Glue, soup and grit: the new climate activism
text size

Glue, soup and grit: the new climate activism

Environmentalists finding increasingly novel ways of drawing attention to their message

Climate protesters pour oil-like liquid over themselves outside TotalEnergies' AGM, May 2023. (Photo: AFP)
Climate protesters pour oil-like liquid over themselves outside TotalEnergies' AGM, May 2023. (Photo: AFP)

PARIS: Police in Paris on Friday used teargas against activists who attempted to block the annual shareholders meeting of the French oil giant TotalEnergies — the latest standoff involving climate campaigners.

The clashes came in a week which saw police raid homes in Germany as part of an investigation into a group that has blocked streets and flung mashed potato at the glass covering famous works of art to raise awareness about the need for climate action.

Some activists say shock tactics are necessary to focus attention on the urgency of weaning the world off fossil fuels.

AFP looks at various eye-catching acts of civil resistance used by groups across Europe such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Last Generation.

Glued to the ground

From London to Paris to Berlin, activists have taken to glueing themselves to streets to disrupt traffic.

Last month, activists in Berlin blocked dozens of streets, including a busy motorway, during rush hour.

Police had to use a drill to dislodge one activist, who was left with a slab of asphalt stuck to his hand.

Some of the protesters were given jail sentences.

Art attacks

Nothing grabs attention like soup dripping off a priceless artwork, as two activists from the Just Stop Oil group discovered when they emptied cans of tomato soup over the glass protecting Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" in London's National Gallery in October 2022.

The pair, who complained that art lovers were more concerned with paintings than the planet, were arrested and charged with damaging the frame (the glass-protected painting was untouched).

Their action spawned a slew of imitations. A man in The Hague glued his head to Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring", activists in Madrid stuck themselves to paintings by Francisco Goya and protesters in Germany flung mash at a Claude Monet.

Red flags on red carpets

Red-carpet events have also repeatedly been targeted by activists, who accuse the rich and powerful of dining out at the planet's expense.

In December, campaigners from Last Generation smeared the facade of the famed La Scala theatre in Milan on the opening night of the new season.

Extinction Rebellion meanwhile attempted to stop private jets taking off during this year's Cannes film festival.

Reservoir wars

In France, thousands of activists armed with bowling balls and other objects fought pitched battles with the police in March.

They were attempting to block construction of a reservoir for use in irrigation in the southwestern village of Sainte Soline, saying the megadam would distort access to water in times of drought.

The clashes left two demonstrators in a coma.

Digging in 

In January, thousands of protesters descended on the German hamlet of Luetzerath in western Germany to try to prevent the deserted village being razed to make way for the expansion of an open-cast coal mine.

Some dug trenches in the ground, while others camped out in tree houses and erected giant tripods to try to keep the police at bay.

Several protesters were hospitalised after the police moved in to clear the site.

Storming shareholder meetings

It's become so routine it's almost expected — when the shareholders of oil majors such as TotalEnergies or Britain's Shell; big banks such as BNP Paribas and HSBC; or car giants like Volkswagen meet, climate activists are usually on hand to harangue them and their board over their responsibility in the climate emergency.

On Friday, shareholders arriving for TotalEnergies' annual general meeting in Paris were escorted past hundreds of protesters by riot police.

On Tuesday, activists who stormed Shell's annual meeting sang "Go to hell Shell!"

Skipping school

The torch-bearer for a new generation of campaigners was a solemn 15-year-old with plaits, who in 2018 began skipping school every Friday to protest outside the Swedish parliament over its climate inaction.

Greta Thunberg gained cult status and went on 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 over her megaphone to campaigners from communities that are already being severely affected by climate change.

Do you like the content of this article?