The environmental activists who delayed the U.S. Open semifinal Thursday night by staging protests in Arthur Ashe Stadium join a long line of high-profile public disruptions aimed at drawing attention to the existential threat posed by climate change.
Activists have staged what many call “guerrilla protests” across the United States and Europe. The provocative actions have included throwing mashed potatoes at a glass-protected Monet painting in Germany and tossing liquids or gluing themselves to the glass or frames enclosing other iconic works like Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”
While priceless art work has been a particularly attractive target, climate activists have also disrupted traffic in London and New York, blocked the entrance to this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, interrupted supplies at oil facilities in Germany and clashed with police in France.
And they upended a prior tennis match, on July 5, at Wimbledon. In that protest, three people stormed a court and scattered orange confetti on the famous grass before they were arrested.
Extinction Rebellion NYC — the group that took credit for interrupting the match between Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova at the U.S. Open — says it promotes nonviolent civil disobedience. The group has staged protests in which members glued themselves to trains and sprayed fake blood on buildings.
In a statement, Extinction Rebellion members said they protested the U.S. Open to draw attention to “the greatest emergency of our time”: fossil fuel-driven climate change. Three protesters in the upper levels of the stadium stood up and shouted, “No tennis on a dead planet,” while one protester glued his bare feet to the cement floor in the stand.
“We’re doing this because we are desperate,” Jack Baldwin, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement. “Non-disruptive protests have been attempted for the past 50 years since climate change became scientific fact, and they have proven ineffective. So we are left with no choice but to resort to disruptive methods.”
“If we don’t, extreme weather events will do it anyway. Rain delays happen all the time and this is no worse,” Mr. Baldwin said.
There is a growing backlash to the public protests. Two demonstrators who smeared paint on the base and glass enclosing a Degas sculpture at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in April were indicted by a federal grand jury.
Museums, which have borne the costs of hiring more security to protect artwork and handling the cleanup after protests, have started to sue activists for damages. And in recent months, authorities in several European countries have begun to crack down on climate protesters, with British lawmakers making it illegal to lock or glue oneself to property.