Formula E held its Berlin E-Prix this past weekend, but the race start saw an unexpected delay: Climate protesters swarmed the grid, climbing fences and gluing themselves to safety vehicles. If you think that Formula E — a series noted for being electric — is an odd choice for a climate protest, you aren’t alone. Think about things a little differently, however, and the choice of venue starts to make sense.
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The group claiming responsibility for the protest is called Last Generation, a German climate activism group. You may recognize the name from some of their other efforts: Throwing soup at art, throwing mashed potatoes at art, gluing their hands to art. Less newsworthy than these, however, are the series of highway protests Last Generation has undertaken — often involving protesters gluing themselves to asphalt, so they can’t move out of the way of oncoming traffic.
So, we have a sense of Last Generation’s goals and tactics here: Get maximum impact in the news, by attacking — but never damaging — things that people were already looking at. The group takes the attention that people pay towards art, and tries to shift it to climate consciousness. Does it work? Who’s to say, but at least it’s consistent.
This brings us to Formula E. At first glance, climate protesters interrupting an all-electric race makes about as much sense as animal rights activists protesting Impossible Burgers. But this effort, it seems, was more about timing — Last Generation had a series of protests running across Germany this past weekend, of which Formula E was just one part. A part that happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right number of eyes on it.
Had Berlin instead been hosting the Olympics, the Masters, or the World Series of Poker, Last Generation’s actions likely wouldn’t have changed. The group wasn’t directly protesting Formula E; the race was simply a televised spectacle that the group used to its advantage. Whether the series’ environmentally-friendly roots worked against the protest more than for it is a genuine question, but it’s worth noting that the Berlin E-Prix’s title sponsor is a Saudi Aramco subsidiary — the race isn’t as green as it pretends to be.
Last Generation may be in the news right now alongside some unkind terms: “Confused,” “ridiculous,” “laughing stock.” But the group, and their climate mission, is still in the news. That, it seems, is enough for Last Generation to call this protest a win.