show that she is still very much concerned with the climate issue. Corona is of course very present at the moment. Young people showed solidarity at the beginning of the crisis and still are, but of course you want to function differently again at some point.

Widler: The old suffered, who were locked up like cattle at the beginning of the crisis, and the young, although they are hardly affected by the virus. If I were 19 years old again, I probably wouldn’t have put up with it.

Then you would have become an activist too.

Widler: Yes!

They have never met before this conversation. Now you’ve got to know each other. Is there something that you admire Mr. Widler for, Mr. Waser?

Waser: Admire?

Let’s say: something that surprised you in a positive way about him.

Waser: The awareness that the climate issue should be very high on the agenda. I am very happy about that.

And what do you like about Mr. Waser, Mr. Widler?

Widler: I just love his youthful enthusiasm. I just hope he doesn’t get frustrated. But in the phase he’s in now, I think that’s the right attitude.

“NZZ Live” event: 30 years of red-green: is Zurich still dynamic enough?
Zurich is changing and is facing major challenges after 30 years of red-green government. What makes a city really liveable, sustainable and dynamic?
February 8, 2022, 7 p.m., Kosmos, Zurich.
Tickets and further information can be found here

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