Little Austria rarely lands on President Donald Trump’s radar – until it turns out to be full of exploding trees. In a Sept. 15 interview with Fox News, Trump turned to the Austrians to reinforce his criticism of California’s allegedly failed environmental management: “They [Austrians] live in the forest; they are considered forest cities. But they don’t have fires like this.” Ever since the internet has been flooded with memes trolling the president’s response, earning him the nick-name “Forest Trump.”
As part of an effort to downplay the devastating Californian wildfires affecting most of the West Coast, Trump praised Austria for its fire prevention. According to the president, Austria’s “forest cities” succeed in controlling this problem even though “they have more explosive trees” than in California. This is because, according to Trump, Austrians “thin the fuel” and clear fallen trees. Trump argues that this is a good reason to continue deforestation in the U.S.
Trump says people in countries like Austria “live in the forest” and have “forest cities.” He says in these areas they “have more explosive trees” than California, but don’t have the same kind of fire problems. He says this is because they “thin the fuel.” pic.twitter.com/v1Zc4UaHXo— The American Independent (@AmerIndependent) September 15, 2020
In an article for the Independent, the Austrian Minister of Agriculture, Regions, and Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger sought to set the record straight. “Austria is a country situated in the heart of Europe, where people do not live in the forest, but rather with the forest and in a close, sustainable relationship with the natural environment.”
The minister took a stab at the president’s neglect of the environment.
“We have found a way to give our trees the space they need as well as a sustainable future while still making use of what they produce,” Köstinger wrote. “If we do not take care of our habitat, there are dangerous consequences: preserving our environment serves as a safety net against avalanches and landslides, and provides a basis for fresh air and drinking water, as well as our economic future.”
On Twitter, users created hashtags, such as #forestcities and #explosivetrees, and went to town over Trump’s comments.
To illustrate Trump’s vision of “the Vienna Skyline”, journalist Hanna Herbst posted a stunning photo of the Wienerwald covered in fog.
Craig Harrington uploaded a photo of the inner city with its densely packed buildings – frequently criticized by Vice Mayor Birgit Hebein – from the top of the Stephansdom, which he titled “Behold the Great Forest of Vienna.”
Behold the Great Forest of Vienna pic.twitter.com/lUJa6yNid5— Craig Harrington (@Craigipedia) September 15, 2020
Hebein posted a video directly addressing Trump, showing the vice mayor sitting on a bench underneath a tree – presumably proving that Vienna’s trees are safe. She also provides before and after images of streets where she planted trees to mitigate climate change.
With a photo of trees growing inside a soccer stadium, journalist Patrick Gruska illustrated that trees grow everywhere in the city.
As funny as it is, according to Der Standard, there is some truth to Trump’s claim. On its website, the Washington Forest Protection Association states, “In areas with an over-accumulation of fuels, a combination of thinning small trees and clearing brush followed by controlled burning can be the most effective method to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”
However, this is not the first time that the president falsely argued that Europeans “take care of the floors” by raking the forests and clearing the underbrush. He referenced this practice in 2018 in connection with Finland, causing a similar bemusement on social media.