Climate protest from last generation: Dance around the golden hubcap

Climate protest from last generation: Dance around the golden hubcap

43 million private cars are registered in Germany, private transport has taken on a fetish character. The car is the elephant in the climate change room.

Bird's eye view, an activist is sitting on a car, police officers are standing around

Activists on the A 100 in Berlin Photo: Paul Zinken/dpa

The sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who is considered to be rather conservative, had a soft spot for protest and protesters, without belonging to the rebellious theoretical schools of social movements such as anarchism or Marxism. The system theorist confirmed that the student movement around 1968 was right to take offense at the status quo, to which the CDU state had desperately clung at the time, because one was needed exceptparliamentary opposition when the state-supporting opposition and the establishment are incapable of “bringing alternatives to a decision”.

He assigned the role of protest, including wild, radical, system-oppositional ones, to bring society back into line with self-regulation and system renewal. Of course, the ’68ers didn’t like this task of stabilization; but it was a thoroughly apt diagnosis of their actual achievement, namely to provide the society of the Federal Republic with that “fundamental liberalization” that they Luhmann’s opponent Jürgen Habermas retrospectively certified.

New social movements are able to do what the subsystems of society lack: “They describe society as if it were from the outside.” And in this long shot they also discover what was hidden from old social movements: “Society is no longer to be seen solely in terms of capitalism, but in relation to the fact that some consider something to be a liveable risk, while others consider it a danger is”.

Earlier than others, Luhmann was interested in ecological risks that gave rise to the new type of “green-alternative” protests: “in the rejection of situations in which one could become the victim of the risky behavior of others.” Better are the concerns of Fridays for Future, Extinction Hard to describe rebellion and last generation. However, Luhmann also anticipated their weaknesses: “The secret of the alternatives is that they have no alternative to offer” – because the others move, change, correct.

hysterical reflex

This makes protest difficult to connect with, especially when it essentially addresses fear and appears in a moralizing manner, like the opponents of nuclear power did at the time. It is too early to decide whether the climate protectionists belong in the ancestry of the new social movements from student revolts and women’s emancipation to the anti-nuclear movement and anti-racism, or whether their protest will take on a new quality.

One essential difference is that, unlike their predecessors, they demand something that the majority also wants (even if they don’t practice): Dangerous climate change and the extinction of species also worries the mainstream, and far-reaching changes in lifestyles and habits are by no means just propagated by a fearful, apocalyptic “Last Generation”.

Only the self-radicalization that is always present in protest niches and the hysterical reflex against the supposed eco-terror polarizes, but not the 9-euro ticket demanded by “climate stickers” or a speed limit on motorways. The blocking actions of the last generation, in the slipstream of which the more conciliatory and consensus-oriented Fridays for Future have fallen, are met with widespread rejection.

Protest at Geneva airport

One cannot attack a society head on which, unlike in 1968 and in the 1980s, agrees in principle with the aims of the protest. The “climate glue” overstretch the legitimate means of civil disobedience such as blockades and boycotts. Other parts of the climate protection movement calibrate this much better. A recent example is the 100 activists who chained themselves to the gates of private jets on display at a business event at Geneva airport and blocked the jet show’s main entrance to prevent customers from entering.

Jets are rightly seen as extremely harmful products “that are destroying our planet, burning our future and fueling inequality”. The NGO Stay Grounded expanded the circle of targets: “While many can no longer afford food and rent, the super-rich are destroying our planet, and this has to end at last.”

Unlike them Road blockades in Berlin, which are also gradually driving the environmentally conscious to despair, the super-rich are being marked as opponents on whom egalitarian societies can quickly agree. The Geneva Air Show is the meeting point of an elite associated with arrogant contempt for the 80 percent of the world’s population who have never flown in their lives. Less popular is the protest against the postponed traffic turnaround and mass transport, especially in Germany, where 43 million private cars are permitted and unchecked private transport has taken on a fetish character.

To the next auto show, the IAA Mobility in Munich, car lovers meet again for six days at the beginning of September to dance around the golden hubcap, where greenwashing is practiced and the absurd fixation on high-horsepower, tons of heavy and overpriced combustion engines persists. The car is the elephant in the climate change room. And the test case: If the IAA were canceled (or blocked), would the focus only be on the automotive industry that manufactures vehicles whose operation causes 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany?

Coupled with real political demands for cheap or free public transport, a speed limit and car-free inner cities, actions aimed more precisely at political and economic decision-makers would certainly bring more sympathy for climate protection than rampant road blockades. And the protest would be more radical and more compatible at the same time.

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