Paint it black.
Why radical climate protest is upholding the law.
Yesterday, people found the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin painted orange by climate activists from the Last Generation movement.
These activists made headlines over the last two years mostly for blocking streets by gluing themselves to the ground (link in german), or throwing mashed potato at artworks protected behind glas, or disrupting Beethoven concerts at the Hamburg Opera.
As with all their protests, this painting job on the Brandenburg Gate too made headlines with the majority of the people reacting annoyed at best, and hateful at worst.
Good. Make them fume.
I’d have painted it black — as in “black for oil“ — and in a fair and just world, no cop would arrest me for that, because i’d do that protesting paintjob on legal grounds.
Let me explain.
A few days ago scientists found that “six out of nine ‘planetary boundaries’ had been broken because of human-caused pollution and destruction of the natural world“. The planetary boundaries are a concept introduced by Johan Rockström et al in a paper in 2009, and have since been included in the sustainable development goals of the UN its member states adopted in 2015.
Those boundaries are limits to planetary systems and include the climate, ocean acidification, wildlife diversity, fresh water, or land use. If those systems are pushed beyond their limits, they are in danger to fail to maintain life on earth. In 2023, we crossed six of those nine boundaries, “suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity“ as per the latest paper.
I bet you’ve seen the boundaries graph before, it looks like this, including the latest version:
Here’s the 2023 graph in all its glory:
A few months ago, a related measuring system of planetary sustainability which combines environmental factors with social justice goals found that
Human activity has pushed the world into the danger zone in seven out of eight newly demarcated indicators of planetary safety and justice, according to a groundbreaking analysis of the Earth’s wellbeing.
Going beyond climate disruption, the report by the Earth Commission group of scientists presents disturbing evidence that our planet faces growing crises of water availability, nutrient loading, ecosystem maintenance and aerosol pollution. These pose threats to the stability of life-support systems and worsen social equality.
All of this is happening while:
With 2023 likely to be the hottest year on record, all ten hottest years on record are, well, the last ten years.
Climate change causing wildfires around the globe, only to be followed up by catastrophic and deadly floodings in Greece and Syria, while people in the american south are baked alive and experience whole series of climate desasters which cost their economy billions, all while the US-government “accounts for more than a third of the expansion of global oil and gas production planned by mid-century, despite its claims of climate leadership“.
Global carbon emissions continue to rise.
“The sea-ice surrounding Antarctica is well below any previous recorded winter level“
Global warming will cause more multiyear La Niña events, study finds, Indonesians in sinking village forced to adapt, Sicily is ablaze, Oceans are growing hotter, triggering global weather disasters, Florida ocean records ‘unprecedented’ temperatures similar to a hot tub. We are watching the brutal reality of what climate scientists told us would happen. And so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on.
I’ll be blunt here: All of this is the responsibility of governments who went whole head up the arse of oil companies and the car industry over the past 50 years, deregulated everything and reduced social programms, while printing money for them with your tax money: “subsidies for oil, coal and natural gas are costing the equivalent of 7.1 percent of global gross domestic product. That’s more than governments spend annually on education (4.3 percent of global income) and about two thirds of what they spend on healthcare (10.9 percent).“
They continue to give these fuckers money after the oil companies willfully mislead the public and swept their own climate science results under the rug, only to finance climate “scepticism“ and push outright denial.
The effect was politicians around the world pretty much ignoring climate science until very recently when it was arguably too late to make a smooth economic shift, only after a fucking schoolgirl had to quit lessons to make a point and start a global protest movement. If there is a definition of “bad job“, then that’s it.
Politicians simply failed at their job at protecting the public from irreversible environmental effects of deregulated corporate interests. I’m a capitalist and i like free markets, but freedom comes with responsibilities and the whole chicago school of neoliberalism is nothing other than a scheme to reduce responsibilities to bring down costs and increase profits for the rich on the back of the public, which is antisocial by definition and economic extremism against the people. In the face of climate change, this line of thinking is outdated.
I write all of this to make a point.
Planetary systems are out of balance to sustain human life in the long run — and unfortunately for those in power, there are legal obligations to provide that balance. Simple as that.
In a historic legal decision, “the Dutch Supreme Court, the highest court in the Netherlands, upheld the previous decisions in the Urgenda Climate Case, finding that the Dutch government has obligations to urgently and significantly reduce emissions in line with its human rights obligations.”
I don’t know if they were first with such a decision, but they surely were not the last.
In April 2021, the german supreme court, in a similar decision, pointed at a principle of generational justice: One generation should not be allowed to suck up all CO2-Budget and shift a radical burden of carbon-reduction on following generations, simply because that’s an unjust limitation of freedom guaranteed by the law. For the german supreme court, not fighting climate change is illegal.
Similar lawsuits are ongoing in states like the Belgium, Sweden, India, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa or the Swiss. Six kids are suing no less than 32 european countries to dramatically increase their climate change efforts. In August, a US-court ”found that young people have a constitutional right to a healthful environment and that the state must consider potential climate damage when approving projects”.
This list will continue to grow and I look at radical climate protest in the context of lawsuits like these. If ”young people have a constitutional right to a healthful environment” in the US and when not fighting climate change is illegal for the german government, and similar decisions being reported in other countries too, then radical climate protest means upholding and defending the law. For these protests, these kids get screamed at, spat on, get called out as ”terrorists”, they get beat up and ran over.
And if you think I’m blue-eyed here: 60 professors of international law just signed an open letter (link in german) saying that these protests are legitimized — which means they are morally right in context of the law — and that governments must obey the constitution.
Thus, arguing that these protests are illegal is absurd from this perspective. Two wrongs may not make a right, but only one of both is fucking up the future of this planet.
In this situation, i want to especially and explicitly point out how incredibly lame it is to say: You know what, climate activists, while i support your overall goals, maybe tone it down a notch and don’t disturb my enjoyment of this exquisite opera. You are annoying.
The annoyance is the whole point of the endeavour, to be a pain in the arse until governments act on the goddamn constitutional rights of its populace to a planet, which at least, you know, sustains human life.
That’s not asking too much, i think.
The technocratic-neoliberal worldview must be abandoned in the face of climate change, and the three things that will bring it down are technology, protest, and the law.
Sustainable energy technology like Solar and Wind will continue to eat the lunch of fossil fuels, thanks to a regulated capitalism btw. Even the International Energy Agency now is saying that fossil fuels are over.
The law will continue to speak justice to governments and i expect there to be more and bigger lawsuits regarding reparations and damages. Those will be fun.
And protests will continue to be a pain in the arse until both jobs are done.
Until then, i applaud every human spraying paint of protest onto the symbols of decadence to the annoyance of people blinded by western privilege.
Paint it black next time.