For the past few months, they have been increasing their punching actions all over Europe, particularly in museums, on the asphalt (roadblocks) and even in starred restaurants where, just last weekend, Animal Rebellion activists took over Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in the very chic district of Chelsea, London, to demand more ecological food. Mostly non-violent operations, but always spectacular and increasingly disturbing. But after all, isn’t that the point?
In October, again in London, two activists from Just Stop Oil sprayed tomato soup on the window protecting the famous painting by Van Gogh The sunflowers, at the National Gallery. Since then, Just Stop Oil has done it again with a painting by Monet in Potsdam, another Van Gogh in Rome…
In the foreign press (but also in part of the French press), these new climate activists have been described at best as buffoons at worst as extremists who would harm the fight of environmentalists.
What is it really ? What pushes these activists, often young, towards more “radicals” ? Can we really speak of radicalization when the actions carried out are not intended to destroy but to “increasing popular pressure on political leaders”, as the American site writes NPR ? Because we are still a long way from the criminal acts committed in the United States between 1995 and 2001 by groups like the ELF (Earth Liberation Front). The history of the environmental movement is also full of spectacular actions emanating from organizations (Greenpeace in particular) that are now widely recognized.
So what is changing today? To understand what motivates these activists, a journalist from‘Il Friday (the supplement of La Repubblica) went to meet them by participating in a recruitment seminar for Ultima Generazione (“Last Generation”), the group of activists who are unleashing passions in Italy. We meet Michele, 26, the leader of the group, who encourages everyone to move on to civil disobedience:
“We are on the verge of ecological and climatic collapse, we have no more time, we are the last generation that can do something.”
We also hear more skeptical voices: “You have to think about the message it sends. What do people understand? You get the opposite effect”, advances a participant. A fascinating exchange which translates well the certainties of some but also the tensions which can cross the ecological current.
“We’re out of time.” The leitmotif of Ultima Generazione is also that of Extinction Rebellion, the movement born in the United Kingdom in 2018, recalls Il Friday. And the awareness of this urgency is what runs through our whole file. When the house is on fire, we can break the windows (and throw tomato sauce on a masterpiece), move forward in The New York Times Andreas Malm. “How can we be surprised by the despair of the people, especially their anger? writes this specialist in human ecology and sabotage. The young Europeans who invested in climate action in 2018 and 2019, with the momentum given to their generation by Greta Thunberg, can no longer stand the status quo.”
While the COP27, meeting from November 6 to 18 in Egypt, failed on “the question where she was most expected”, according to FinancialTimes, we better understand the impatience of climate activists. Admittedly, an agreement has been reached in favor of compensating poor countries, but for the British daily, “we had to send an unequivocal political signal showing that the world is ready to accelerate the exit from fossil fuels”. We are far from it.
In the meantime, others have chosen the legal route, explains Hakai magazine. “Since 2020, nearly 500 legal proceedings related to climate change have been launched worldwide.” From Hawaii to the Torres Strait Islands, the author of the article tells how residents, often young people, are suing governments, big companies, for the damage linked to climate change that has already taken place, and no longer just to preserve their future. Another form of commitment. More discreet but perhaps no less effective in the long run.