As we emerge from the COP-27 climate conference, held in Sharm El Sheikh at the beginning of November, climate change once again dominates headlines as a key issue concerning citizens around the globe.
One group of activists, Just Stop Oil, have come to the forefront of public consciousness. Originally centred in the United Kingdom but now operating across Europe, the group uses unique methods of civil disobedience which are mainly focused on disrupting daily life, in a similar manner to Extinction Rebellion. Where they differ is that they also target cultural institutions such as Art galleries and other culturally significant sites. Their goal is simple– raising awareness of and ultimately halting the British Government’s plan to continue the production of fossil fuels.
They have tied themselves to goalposts at Premier League football games and blocked petrol stations in Central London. They have also committed acts of vandalism of private property by graffitiing on Harrod’s, and on an Aston Martin showroom nearby. Some of their actions can be seen as causing public nuisance or disruption and nothing more, but vandalism is potentially counterproductive.
One can sympathise with those who dislike Just Stop Oil’s actions when they block traffic on the day you have a job interview or those who think defacing private property is beyond a minor nuisance. One can sympathise with those who think that causing a nuisance for everyday people, just trying to live their lives and mind their own business, is unfair. It is, but I think the morality of the actions of the Just Stop Oil protesters lies in what their ultimate goal is, and in this way it is justified from a Consequentialist point of view. The actions themselves may be bad, but the potential consequences for us all if climate change is not addressed soon is catastrophic.
The average person who may not have a particular interest in environmentalism might be completely put off by being inconvenienced for something that they simply are not to blame for. There is, after all, a cost-of-living crisis being experienced all around Europe, and Just Stop Oil makes matters worse for people by blocking busy streets and motorways in the UK and around Europe as workers try to commute.
Breaking the law and causing damage to private property is quite inexcusable and the Just Stop Oil protesters acknowledge this but believe that, although not ideal, it is the only option they are left with. It is a disappointing reality, not that people were late for work or that a piece of glass protecting the Mona Lisa was doused in soup for a couple of hours, but that the governments will not pay attention until protestors commit themselves to law-breaking and public nuisance-inducing actions. Louise, a 24-year-old activist, who recently posted a video to the groups Twitter page in tears explained that while she understands the hatred, “civil resistance is all we have left.”
Other forms of protest may be a better solution if we want to create unity around the idea of tackling climate change and not making it an “us” versus “them” situation, whereby the people who take extreme actions on climate discourage other people so much that environmentalists and environmentalism as a whole, become the enemy.
Just Stop Oil members ought to try methods that only focus on gaining the attention of governments and big corporations through disruption so that they do not discourage everyday citizens from participating in climate justice.
It is possible that Just Stop Oil could be effective in the long run. As the old adage goes, “all publicity is good publicity” and although a few people may be turned off climate activism as a result of Just Stop Oil and their antics, the media coverage nowadays spread through social media means the events and their goals spread to millions of people rather than just the poor unfortunate citizens physically present. This sentiment is echoed after the group’s attempt to deface Van Gogh’s Sunflowers gained so much publicity that director of the Climate Emergency fund, Margaret Klein Salamon, told the Guardian it was “most successful climate action in 8 years.”
Eoin Gilligan – Politics Writer
Featured image is credited to William Joshua Templeton / Shutterstock.com