Devil's Advocate: Are Just Stop Oil Protestors Going Too Far?


YES - WILLIAM FINLATOR


I absolutely love oil. When I’m not filling up my tank with it, or using it to fly to some tropical clime, I’m probably investing in companies that produce it, or being paid ridiculous sums to write articles defending it. In fact, by succumbing to the forces of Big Oil, the proceeds of the sales of three van Goghs have gone straight to my bank account, making me rich enough to heat my house for about three and a half hours (thank you Shell!). So, whoever is more convincing today, I don’t really care, there’s only one real winner — me, with my lovely warm house.


On a serious note, though, like what the actual hell. At a time of rising fuel prices, rising cost of living and rising fuel poverty, it should be pretty obvious why we can’t ‘Just Stop Oil’. Ignoring, for a second, the complete societal collapse that would result from a society that gave up oil overnight, it’s worth asking what this trade-off is really about. Because, yes, obviously climate change is a problem, and it is worth engaging with that fact, but it's not society’s only problem.


The quicker the transition, the more difficult it will be to cushion the worst off — as uncontrolled change always disproportionately affects those with the least resources. Those with tools to fend off harm will, yet those that are barely holding on, will be, as always, left to suffer the consequences. Whether it’s increased fuel costs, a higher heating bill, or higher food costs, oil price rises will take their toll on already squeezed incomes. Undoubtedly (as always) led by a set of out-of-touch weirdos, Just Stop Oil’s demands are just about as tone deaf as they are unreasonable.


And if the utter stupidity of the demands doesn’t convince you, maybe their utterly moronic tactics will. Sure, attacking priceless art might grab attention, but at what cost? These paintings are worth more than the monetary value society assigns to them, they attempt to transcend the humdrum human day-to-day. Good art attempts to say that there might be something greater than ourselves, some aesthetic higher value that allows us to reflect on our place in a greater scheme of things.


And yes, of course, only a few pieces of art may be damaged, if any at all, but that’s not what I find so unnerving. Rather, it’s the principle. The idea that modern concerns are sovereign, that the here and now, the ‘me’, matters more than any long-standing value, concept or precedent is an indictment of the arrogance of the current age. It’s this intolerant totalitarianism of ‘the now’ that I hate. We don’t think, we don’t reflect, we just want action and blind change for its own sake. That even the revered and the transcendent fall victim to a petty political squabble is, for me, sickening and short-sighted in equal measure.


Whether it be unfunded campaign promises or vague, general and angry soundings of politicians, we face an onslaught from those that wish to suspend rational, cautious decision-making and subordinate it to force of will. Just Stop Oil belongs to this rising tide of non-think. The unwillingness to engage with the real comparatives should be opposed, regardless of whether it is glossed in vague positive moral virtue.


And is it successful? Really? What Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil really do is make politicians commit to a set of undeliverable promises that they have no intention of actually acting upon. What Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson really think when they make commitments to make Britain run on wind, marshmallows, and fairy dust by 2025 is that they’ll probably be out of a job by then. And they’re probably right. Modern Prime Ministers face defenestration for changing the lightbulbs in the House of Commons’ tearoom. What chance do they have in achieving substantive, deep-rooted structural change?


The real motivation of those running Just Stop Oil, it seems, is to be a modern moral martyr. Like with most politicians, or anyone numbed or desperate enough to seek a short-term immortalisation, there seems to be little more to these people than delusions of grandeur. The ability to act as a modern Caesar — a self-confident change maker with a place in the historical progression to a better future — is all these people want. And I don’t like that. It should be a reasonable demand not to want to fuel some self-important prat’s ego trip.


A victory for short-termism, irrationality, and an inability to think about consequence, what Just Stop Oil represents is a victory of form over substance, of appearance over meaning. Such principles, or lack thereof, lead us down a very dangerous path.



NO - ISABEL LOUBSER


Unlike William fill-me-up Finlator, I have a moral compass. In fact, I’d like to view myself as an anarchic ideologue who will single-handedly solve the climate crisis. If I could throw baked beans at the billionaire backed bullsh*t produced by Damien Hirst, I wouldn’t hesitate. William is clearly paid by Big Oil, as is anyone who takes his side of the argument. As such, he has literally zero legitimacy to write anything on this subject. (Side note: I’ve been to his house, it’s not that warm).


Just Stop Oil have passion and their cause is certainly worthy. Tackling climate change is urgent, and this is what people simply don’t seem to understand. If we let global temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees over pre-industrial levels, the damage will be irreversible. And fossil fuels are the major contributing factor to climate change. As a result, understanding the importance of renewable energy and starting thoughtful and serious government investment into them is the best way to create a far-reaching impact on climate change. In a world which has seen one international agreement after the other either be ignored or simply fail, something needs to be done to make political leaders wake up. In 2019, we saw climate strikes involving 7.6 million people take place across the globe and yet still, even after that, we are not on track to meet our climate goals. What the Just Stop Oil protesters are doing might seem drastic. But drastic is what we need.


It is undeniable that the actions of the Just Stop Oil protestors have attracted widespread interest. They have monopolized the headlines over the past few weeks, encouraging conversations about fossil fuels and revitalizing efforts towards affecting climate change. Therefore, the protestors have clearly achieved their goal — they’ve brought climate change to the forefront of national consciousness once more. And in a time where the cost of living crisis is dominating, this is important. If we did “Just Stop Oil”, we wouldn’t be reliant on Russia and their oil reserves. We wouldn’t be beholden to hostile geo-political interests. Wind energy would make us able to heat our homes for cheaper. Solar power would allow us to predict energy costs domestically. Yes, it’s a big short-term government investment, but the long-term payout is invaluable.


But why target art? What’s the link? For years, oil companies have sought to cleanse their image by investing in galleries and museums, in the hope of associating their name with cultural endeavors rather than the fact that they are responsible for, I dunno, ruining the planet. The art world is often the epicenter of international tax avoidance, global trading and freeports. As a result, the targeting of influential works of art by the Just Stop Oil protests is far from random. It’s symbolic. The art world is intrinsically tied to the capitalistic system which is exacerbating the climate crisis. So, an attack on the art which represents extortionate and unjustified wealth has meaning. It is legitimate. Yes, van Gogh might not be personally responsible for climate change but the world in which his work inhabits is.


And what about other action? How does blocking roads and infrastructure help the Just Stop Oil cause? Well, it’s effective isn’t it? It’s these types of actions that have garnered widespread media interest. And, at the end of the day, the disruption they have caused to people’s everyday lives is, if annoying, got people talking about environmental activism on a larger scale than ever before. More people than ever have typed into google “what is Just Stop Oil?”. Their goals have been laid out for all to see on BBC news at 10, and explained in the Guardian, the New York Times, and Le Monde. Without this type of extreme non-violent direct action, the majority of the population would never have heard of Just Stop Oil, let alone know what it stands for.


As for the argument that the people involved in these protests are attention-seeking individualistic ‘non-thinkers’, that’s just baseless rubbish, perpetuated by students who have never accomplished anything more than once signing a petition to an MP (and no, sharing it on Facebook doesn’t make you Mother Theresa). Those who participate in serious climate activism are putting their own futures on the line — they risk facing angry online messages, attacks from right-wing newspapers and, most importantly, serious legal consequences. What they are doing is brave. And they are doing it because they believe in something. For me, that is admirable. To me, being idealistic is something to be applauded, not criticized.



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