By Emma-Rose Blacher | International | November 29, 2022

Cover Illustration: Protest campaign against climate change. Markus Spiske/Unplash

International Reporter Emma-Rose Blacher investigates Just Stop Oil, the climate activism group behind the recent acts of vandalism in art museums and other cases of civil disobedience.

Climate activism campaign poster. Markus Spiske/Unplash

You may have heard about climate activists throwing mashed potatoes at a Monet in Germany, or supergluing themselves to a Da Vinci painting, or trying to knock on the door of Number 10 Downing Street… Well, Just Stop Oil is the arm behind the can of soup that landed on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as well as all the other civil disobedience in the name of the climate crisis that has been in the news as of late. The climate activism group has shown us time and time again that we cannot afford to put the issue of climate change on the back burner, because that’s the very place we might find ourselves in the near future. On November 1st, I joined an information session with the group to find out more about who they are and what they ask of you.

Admittedly, I expected the Zoom meeting to be run by Gen Z students, but I was surprised to see that most of the participants seemed to be closer to my parents’ age. Tim, who mentioned that he joined Just Stop Oil to be able to “tell his grandchildren that he tried to fix the mess his generation made of our planet”, gave a presentation introducing what Just Stop Oil is communicating as “Our Responsibilities” and the status of climate change today. 

Throughout the presentation, various prominent names in government were subtly attacked for their position on climate change – or lack thereof. For example, Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister of the UK, announced he will not be attending the COP27 conference this month in Egypt, but has recently reconsidered his decision and has stated that he will attend the climate conference after all. Just Stop Oil was quick to mention that Sunak elected a “climate skeptic”, David Davies, to oversee all issues related to climate change, energy and related economic issues in cabinet. Just Stop Oil, which is based in the UK, is very aware of the handful of powerful characters who have the ability to enforce climate legislation and expressed their disgust at “climate change heavy deniers” as well as those who choose to stand idly by.

Demonstration strike against climate change. Markus Spiske/Unplash

The presentation continued to highlight sobering facts about how the planet is heating up as a result of the use of fossil fuel, zooming in on catastrophes around the world such as wildfires in England, floods in Pakistan and Kenya’s dried up riverbeds. A record heat wave in Lytton, Canada last year resulted in wildfires that burned 90% of the village and left the area uninhabitable. Just Stop Oil warns that this, and other natural disasters, are the fate of our planet if we do not act now.

What’s more, Just Stop Oil played a message from a current member about her experience with “civil disobedience”. A young student cheerfully accounts her experience standing atop an oil tanker in England a few weeks ago, watching the sun come up on the M1 and M4 as climate activists blocked motorways from Heathrow airport. She referenced a friend who put the pursuit of her dream job on hold, saying that prioritizing the climate crisis is the only way she understands any hope of a future career is possible.

What does Just Stop Oil suggest you do? They are not asking you to run down to Rijksmuseum and spray fritessaus on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Instead, they are calling for the public to hold their government accountable for taking the necessary steps to ensure the future of our planet. This means voting for a pro-climate legislature and informing yourself on what actions your government is taking to prioritize your future. True to form, Just Stop Oil encourages what they define as “civil disobedience”, which is anything disruptive that draws attention to the cause. But what does this really do? Just Stop Oil’s primary objective is to make headlines – by whatever means necessary – to get their message across to the powers that be. But are governments even listening? And if they aren’t, doesn’t that make you angry?

According to Just Stop Oil’s newsletter, 637 of their activists have been arrested throughout their four weeks of action in October, demonstrating their determination to get a message across. This month, Just Stop Oil ceased all public demonstrations to give the UK’s government time to respond to their cry for help, but they stated that if nothing changes, their disruptions will continue from November 4. It’s no surprise that climate activists, like those at Just Stop Oil, are subject to abuse from those who find their actions thoughtless. “I hope you fail”, commented one Zoom attendee, “you’re brainwashed fools” with your “childish methods”. The members present in the Zoom call simply carried on as though nothing had been said, dismissing the attacks as if it was second nature.

Protest campaign against climate change. Markus Spiske/Unplash

Just Stop Oil describes themselves as “a group of people being courageous and taking affirmative action”, but presently the question remains whether the organization will be remembered as such.

For more information, consider signing up for Just Stop Oil’s information session or, to support the cause, make a donation to Just Stop Oil.

Emma-Rose Blacher is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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