Just Stop Oil: The controversial activist group who demand a greener future

Social IssuesEnvironment

  • Author Jack Warburton
  • Published April 15, 2024
  • Word count 998

Protests have been a part of the United Kingdom’s history since the 13th century, many of the protests since are widely celebrated around the world. In a time where the nation has been under 14 years of Conservative leadership, who’s traditional values often oppose change, it could be suggested that protests are as important now as they have been throughout history. This is certainly the view of the activist group Just Stop Oil. All other major political parties in the UK have stated that they would end new oil and gas contracts in favour of a renewable future that could save the planet.

However, that is all rather meaningless whilst the Conservatives are in power, and it would not be the first time a party didn’t stick to all of its promises upon election. Therefore, Just Stop Oil decided to take matters into their own hands to try force the issue of protecting the planet from the impending climate crisis.

The Just Stop Oil group has no official leadership and has stated that it is non-hierarchical, interestingly, a significant amount of their funding comes from the Climate Emergency Fund which is partly funded by public donations as well as backing from Eileen Getty, who is the granddaughter of a businessman who operates in the petroleum industry.

The orange activist group clearly states their goals on their rather brazen website, they want to end all new oil and gas contracts. They are believed to have sent multiple letters to the government expressing these demands, and the consequences if the demands were not met. Unfortunately, we have seen the government's response very clearly. They introduced new laws to criminalise ‘locking on’ and carrying the equipment needed to lock on with intent to use it.

‘Locking on’ is a protest tactic that was famously used by Just Stop Oil during Everton FC vs Newcastle United Premier League match on March 17th, 2022. Following further law amendments on protesting, the Just Stop Oil website stated that they had faced 623 arrests including two members who received the longest sentences recorded for peaceful protests at 2 years and 7 months as well as another 3-year prison sentence. These arrest figures were correct as of December 2023

News coverage surrounding the Just Stop Oil campaign has been near unavoidable since they began operations in February of 2022. The activist group have received widespread criticism from the public on social media sites and also from many reputable news outlets due to their disruptive style of protest. However, could many members of the public look at their goals and ideology and disagree? It has been said that Carbon Dioxide levels are the highest they've been for at least 2 million years1, with science showing 1 billion people could be affected by sea level rises by 2050. 2 These are examples of statistics that have been known by governments for many years, yet we have seen no significant provisions brought in to stop oil usage within the UK.

The severity of the issue coupled with the short time frame to act evidently requires drastic measures in order to protect the future of the planet, this is the opinion clearly demonstrated by Just Stop Oil.

In the later months of 2022, Just Stop Oil faced significant criticism for their weeks of road blocking campaigns which caused mass disruption across the country. Many of the people criticising these methods suggested that the group would achieve more support through non-disruptive methods and were doing more harm than good for their cause. However, the history of protest and activist campaigns have shown that this is simply not the case and can lead to groups being too easy to ignore by the significant powers in the country.

Using the monumental Suffragette Movement as an example, it is evident that a drastic and disruptive style of protest can sometimes be considered necessary to achieve change that is being resisted. The Suffragettes are celebrated by many in the country for achieving rights for women that are now considered common practice and it would be an abhorrent suggestion to return to the old ways. However, within their campaigning they had many forms of illegal and disruptive protests including window smashing, arson and even a bombing campaign and yet they are viewed on the correct side of history. Coming back to the current Just Stop Oil campaign, it is known within the group that their campaigning style will be unpopular with many and some members having to face spells in prison as well as many losing their employment, but could this not be viewed as courageous and commendable?

We have the benefit of historical campaigns suggesting that doing things for the furtherance of the planet are necessary and will be celebrated, therefore when Just Stop Oil’s aim is to protect the future of the planet, it should be met with support rather than outrage. I would suggest that many of the criticisms are short-sighted in the regard that the public should be encouraged to view the bigger picture of what the group is aiming to achieve.

One of the major issues that Just Stop Oil face is that they are aiming to stop something happening in the future, whereas majority of the British public are facing their own issues now. This is not to take away from the severity of the climate crisis, more an indication of why it has been difficult to gain widespread support. Many people see the climate crisis as far away in the future, however, that could not be further from the truth. Whilst it is not something that is tangible or part of our daily lives, it is something that will significantly affect billions of people currently on the planet and not just future generations.

The disruptive nature of Just Stop Oil will always cause controversy and in some cases outrage, but I would urge you to that the time to consider why they do what they do and then opinions towards them might turn more supportive and sympathetic.

I am an International Law masters student at Bournemouth University with a keen interest in national and global issues, particularly focused on Politics and Environmental issues.

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