The Speaker
Sunday, 21 July 2024 – 08:21

Just Stop Oil protesters are incapable of winning hearts and minds

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

In recent months, Just Stop Oil has stepped up its protest efforts against the UK oil industry, staging a series of controversial and disruptive demonstrations across the UK. 

Formed in February 2022, Just Stop Oil is a London-based coalition of environmental activist groups. So far, they have been mostly based in the UK, however, the group is active across Europe, with notable incidents in the Netherlands and Germany. The group’s stated aim is to ratchet up public pressure on the government to put an end to all new oil exploration, production, and licensing projects in the UK.

There’s no denying that Just Stop Oil’s current tactics, which range from throwing milk in supermarkets to blocking traffic on major highways, have caught the attention of many people. However, in terms of serving the group’s stated goal—to stop the government’s support of the oil and fossil fuel industry—the protesters appear to be having little success.  

Simply put, the main problem with Just Stop Oil’s current strategy is that it’s not very convincing. The group’s disruptive demonstrations often backfire, alienating potential supporters and, in some cases, leading to physical confrontations with members of the public. Most recently, Just Stop Oil protesters blockaded a series of major London roads, halting the flow of traffic for several hours. The result was widespread public anger, with many motorists exiting their vehicles and physically dragging protestors off the road. 

In addition to wasting police resources and causing chaos for ordinary Brits, this type of protest ultimately serves to damage the credibility of the entire movement. Not only does blocking traffic create additional pollution, but it also necessitates the diversion of emergency service vehicles, potentially putting lives at risk over what is, at heart, a publicity stunt.

In another recent incident, two Just Stop Oil activists were arrested after throwing soup at Sunflowers, a painting by Vincent van Gogh on display in London’s National Gallery. While the canvas itself was protected by glass and undamaged, onlookers angrily questioned the group’s judgment in targeting one of the world’s most famous and beloved works of art. Although Bob Geldof claimed that the protesters were “1,000 per cent right”, for many its hard to agree with such tactics. Just this week, Just Stop Oil protesters tried to glue themselves to Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait, Saint Rémy located in the Musée d’Orsay.

Far from winning over the public to their cause, Just Stop Oil’s recent actions are likely to harden public opinion against them. While the group maintains a certain amount of support amongst activists, the frivolous and juvenile nature of their recent stunts has added to the growing perception that the group is nothing more than a bunch of self-righteous, entitled rich kids. 

The group’s language choices have not helped their cause either. Appeals for ‘climate justice’ and ‘civil resistance’ against the ‘carbon elite’ fall on deaf ears when they are coming from a group of people who are, in many cases, members of the very same class. These loaded terms may be effective in winning over other activists, but they needlessly antagonize conservatives and do little to persuade those outside the movement.

Ultimately, while Just Stop Oil seems to have no trouble generating headlines, it’s unclear whether this will actually have an impact on government policy. If Just Stop Oil wants to win over hearts and minds both in and outside of government, it needs to move away from noisy and disruptive demonstrations and start focusing on more constructive methods of protest. The group would be better off hosting informative events, engaging in civil dialogue with industry leaders, and working with the government to accelerate policies that would phase out the UK’s reliance on oil and gas. 

There’s no doubt that the group has the potential to make a significant impact on the UK’s oil industry. But until it can find a better way to communicate its message, Just Stop Oil will continue to struggle to make a dent.

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