why this astrophysicist in Munich held his hand on a BMW

He knew he was risking going to jail by going to Germany. On October 29, Jérôme Guilet, a 38-year-old astrophysicist, along with other scientists, held his hand on the body of a fireworks-blue BMW at a BMW showroom in Munich. Members of the Scientist Rebellion collective and its French affiliate Scientifiques en Rébellion poured molasses on the hood and in front of the luxury vehicle’s wheels to symbolize, the astrophysicist explains, “the pollution that this manufacturer tries to hide with its advertising lies”.

The German police, called to the scene, arrested sixteen scientists and activists, including five from the French branch, not without cleaning their hands with a brush, oil and soap. “In Bavaria we can work preventively against the risk of recidivism… We had already done three campaigns and were clearly in a repeat logic”unfolds Jérôme Guilet, who helped block a road between two car dealerships and broke into the headquarters of asset management company BlackRock in Munich – “who invests heavily in fossil fuels”.

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target actions of civil disobedience “Warn of the climate emergency and call for immediate action” in Germany: decarbonisation of the transport sector, speed limits on motorways, making rail transport accessible to as many people as possible, etc.

A week after his return to France, we find the astrophysicist a little overwhelmed with the work to be done in his laboratory in Saclay. “The hardest part was being in the police station for forty-eight hours, alone in a cell with no windows and no distractions. I was hoping the police would come and interrogate me.”smiles Jérôme Guilet, brown beard and long hair.

Before his transfer to prison, he passed the time with physical exercises, meditation and singing. He had taken a few books to occupy himself with in the cell (a comic by Alison Bechdel and books in German on ecology), but he didn’t have access to them. After four days of confinement, he is released into his already reserved retreat (“I was a friend’s best man”).

“Establishing a balance of power”

One day, Jérôme Guilet apparently never thought of sticking with a car, not even a BMW. On his militant journey, the “click” dates from 2018, the year of the first climate marches. After a discussion, the astrophysicist delves into scientific reports and recognizes the urgency of taking action to curb global warming. “So far we’re a long way from our goal”.

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In his laboratory he organizes awareness seminars with other colleagues. He joins a vegetarian association, bans the plane. But that’s not enough. With Alternatiba he participated as a scientist in his first acts of civil disobedience. In October 2020, he took to the tarmac at Roissy Airport to call for the cancellation of an expansion project. He is one of seven activists charged with it.

Scientists in Rebellion: “Civil disobedience is justified by this catastrophic trajectory”

The astrophysicist assures that he is not driven by despair or fear in the face of the climate crisis, but by a certain pragmatism.

“Today we see that it is not enough to have knowledge in order to act. People are actively opposed to it. This forces us into a power struggle: we have to strike a balance of power. This is what disobedience permits. »

As a scientist, he sees it as his responsibility to rise to the challenge: “Showing that you are willing to risk incarceration allows you to see the seriousness and urgency of the situation. We’re not doing this for fun…” In his opinion, actions of civil disobedience also allow “to make moderate people more credible”.

Jérôme Guilet doesn’t really have the profile of an eco-terrorist. “I want to remind you that we are not so radical”, he says. Within the group of Scientists in Rebellion, Nonviolence, “physically and mentally”reached a consensus.

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“Before we take part in the actions, we undergo training in non-violence because it is not always easy to know how to react. We do everything we can to avoid this, not to expose ourselves to criticism, but also because non-violence is a goal in itself. »

Nor is disobedience part of the professional culture of the scientists involved in these actions. “We’re used to being top of the class and paying attention to everything we saysmiles the astrophysicist. I’m pretty shy…” Apart from a few demonstrations, he had never been active in a party or union before he became involved with the Greens. He has been a researcher for fifteen years, studying supernovae – the explosions of stars that have reached the end of their lives – at the Paris-Saclay Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

On November 10th, Jérôme Guilet rested on vacation and put on a white coat to demonstrate in front of Dassault Aviation headquarters on the Champs-Elysées – “If it had been a risky move, I wouldn’t have come”, he says. The action, organized simultaneously in ten countries, this time targeted private jets, an ultra-luxurious and polluting mode of transport, a symbol of climate injustice. Immediately after the group fire from paper airplanes on the plane manufacturer’s lawn, the Motorized Violence Suppression Brigade (Brav-M) advanced along the tall gates. Before you encourage scientists to evacuate through the nearest subway station. The astrophysicist, like many of his comrades, had not expected such a deployment by the security forces. “The German police are more polite”he notices.

Action by the Scientifiques en Rébellion collective in front of the Dassault Aviation headquarters in Paris, November 10, 2022. (DR)

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