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Meet the bizarre German climate activists who glue themselves to roadways and demand speed limits and cheaper public transit, all with funding from an American oil heiress's nonprofit
Why does climate activism always turn out to be so heavily astroturfed?
For a while now, the German activist group calling itself the Letzte Generation (or “Last Generation”) has been in the news for disruptive stunts that range from throwing mashed potatoes on paintings, to vandalising buildings and – above all – gluing themselves to the street at key intersections in order to block traffic. Their disruptions in Berlin have become an almost routine occurrence, and they drew particular attention two weeks ago, for causing a traffic jam that delayed emergency services on their way to assist a cyclist who’d been run over by a cement truck. Because of their blockade, a special vehicle that would’ve lifted the truck off the cyclist couldn’t make it in time, and emergency workers were forced to roll it back over her leg to free her. She later died in hospital.
The Letzte Generation activists have directed a long, public letter to the German government, to explain what they are doing. After a wall of text in which they rant and rave about the dire climate emergency that is descending upon all of us, they finally remember to list their demands. These amount to 1) the immediate implementation of a 100 kph speed limit on all German motorways, and 2) the reintroduction of the low-cost 9-Euro ticket for local transit. That’s it, that’s why they need to deface artwork and block ambulances.
All Letzte Generation protests receive generous and generally favourable coverage from the press. I’ve spent a few days watching interviews with them. They’re a bunch of naive, dead-eyed young women accompanied by the odd awkward bloke. They do a lot of shouting and screaming, but it feels heavily rehearsed, and when the interviewers put questions to them, the girls seem slightly embarrassed about what they’re getting up to. Sooner or later the police arrive and lead them off, at which point they’re generally fined and released to proceed to the next disruption.
Like many of other activist organisations devoted to attacking museum art, the Letzte Generation are bankrolled by the Climate Emergency Fund, a California-based non-profit co-founded in 2019 by oil heiress Aileen Getty:
Margaret Klein Salamon, the fund’s executive director, pointed to social movements of the past — suffragists, civil rights and gay rights activists — that achieved success after protesters took nonviolent demonstrations to the streets.
“Action moves public opinion and what the media covers, and moves the realm of what’s politically possible,” Ms. Salamon said. “The normal systems have failed. It’s time for every person to realize that we need to take this on.”
So far, the fund has given away just over $7 million, with the goal of pushing society into emergency mode, she said. Even though the United States is on the cusp of enacting historic climate legislation, the bill allows more oil and gas expansion, which scientists say needs to stop immediately to avert planetary catastrophe.
The Climate Emergency Fund covers the activists’ expenses and even pays modest salaries to key figures. There has been much press discussion about whether the penalties for blocking traffic should be increased, but it seems to me that the far more pressing question, is why American non-profits funded by oil money are paying climate activists to disrupt traffic and demand speed limit and transit policy changes in Germany in the first place; and how it is remotely acceptable or even legal for them to do this.