‘Climate justice is bigger than public opinion’: are Just Stop Oil’s tactics right? | Environmental activism
From blocking traffic to throwing soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which is protected by glass, Just Stop Oil activists have turned to divisive methods to draw attention to the climate crisis.
Here, six people in the UK say what they think about the environmental group’s tactics.
‘There’s been decades of signing petitions’
“It has highlighted to society that we place value on the wrong things. A piece of art is valued more than a piece of nature. Spilling soup over glass that can be wiped off has caused more outrage globally than spilling oil across entire ocean ecosystems. These tactics have been an effective way to shine a light on our value systems.
“If only it were early enough in the history of this destruction that we didn’t need such tactics, but we are out of time and governments have not listened to 30 years of campaigning. They need to use a wide variety of tactics – there’s been decades of people signing petitions, sending letters to MP and voting, all the while CO2 levels are up, deforestation and pollution is increasing, there’s massive overfishing. At some point we have to try different tactics to get the exposure needed. Emma, 40, Yorkshire, health worker
‘They must seize the conversation, not just the spotlight’
“As soon as I saw the Sunflowers protest, I guessed they had done their homework. It wouldn’t be difficult to pick a substance to throw over a famous painting while being sure of causing no damage to it. There’s no way any group trying to make a point would actually destroy a treasured piece of art.
“The protest got them the attention they were after, but the message was nowhere to be found. Could they not have pasted a poster next to the painting as well to explain the significance of their act? It was a good way of getting attention but there seemed to be no connection between the act of protest and the message. When you’re blocking a road it does at least make sense.
“In this country, all forms of protest are being progressively criminalised, which is appalling. There always seems to be another bill going through parliament about clamping down on protest. These protesters are brave, they will certainly be on the right side of history, but they need to seize the conversation, not just the spotlight.” Tristan Snowsill, 36, Devon, health economist and lecturer
‘Right cause, wrong method’
“I agree with the change to renewable energy but the tactics need to target those who make the decision. The ones they are annoying at the moment don’t have the power – they’re wasting time, that’s not the way. I think at worst it alienates the public, and at best it achieves nothing. Getting stuck in a traffic queue hinders your chances of supporting them.
“Target MPs and oil company executives. Annoying the general public, who feel pretty helpless anyway with this deaf government, just harms the cause. If you target politicians it might have a bit more effect as they’re the ones that can make decisions. I think most people are still onside but don’t know how to do anything about it.
“I agree with their message – I don’t think anyone doubts that except a few. It’s the right cause, wrong method.” Wayne Palmer, 63, Cardiff, civil engineer
‘The tactics are selfish’
“Blocking bridges, damaging fuel pumps, priceless paintings and other sorts of rampant criminal damage is impressing nobody. Their selfish tactics only achieve frustration and financial and historic damage. The working-class person who is struggling with the cost of living crisis is most impacted – those at the top don’t have to worry about the daily stresses of life that those down the social ladder have to.
“I’ll never contest the point they’re making. However, inconveniencing people in both daily and lifesaving tasks from errands to hospital treatments, during the country’s largest pay freeze since the 1800s, shows where their delusional priorities lie. What might work better tactically is to host non-disruptive protests.” Scott, 20s, London, railway worker
‘I worry about protesters’ safety’
“I agree with disruptive tactics by Just Stop Oil given that we are in a dire state with regard to the climate and ecological crises. The science is very clear that we are witnessing extreme life-threatening biosphere collapse and yet we, the public, are continuously lulled into a false sense of security.
“I was once arrested, though not charged, in London for protesting with Extinction Rebellion in 2019 and I worry for the potential for violent assault of conscientious protesters. I’m also worried that the way the protesters can be portrayed in the media makes them a target.
“I am not aware of protesters deliberately obstructing emergency vehicles or actually damaging iconic works of art. There is a rage in some ignorant people and when they can see an obstruction of a highway they go ballistic. Yet traffic often sits in long pointless traffic jams , belching out poisonous fumes and getting nowhere due to sheer volume of traffic or roadworks.” Judith Randall, 63, Lincolnshire, retired
‘Climate justice is bigger than public opinion’
“I think they’re brave and I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing, I wish I had the courage myself. I understand they’re not trying to win public sympathy, they’re trying to get us all talking climate about change and why the government are continuing down this path of destruction.
“People need to listen to the activists – there’s plenty of videos explaining why they are taking specific actions and they knew they wouldn’t harm the painting. A lot of public outrage online grows arms and legs and moves further away from what the activists are saying. I wish more people could understand that climate justice is bigger than public opinion. You don’t have to like them or their tactics, but you do have to listen to them. You and your children are facing a catastrophe like we’ve never seen.” Fiona, 33, Glasgow, waitress