Little is known of Franz Weber’s early life, except that he was born in 1927 in Basel, Switzerland. His early exposure to the outdoors cultivated his love for nature and the environment, which later developed into a life-long passion for environmental protection. He was also known as a very bright student, and excelled in most of his studies.
In an interview, Franz recalled his childhood years:
“I grew up outside the city of Basel. As a child I was always out in the fields and the woods. I often went to the station and asked the train drivers to tell me about the countryside they saw travelling through Switzerland. They were amused at being interviewed by a kid.”
Journalism: Franz’s First Success
During the Second World War, Franz’s schooling was halted due to the invasion of Germany. After the war, Franz studied Commerce at a university in Germany; however, in 1949, he shifted interests and moved to Paris to attend Sorbonne University, where studied Linguistics and Philosophy. He finished his studies and earned his degrees in 1951, starting his career in journalism soon after. Initially, he wanted to be a writer/poet, but, after failing to achieve success in the field, opted instead to become a journalist and report on the arts and entertainment industry, where he became successful.
Fighting for the Engadine Valley
Although Franz enjoyed his career as a successful journalist, he still felt as if there was more to life than what he had. Since his youth, Franz always believed he was going to do something significant, but it was not until his middle years that he finally came to understand his love for nature. In 1965, while he was travelling through the Engadine Valley in the Swiss Alps, Franz learned of a building project on Lake Silvaplana, as well as the efforts of local conservationists to preserve the site.
Immediately, something inside of him made him want to get involved in the situation. And so, Franz met with the conservationists and participated in their fight against the ‘destruction’ of the natural landmark, thus embarking on his first crusade to protect the environment. Franz’s campaign to preserve Lake Silvaplana attracted attention not just from the locals, but even from outside the country, so much that it brought the French and German media onto the scene.
The entire legal battle took nearly seven years to finish, but for Franz it was worth it - he and the team of environmentalists won the struggle, and Engadine Valley was declared a ‘National Conservation Region’ by the Swiss Federal Government.
Franz’s victory in the Engadine Valley case encouraged him to continue his environmental activism, and he became convinced that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. And so, starting in 1972, Franz began to focus entirely on activism, leaving behind his career as a journalist so he could put all his time and energy into protecting [and preserving] the environment. That same year, Franz successfully launched two referendums calling for the complete protection of the Lavaux region, and established himself as one of the most successful environmentalists of his time.
Establishing “Fondation Franz Weber”
In 1975, Franz established “Fondation Franz Weber” (the Franz Weber Foundation) to inspire people to protect the environment, as well as encourage them to join his crusade against its destruction. The following year, Franz started a campaign to protect the seals on the coast of Labrador, Canada, from being hunted and then sold overseas. The campaign took over seven years, but finally succeeded in 1983 when the European Economic Community banned all importations of baby seal pelts.
With Franz’s firmly-established international reputation as a dedicated environmentalist came greater respect - not just from fellow conservationists, but also from political leaders of nations all over the world. In 1978, Franz was approached by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to campaign for the preservation of Ancient Delphi against industrialization. At that time, the historical and environmental landmark was under threat from a particular industrial project by an American-Greek company. The widely-supported campaign, which Franz dubbed “Save Delphi,” successfully prevented the desecration of one of Greek’s greatest natural wonders. Franz continued to defend Delphi throughout the next two decades, for which he was honoured as the “Weber Honorary Citizen and Protector of Delphi” in 1997.
The Danube Campaign: Protecting the Forests
In 1983, Franz fought against the destruction of the Danube forests, which was intended to make room for a hydro-electrical complex to be built in the area. To ensure the campaign’s effectiveness, Franz invited forty journalists from all over Europe, which drew the attention of the international community. The campaign was successful and, the following year, the Austrian government ceased construction of the hydro-electric plant. Years later [in 1995], the same region was offered to be Austria’s very first national park by then-sitting Chancellor Franz Vranitzki.
Building the Franz Weber Park
In 1989, “Fondation Franz Weber” acquired Bonrook Station in Pine Creek, a former cattle station which was later developed into a native wildlife sanctuary. The following year, the Togolese Government appealed to Franz to save the country’s last elephants; eager to protect them from extinction, his organization entered an agreement with the Togolese Government to place the National Park of Fazao-Malfakassa under their protection.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Franz continued to promote environmental protection and animal welfare. Throughout his career as an activist, Franz has encountered numerous obstacles, even some which seemed overwhelming. Franz has been arrested and imprisoned for his dedication to protecting the environment, but the experiences never once discouraged him from continuing his work.
Recently, Franz has been active in preserving many environmental landmarks in his own country. In 2008, Franz initiated a referendum calling for the end of Swiss Air Force training flights over what he called ‘tourist areas’ - which, by definition, would mean the entire country - to reduce noise pollution. Instead, Franz promoted the use of simulators to help Air Force pilots train for combat operations.
Franz continues Selfless Initiatives
Looking forward, Franz knows there is still a long way to go, but his age will never deter him from fighting for the environment. He had a dream of a better world and, as long as he is alive, he’ll never stop until that dream comes to pass. As he says in an interview:
“For as long as I am needed to carry on campaigns, I am ready to do battle. In the final analysis I am still young, and I can work for another ten years at least... I have no time to give up. I have to hop around until I don't have any more life in me.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Fondation Franz Weber
- Franz Weber Parks
- European Economic Community
- Save Delphi Campaign
- Save the Lavaux
- World Wildlife Fund
Awards and Achievements
- 1974: Conferred Honorary Citizenship by the State of Texas and the City of Austin
- 1978: Won the German Prize for Conservation of Nature
- 1979: Awarded the German Medal of Environment
- 1981: Received the “European Prize for Land Conservation” from Count Bernadette of Sweden
- 1986: Awarded the “Hans Schweigart Medal” from the World Union for Protection of Life
- 1997: Named a Citoyen d’Honneur (Citizen of Honor) of Delphi
- 2007: Received the Swiss ‘Tierweltpreis’
- “Des Montagnes a Soulever”
- “Die Gerettete Landschaft”
- “Paradis Suave”
- “Das Gerettete Paradies”