BERLIN – “It’s completely crazy to stay on the road with super glue”, admits Lina Schinkoethe.
And yet the 19-year-old recently ended up in prison for doing just that, in protest of what she believes is the German government’s failure to act against climate change.
Schinkoethe is part of a group called the Rebellion of the Last Generation, which claims that the world has only a few years left to turn the wheel and avoid catastrophic levels of global warming.
Like-minded activists elsewhere in Europe have interrupted major sporting events such as the Tour de France and the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Silverstone in recent weeks, while others glued themselves to the frame of a painting at London’s Royal Academy of Arts on Tuesday. But Schinkoethe’s group has mainly focused on ordinary commuters in cities like Berlin who, any day this summer, can end up in an hour-long slump caused by a handful of activists who stick to the asphalt.
Police carry out climate activist Lina Schinkoethe during a protest with the last-generation Uprising group at the office in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Their actions have provoked outrage and threats from troublesome motorists. Tabloid media and some politicians have accused them of wreaking havoc and harming ordinary people just for trying to do their job. Some have labeled them as dangerous radicals.
Schinkoethe says that the escalation of tactics is justified.
“If we wanted people to like us, we would do something different, but we have tried everything else,” she told the Associated Press. “We have asked kindly. We have demonstrated calmly.
She remembers joining the Fridays for Future protests led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who saw hundreds of thousands of students around the world drop out of school and gather for a better world.
“I really hoped that something would change, that politicians would react and finally take us and the science of climate change seriously,” she said. “But we are still heading for a world that is 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (5.4 to 7.2 Fahrenheit) warmer.”
Ernst Hoermann, 72, has his hand removed from the ground after gluing it during a protest as part of the last generation’s uprising in Berlin on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Such an increase in global temperatures is more than twice the 1.5-C (2.7-F) limit that countries agreed on in the 2015 climate agreement in Paris. Although progress has been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, experts agree that the target is still far out of reach.
Researchers agree that the world has no time to waste on reducing emissions, but have tried to counter “doomism” by claiming that the world is not heading for a single cliff edge as much as a long, steep slope with several steep falls.
“Every tenth of a degree plays a role,” says Ricarda Winkelmann, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research near Berlin.
“If we really start acting now and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, chances are we can limit some of the most serious climate impacts,” she said.
Such messages are lost to many of those caught in the blockades.
During two protests witnessed by The AP in June and July, several truck drivers stepped out of their cabs to slander activists. One physically pulled two protesters off the road.
Other drivers, some of whom were not affected by the blockade, also abused the activists. A few expressed support for the climate issue but questioned how the protests were carried out.
“They have to find another way to do this than to block other people,” said a driver on his way to work, who would only give his name as Stefan.
The mayor of Berlin has called the street blocks “crimes”, while the city’s highest security official demands that prosecutors and courts pass speedy convictions. So far no one was able to send in the perfect solution, which is not strange.
Still, Schinkoethe believes she has no choice but to continue.
“We must create friction, peaceful friction, so that there will be an honest debate and we can act accordingly,” she said.
That feeling was repeated by Ernst Hoermann, a retired railway engineer and grandfather of eight children who have regularly traveled to Berlin from Bavaria to take part in the protests.
“We basically have to cause inconvenience until it hurts,” he said as a police officer tried to remove him from the road using cooking oil.
ENVIRONMENT – Police guard climate activists with the group Uprising of the Last Generation after they threw black paint on the wall in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on June 22, 2022.
Similar protests have resulted in weeks of imprisonment in the UK, where the government has requested court orders to prevent the roadblock of the Insulate Britain group from stopping.
Hoermann, 72, said he is not afraid of fines or the prospect of jail time.
“Not compared to the fear I have for my children,” he said.
Last Generation has recently tried to draw attention to Germany’s plans to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea.
Although it has the most ambitious climate goal for any major industrialized nation, Germany’s center-left government, like other European countries, is trying to replace its Russian energy imports and avoid painful fuel shortages in the coming years.
Schinkoethe says the number of people taking part in the group’s actions has grown from 30 to 200 in six months, saying the blockades follow the tradition of civil disobedience seen during the US civil rights movement and the fight for women’s suffrage.
“What we are doing is illegal,” she said. “At the same time, it is legitimate.”
Manuel Ostermann, a senior member of one of the German police federations, accused the group of committing crimes while portraying themselves as victims.
“Where the radicalization process begins, extremism is not far off,” he wrote on Twitter.
Members of Last Generation have tried to oppose it, referring to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who earlier this year said that “the really dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing fossil fuel production.”
“I will continue until the government locks me in and the other activists for their peaceful protests, or give in to our demands,” Schinkoethe said.