Zoom Image

Private jet sprayed on Sylt: emissions from the highest-income earners

Photo: Julius Schreiner / dpa

The Last Generation plans to divert its protest away from the streets and towards the "symbols of modern wealth" in order to "draw attention to the reckless waste of the rich". It is about denouncing "that super-rich people destroy our livelihoods day after day".

This is a logical development of their activism. Through the road blockades, a disruptive protest with the help of a sensitive and painful disturbance in public space, they successfully generated political pressure and increased their own visibility – which was indispensable, especially in their initial phase. Movements successfully generate mobilization when they develop relevance and traction, when they need to be listened to, and when there is a confrontation with the content of their protest despite and even by rejecting the form of their protest.

In an interview with the philosopher Carolin Emcke in her podcast "In aller Ruhe", social scientist and philosopher Robin Celikates explained that, although the blockades of the last generation are legitimate, he is of the opinion that they are no longer a particularly useful means in commuter traffic and explains: "I think it is necessary to intervene in the places where those are actually hit, bear responsibility for the fact that the climate crisis exists on this scale.«

As if in response to this objection, which has often been repeated by critics of climate protection, the first action of their new summer plan begins on Sylt: There, the activists threw orange paint at an expensive private jet until it almost looked like an advertising stunt by the airline Easyjet or a work of art by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Banners were rolled out on the wings with the inscriptions "Your luxury = our drought" and your "luxury = our crop failures". While commentators apparently found the alleged smearing of the works of art and the Basic Law conceptually too abstract and intellectual, they can no longer complain: the climate crisis is brought together with the emissions of the highest-income earners, the protest is brought to the private super-emitters.

If they are the owners of a yacht or a private jet, they have to be very strong now, because they will have to become the focus of climate policy. The super-rich emit CO₂ like there's no tomorrow. In 10, the richest 2015 percent in Germany were collectively responsible for more CO2 emissions than the entire poorer half of the population. Similarly, the richest 10 percent globally are responsible for 52 percent of CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2015. The average CO2 emissions of billionaires in 2018 amounted to 8190 tons per capita. Guess what the world's per capita emissions are. 5 tons.

In 2021, sales of superyachts, which have astronomical CO2 emissions, increased by 77 percent. On average, a superyacht emits as much CO2 as 200 American cars. Cruising around on a yacht for a day or flying a private jet for an hour causes more carbon dioxide than the average person in Germany does in a whole year. In one year, an average superyacht emits 7020 tons of CO2. Do you remember the per capita emissions worldwide? (5 tons.) The 300 largest yachts emit more per year than all the people in Burundi combined. And yet, thanks to the exemption rule, the owners or renters of yachts and private jets do not have to pay for their issuance. The French sociologist Grégory Salle has written a book on the phenomenon of superyachts. When asked by Stern whether owning a superyacht is a criminal act, he replied: "Our atmosphere is now so saturated with CO2 that human existence on earth is in danger. Against this background, it is indeed necessary to redefine what is criminal in our society. You have to rearrange the hierarchies. And criminalize all those CO2 emissions that are not essential for survival."

The costs of the climate catastrophe are being driven up by those with the highest incomes, but they will have to be paid for by future generations and the global South. The activists of the last generation have understood that every generation that now benefits from a high standard of living does so on the credit of those who follow, but that some are stealing a lot of future from their children for the luxury of the present. Of course, this is also the reason why the current profiteers, billionaires and super-issuers have no interest in changing anything about it. Her current life is great!

What the activists of the Last Generation are now succeeding in doing, at best, is not only to make climate injustice more visible and the class aspect part of their protest, but also to change social norms and ideological assumptions about what is socially desirable. Transformations always take place through the change of the means of production and through our ideas of what we consider normal.

Only when not admiration or envy, but shame and alienation is the majority reaction to a person in a private jet or on a superyacht, the climate crisis may have fully arrived in thought. The orange color helps a lot with this.