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A « climate generation » adept at punching actions

BNP Paribas, TotalEnergies… Several general meetings of large groups accused of climate inaction have been infiltrated or blocked in recent weeks by environmental activists. The mark of a new generation of young activists. Decryption.

For the first time, Léa Kulinowski, 37, took the plunge. Warned at the last minute, the activist joined the 250 environmental activists who blocked, on Wednesday May 25 in the morning, in the crash, the entrance to the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where the general meeting of TotalEnergies was held.

After taking the many guards and police present by surprise, Léa and others knocked down the metal barriers protecting the sidewalk and simply sat down in front of the doors. Some handcuffed each other, others held up banners, forcing shareholders trying to join the meeting – the first face-to-face since the Covid-19 crisis – to turn back.

Very angry, several shareholders insulted the demonstrators. Scenes filmed by activists and posted immediately on social networks.

The general meeting of TotalEnergies was nevertheless held behind closed doors, online, bringing together more than 28,000 shareholders, who mostly approved the climate plan submitted to their vote. Outside the room, the demonstrators, surrounded by about twenty police officers, were eventually evacuated.

On the initiative of several NGOs – including Greenpeace, Alternatiba, ANV-Cop21 and Les Amis de la Terre – this punchy action aimed to denounce the projects of the oil and gas group, deemed « totally irresponsible » because it continues to operate and developing fossil fuels, particularly in Angola, Tanzania and Mozambique. In the viewfinder also, the presence of the group in Russia despite the war initiated by Moscow in Ukraine.

Accustomed to activism, but rather on the side of the courts, Léa Kulinowski, lawyer for the NGO Friends of the Earth, considers the action successful. « It’s important on a personal level to show that we have a little power. I needed to feel that I was trying to act as an individual to make the climate emergency heard. »

Multiplication of acts of civil disobedience

In recent weeks, activists have been putting pressure on large groups accused of polluting, by infiltrating general meetings bringing together their main shareholders and financiers. Several members of Alternatiba thus succeeded in joining the BNP Paribas shareholders’ meeting on 18 May.

Among them, activist Camille Etienne, who explained in a long thread on Twitter the strategy of buying several shares allowing her to be invited to the event. On the spot, the young woman managed to speak to question BNP Paribas on its climate commitments and its investments in the « oil expansion projects » of TotalEnergies, before ending under a rain of insults, going as far as threats. of death.

The case was little relayed by the media, but made noise on social networks. « The phenomena of civil disobedience have multiplied in France and in the West since the beginning of the 2000s with the emergence of social networks, a formidable vector for talking about oneself, denouncing, and attracting public opinion », analyzes Sylvie Ollitrault, research director at the CNRS and at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health (EHESP).

The awakening of a climate generation

This researcher, who has devoted numerous works to civil disobedience, also sees in the multiplication of these actions the awakening of a climate generation. « There are still young people among environmental activists, but over the past five years there has been a rejuvenation, in the sense that there are many more of them. These young people are the ones who have encountered collective action during marches and student strikes for the climate. »

Unlike the generation of activists in the 1990s, these young people have grown up in eco-anxiety, which is increasing day by day as the effects of global warming are felt, including in France. « The Covid-19 has also been there, adding clarity to the fact that Western societies are no longer spared », continues Sylvie Ollitrault.

Frustration with the inaction of public authorities is another driving force behind militant action. « We have seen that elections and politics give disappointing results », believes Léa Kulinowski, « so we resort to different methods ».

This commitment to civil disobedience is rooted in « generalized disappointment », confirms Sylvie Ollitrault. « A disappointment with political action in the sense of voting and major international conferences. States do not go far enough. Political time is long when we have the feeling that the process of protection of the environment, » she said.

Increased police repression that deters older people

Civil disobedience is not without risks: environmental activists are more repressed and arrested. « We have been observing repression or police violence for five years. Repression is more violent than one might think, even during non-violent acts », assures Sylvie Ollitrault.

Léa Kulinowski, who experienced the blocking of the general assembly of TotalEnergies from the inside, was « shocked », she said, to see some demonstrators receiving « tear gas in the face ». « The police were very armed, it was impressive. We were sitting in front of the entrance to block access and tear gas canisters were clearly aimed at the eyes. I found this behavior disproportionate as we repeated that we were non-violent, that we just wanted to block the entrance, not go inside, » says the activist.

Exit therefore the « good child » atmosphere of the demonstrations of the 1990s, notes Sylvie Ollitrault, who has observed environmental activism for several generations. « Today, the actions are anticipated, the demonstrators are preparing with appropriate outfits, scarves… because they know that the repression has increased. This can dissuade families from participating. Young people, on the other hand, are overrepresented They are in better physical shape to run when needed. »

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