Just Stop Oil’s methods are certainly grabbing attention but the jury’s out as to whether they’re helping the climate cause. Here, Evie Howarth weighs up to the arguments for and against their methods.
If you’ve been on social media in the last couple of weeks, or happened to watch the news, then no doubt you will have seen bright orange paint being thrown at some of the world’s most famous artwork and luxury shops, as well as cream pies plastered on a wax model of King Charles and protesters blocking roads in London.
Protesters of the climate action group Just Stop Oil have been taking to the streets to raise awareness of the imminent threat of the climate crisis as well as to ask governments to take meaningful actions against it.
In recent weeks, members of the group have thrown soup at a Van Gogh painting and spray painted luxury businesses such as Rolex and Ferrari whose pockets, they say, are lined by the rich — the ones who are neglecting those hit most hard by the climate crisis and the rise in the cost of living.
After briefly pausing to await a response from the government, the group have now recommenced their civil resistance campaign after no direct actions were taken by leaders.
The real question is, is this really an effective method for getting the government to act or is it simply alienating the wider population from this all-important cause?
The response to Just Stop Oil’s protests over the last month has been mixed to say the least. Videos of activists sitting in the road show angry drivers and members of the public hailing abuse and dragging them out of the way.
It’s not just those dealing with the disruptions who aren’t happy either, other climate action groups are concerned that this could turn people off entirely from supporting the climate cause and work to reverse the damage.
With the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act now in force since April, this too has made protesting more difficult while also giving the police more powers to arrest protesters, meaning that those trying to save the planet by sitting in the streets and stopping traffic could now be facing criminal charges.
It’s worth noting, too, that protesters always follow a blue light policy, whereby one side of the road is left clear so that emergency vehicles are not disrupted; should they really be arrested for stopping everyday people getting to work or the shops?
“This isn’t a popularity contest.”
Meanwhile, comments on the group’s social media channels are largely filled with support and admiration for a group that is finally taking action against the imminent threat that climate change poses. Many are beginning to see civil resistance as the only way forward after the government continues to show its support for oil and gas drilling and take minimal actions to combat climate change.
The mainstream media are beginning to report on it too, however they’re not exactly on side with the protesters. Phoebe Plumber, one of the activists responsible for throwing soup at the Van Gogh painting, was recently invited onto Newsnight to defend the group’s methods of protest.
After being asked whether their approach may be alienating others from the cause, she commented, “This isn’t a popularity contest. We’re making change…This is the biggest crisis that humanity has ever faced.”
While she’s certainly not wrong about the crisis, it remains to be seen whether these methods of protest will get the response we so desperately need.
She also broached another topic that presenter Victoria Derbyshire was quick to divert attention from — the fact that the mainstream media itself isn’t putting this crisis that’s already affecting millions of people around the world front and centre.
Phoebe asked, “Why aren’t you telling people how bad it’s going to get?”. The general public relies on the mainstream media to tell them who and what is important at any given time.
When the mainstream media is refusing to give the crisis the airtime it needs to seem important enough to the population — enough so that it becomes something we look for when voting on government policies — how can we expect to see changes in the population’s voting agenda and therefore the current government’s actions?
Until the climate crisis becomes the number one priority of the population, it will never be the priority of the government. Now, the question is whether civil resistance is the answer to this issue.
Phoebe believes that “…it’s not happening in policy, so civil resistance is the only chance we have left to get the radical change we need in the timescale we have left.”
It’s true that we’re short on time and that this method of bringing awareness to the issue is working. The actions of Just Stop Oil have been reported on by news agencies around the world. However, what it comes down to is whether you believe the age-old mantra that “all publicity is good publicity.”
Media outlets are reporting on the demonstrations in a way that they think will reflect the views of their readership, with traditionally right-wing papers focusing on the arrests and damage caused by the “woke” protesters.
This seems to prove the point that until we see a united portrayal from our news sources of the climate crisis, those desperate to incite change, and the concern that the issue warrants, no method of protest or attempt to raise awareness will ever be enough to spur the government into action.
“How we raise awareness should not be the issue here.”
Meanwhile, governments around the world plod on with climate policies that will see a warming of 2.5℃ or greater by the end of the century, leading to the destruction of millions of species, the loss of coral reefs from the planet entirely, and continued devastation for human populations around the world.
As Phoebe rightly said in her interview, “33 million people are displaced in Pakistan right now and governments are still pushing ahead with these fossil fuel licences.”
Why are we letting this happen? How we raise awareness should not be the issue here. We should all be calling on news agencies to report the facts and promote climate news so that people can make an informed decision about their futures. If the media really got on board there wouldn’t be a need for Just Stop Oil to lie down in front of your morning commute in the first place.
The ultimate question shouldn’t be whether Just Stop Oil’s means of protest — or any other mission to raise awareness — is right or wrong, it should be whether we, as an entire human race, care enough about our planet and our children’s survival to take action now.