Amid escalating concerns about the planet’s rising temperatures and the consequent surge in extreme weather events, climate activists have intensified their efforts against the extravagant carbon footprints associated with the ultrawealthy. This summer has witnessed a series of bold actions, including the spray-painting of a superyacht, obstructing private jet takeoffs, and even patching holes in water-intensive golf courses.
In recent years, climate activism has taken on a more radical tone, with protesters resorting to tactics like road-blocking, disrupting major sporting events, and defacing iconic artworks. This time, the focus is on the opulent lifestyles of the affluent, a response to their emissions-heavy way of living.
Karen Killeen, an Extinction Rebellion activist, emphasizes that the intention isn’t to cast blame on individuals, but rather to highlight the environmental injustice associated with their extravagant lifestyles. She cited examples like wealthy individuals using boats to fetch a pizza, highlighting such actions as inappropriate in the context of a climate emergency.
In an eye-catching demonstration, activists from the climate group Futuro Vegetal spray-painted a $300 million superyacht owned by Walmart heir Nancy Walton Laurie. The vessel’s image, complete with a scowling Trump, was swiftly turned into merchandise, ranging from T-shirts to bobblehead dolls.
Beyond graffiti, activists in different parts of the world have employed a range of tactics. In Switzerland, around 100 protesters disrupted Europe’s largest private jet sales fair by chaining themselves to aircraft gangways and entrances. Meanwhile, climate group Letzte Generation spray-painted a private jet in Germany. In Spain, activists plugged holes on golf courses to protest the sport’s water-intensive practices during dry spells.
The movement has also reached the United States, with Abigail Disney, the grand-niece of Walt Disney, participating in a protest that blocked access to an airport in the Hamptons. Demonstrators have also disrupted golf courses and staged protests outside luxury homes.
The focus on the wealthy comes after years of targeting major corporations, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry. The activist group Extinction Rebellion emphasizes that the intention is to bring attention to luxury practices that disproportionately contribute to the climate crisis.
Luxury travel, in particular, has garnered scrutiny. An economic anthropologist at Indiana University, Richard Wilk, highlighted the significant emissions of luxury travel, citing the example of superyachts that emit about 7,020 tons of carbon dioxide annually, compared to a typical family car’s emissions.
Despite these efforts, critics argue that attention to the wealthy could divert attention from fossil fuel companies, which are major contributors to emissions. Climate scientist Michael Mann cautioned against overemphasizing individual carbon footprints to the detriment of addressing larger systemic issues.
While some governments have introduced regulations to limit certain activities, like short private jet journeys, skepticism remains about the effectiveness of these activist efforts. Critics urge activists to consider alternative approaches, such as supporting sustainable aviation fuel and carbon offset programs.
Though the impact of these actions remains debated, the persistent activism does serve to spotlight the lifestyles of the ultrawealthy and potentially spur conversations around behavior change, systemic reform, and collective responsibility in combating the climate crisis.