A court in Germany convicted four scientists on Tuesday 24 October for taking action against institutions fueling the climate crisis.
The four activists are members of the international climate campaign group Scientist Rebellion. The group of scientists take non-violent direct action (NVDA) against the governments and corporations failing to act on warnings from the scientific community.
Scientist Rebellion activists convicted
A judge at the Munich Regional Court sentenced the four activists for trespassing and causing criminal damage during a series of peaceful protests.
In October 2022, the activists had participated in three days of action against major fossil fuel financier BlackRock, car manufacturer BMW, and the German government for their role in exacerbating the climate crisis.
On the first day, Scientist Rebellion activists poured molasses to symbolise oil on the floor and windows of the BlackRock offices in Munich.
Following this, the scientists stuck themselves to the road to cut off traffic on the central Odeonsplatz – a large square in the heart of Munich. Scientists Rebellion said this second action took aim at the government for its inadequate climate plans.
Activists carried out their final action at the BMW headquarters, where they smeared molasses and stuck scientific papers onto the cars and walls. On top of this, Scientist Rebellion members glued their hands to a BMW M8, which they said was the most polluting car in the exhibition.
Funding fossil fuels and failing climate targets
As the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock funnels huge sums into fossil fuels. For example, in 2022, German campaign group Urgewald found that the company had ploughed $109bn into the coal industry.
Additionally, a new Urgewald report on 19 October revealed that BlackRock is the world’s largest institutional investor in eight of the world’s top coal plant developers. It poured US $1.68bn into these eight Chinese coal power companies.
As the Canary’s Glen Black has previously reported, the company has signed up to the Net Zero Asset Managers’ initiative (NZAM). In particular, it has pledged its green credentials while maintaining enormous holdings in fossil fuels:
US asset management giant BlackRock topped the list of firms signed up to NZAM. It had exposure to all 15 oil and gas firms, with investments totalling $116bn last year, according to Carbon Tracker.
Moreover, a new study from 20 October identified how the company has been increasing its shares in two major fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, car manufacturer BMW has vociferously lobbied against climate policies. For example, the car group has driven opposition against a COP26 pledge to phase out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Alongside this, it has challenged an EU 2035 zero emissions target for cars and vans as well as a similar UK ban on new petrol and diesel sales after 2030.
Of course, activists also targeted the German government for its climate failures to date. Climate Action Tracker tracks the climate policy progress of 39 countries and the European Union. In September, it found that Germany’s current trajectory is “insufficient” to meet the Paris climate goals.
Valuing private property over life
The judge handed down a fine of 1,680 euros to each of the four Scientist Rebellion activists. If they fail to pay the fine, the activists will instead serve 105 days of prison.
During the trial, the judge recognised that the activists’ intention was to draw attention to the climate crisis. Notably, he acknowledged climate breakdown as “the greatest challenge for humanity”.
Plant biotechnology scientist Lorenzo Masini from Italy was among the four activists convicted on Tuesday. He said that the judge was:
valuing private property higher than life.
Fellow activist and defendant Nate Rugh from the US echoed this. Rugh, who conducts research on environmental conflicts from carbon offsets in Spain, said:
We are in the most dangerous moment for our species. A recent study has calculated that a billion people will die if we go over 2 degrees of global warming, while the world is on course to a 3.2 degree temperature rise by 2100, that would lead to the inevitable collapse of civilization. As someone who understands the science, I have a moral duty to act.
Scientists are increasingly turning to civil disobedience to compel policymakers to take concerted climate action. In 2022, a group of scientists had penned an article in the journal Nature calling for the scientific community to engage in civil disobedience. They argued that:
Civil disobedience by scientists has the potential to cut through the myriad complexities and confusion surrounding the climate crisis in a way that less visible and dispassionate evidence provision does not, sending a clear signal that scientists believe strongly in the evidence and its implications. When those with expertise and knowledge are willing to convey their concerns in a more uncompromising manner than through papers and presentations, this affords them particular effectiveness as a communicative act. This is the insight of Greta Thunberg when she calls on us to “act as you would in a crisis”.
In a press release after the trial, Masini’s statement concurred with their call to action:
There are moments in history in which we are called to take a clear position. This is the time. We used our privilege as scientists to preserve the beauty of this world and be on the right side of history.
The trial on Tuesday marked the start of several court cases against the 16 Scientist Rebellion activists involved in the action.
Feature image via Scientist Rebellion.
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