Glue, Soup And Grit: The New Climate Activism
On Friday, Paris police used tear gas against activists trying to block the annual general meeting of shareholders of French oil giant TotalEnergies – the latest standoff involving climate activists.
The clashes took place in a week in which police raided homes in Germany as part of an investigation into a group who blocked streets and threw mashed potatoes at glass covering famous works of art to raise awareness of the need for climate action.
Some activists say hard-hitting tactics are needed to draw attention to the urgency of weaning the world off fossil fuels.
AFP examines various eye-catching acts of civil resistance used by groups across Europe such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Last Generation.
From London to Paris via Berlin, activists took to the streets to disrupt traffic.
Last month, activists in Berlin blocked dozens of streets, including a busy highway, during rush hour.
Police had to use a drill to dislodge one activist, who ended up with a slab of asphalt stuck in his hand.
Some of the protesters were sentenced to prison terms.
Nothing commands attention like soup dripping with a priceless work of art, as two activists from the group Just Stop Oil discovered when they emptied cans of tomato soup onto the glass protecting the ” Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh at the National Gallery in London in October 2022.
The couple, who complained that art lovers care more about the paintings than the planet, were arrested and charged with damaging the frame (the painting protected by glass was intact).
Their action has spawned a multitude of imitations. A man in The Hague glued his head to Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, activists in Madrid glued themselves to paintings by Francisco Goya and protesters in Germany threw mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet .
Red carpet events have also been repeatedly targeted by activists, who accuse the rich and powerful of dining at the expense of the planet.
In December, Last Generation activists smeared the facade of Milan’s famous La Scala theater on the opening night of the new season.
Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion tried to block private jets from taking off at this year’s Cannes film festival.
In France, thousands of activists armed with bowling balls and other items fought pitched battles with police in March.
They were trying to block the construction of a reservoir for irrigation in the south-west village of Sainte Soline, saying the mega-dam would distort access to water in times of drought.
The clashes left two protesters in a coma.
In January, thousands of protesters descended on the German hamlet of Luetzerath in western Germany to try to prevent the deserted village from being razed to make way for the expansion of a coal mine open air.
Some dug trenches in the ground, while others camped in treehouses and erected giant tripods in an attempt to keep the police at bay.
Several protesters were hospitalized after police moved in to clean up the site.
It has become so routine that one would almost expect it – when the shareholders of oil majors like TotalEnergies or the British Shell; big banks like BNP Paribas and HSBC; or car giants like Volkswagen meet, climate activists are usually on hand to harangue them and their board of directors about their responsibility for the climate emergency.
On Friday, shareholders arriving for TotalEnergies’ annual general meeting in Paris were escorted past hundreds of protesters by riot police.
Activists who stormed Shell’s annual meeting on Tuesday sang “Damn Shell!”
The torchbearer for a new generation of activists was a solemn 15-year-old with pigtails, who in 2018 started skipping school every Friday to protest in front of Sweden’s parliament against his climate inaction.
Greta Thunberg gained cult status and continued to travel the world (by boat and train), urging world leaders to “listen to the science” on climate change.
Last year, she told AFP she wanted to hand out her megaphone to activists in communities already hard hit by climate change.