Hey! Just Stop Oil! Think before you smash things!


Just to be clear, before I launch myself into this post – it would be a mischaracterisation to take what I say here as an argument against climate activism.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing my generation, and the lack of radical movement in our governments is deeply concerning, considering the world is at stake. 

But in the week after five Just Stop Oil protesters escaped gaol for breaking the windows at Barclays in Canary Wharf, it should serve perhaps as merely a warning about the chosen method of protest by members of my generation (Gen Z) and others. 

This is of course referencing the right-wing culture warrior’s favorite topic of conversation recently – the Just Stop Oil movement, and other radical climate change movements who take extreme and disruptive methods to gain public attention about the cataclysmic issue of climate change. 

Now, as previously mentioned, there can be no questioning the moral validity of their cause. Climate change is an existential threat, and I imagine if I sat down with any member of these movements, I would find much common ground.

But where the conversation switches from ends to the means, then disagreement begins to spark. 

Because I fear that, by taking these extreme methods, such as blocking off busy motorways, throwing paint on valuable pieces of art, or even minor vandalism on the sides of buildings, these activists merely push themselves further and further into the image portrayed of them by the right wing media, who seek to portray these “out of touch millennials and gen Zers”, as naive, disruptive, out of touch with reality, spoiled and “disrupting the lives of average hard-working citizens”. 

Then there is the issue of the UK’s government’s reaction to the disruptive Extinction Rebellion protests. 

Over the last few years, they have created more and more restrictive laws on protesting, for example redefining ‘disruption’ – and therefore what the police were legally allowed to prohibit – as anything which causes a) significant delay of time-sensitive products to consumers of that product and b) prolonged disruption of access to essential goods or services. 

These laws were created, they argue, to curb these “excessive protests” and prevent activists, such as Just Stop Oil, from disrupting day-to-day life. 

If we comply with this narrative, created by those who don’t really want to solve these issues which Just Stop Oil and the like are correctly fighting to remedy, I can almost promise you that no progress or solution will be made. 

The current Tory government is more than happy to let these activists fit into this preconceived image of them, and through that, tell their voter base that these people are nothing more than spoiled, naive brats who don’t understand the reality of the situation.

They may be convincing more and more people to support governments who are not willing to undertake the massive change which Just Stop Oil wishes, and is necessary to our survival as a nation, and further as a world. 

Through this, we can see therefore that the chosen method of protest by Just Stop Oil, of flashy and disruptive action, designed to grab the public’s attention and convince them via this, but inevitably ending in the media and the government painting them as out of touch, privileged loonies, is not going to work. 

In fact, it is actually critically counter-productive. 

Our goal as a global movement to save the earth should be to bring with us the apathetic voters who may, I fear, accept this fake narrative, and write off this vital movement, and continue to vote for governments who are not willing to make these changes. 

It is not enough to be content with the people we’ve already convinced, and this method of protest, I would be willing to bet, is not going to convince the majority of voters in the next general election, who we desperately need to be onside. 

In great activist movements like this, such as the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, it was vital to form the picture of the morally good, and the morally bad – the ones with good action aimed at resolving an undeniable issue without getting the population angry at you, and the ones who will squash this at any turn. 

We cannot afford not to be the first – the morally good – and I fear that this current method of action, which is on the rise, is not helping. 

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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