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Just Stop Oil Just Can’t Get It Right

Features editor Fred Taylor argues that Just Stop Oil lacks a coherent vision and avoids the tough questions on the issue of climate change. 

Over the last month, the environmental organisation Just Stop Oil has frequently hit the headlines for their disruptive protests. From road blocking to defacing art and disrupting sporting events, the environmental organisation certainly has a wide portfolio of techniques. The general public has responded to the disruption which they have caused in the way we would expect, mostly lacking the passion and vigour for the environmental cause that Just Stop Oil protestors have in spades. The British people have not only turned against the protesters but perhaps even the cause itself. Polling from YouGov shows that unfavourability towards “oil, gas and mining” has decreased by 6 points since February and polling shows that a similar group, “Insulate Britain”, who took the more drastic measure of blocking motorways, were widely thought to have damaged the cause of combatting climate change.

With each roadblocking Just Stop Oil causes, they anger not just the hundreds affected by traffic, who will not be quick to forgive the entitlement which seeps through their behaviour, but also thousands online, many of whom may have previously been sympathetic to their cause. Some have been more physical in their rejection of the orange-vested activists, using their hands and fists to displace them or even, sometimes, their cars. These acts of assault should not be defended, but they speak volumes about what people think about the organisation.

Met with these reactions, I wonder what the protestors think they are achieving with their actions. Their recent protests outside Parliament were nowhere near as disruptive as the occasion on which they audaciously blocked off several London bridges. They were not met with public fury, but they lacked the wide-ranging news coverage that the group so clearly craves. The climate campaigners seem to have been enthralled by the old adage “all publicity is good publicity”.

However, despite the catchiness of the saying, there is not much truth in it. It is true that controversial publicity sometimes does bolster the success of an organisation, but this is not always correct. In 2015, when we found out about the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which covered the front pages for days, were you itching to buy a brand new VW?

If Just Stop Oil’s aim is to spread awareness, they have badly failed. Almost everyone in this country is aware of the climate crisis. As a nation, we simply fail to prioritise it over less salient issues- immigration consistently ranks significantly higher than the environment when the nation is asked about its most pressing concerns. 

In order to alter this ranking, and give the issue of the environment the attention it deserves, a prospective environmental group should offer both a cogent argument as to why the government is failing future generations and a workable alternative. You convince nobody by disrupting their day-to-day lives.

It is not just their tactics which don’t work- their policies are all messed up too. People often refrain from dealing this full blow to Just Stop Oil by saying that they are proposing good plans, but are doing so in the wrong way. They heavily criticise their tactics but fail to scrutinise their policy. A deeper dive into the organisation shows that Just Stop Oil adds nothing to the climate change discussion.

The UK is not the US: here, the climate change denier is far outside the mainstream. The challenge presented by climate change is not having to convince people that we should just stop oil, but precisely how we go about just stopping oil. How do we replace fossil fuels with renewable alternatives? How do we reduce our energy consumption overall? Just Stop Oil doesn’t only shy away from these questions but rejects workable proposals made by other organisations.

Take a look at the notorious “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament”, a member of the Just Stop Oil coalition. This is a group most known for its noble aim of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Most elide their commitment to ridding the world of emissions-free nuclear energy. Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP and a prominent supporter of the movement, has also expressed her vehement opposition to the source of energy described as “our only hope” by climate experts. 

If Just Stop Oil truly wanted to just stop the need that citizens currently have for oil in order to heat their homes, cook their food and charge their devices, they would support reliable carbon-free alternatives. The science in favour of nuclear is irrefutable, with top scientists in the UK actively asserting that solar and wind will never be enough to meet our energy needs. Our future demands that we rapidly start a mass nuclear rollout, yet the activists behind Just Stop Oil oppose it.

Another idea, already enacted by the government in 2012, is to expand the availability, speed and reliability of the climate-friendly train. This would stop Britons from having to depend on the petrol-powered car, which contributes massively to global emissions.

The train is a form of transport that precedes the automobile. The first railway in the UK sprouted up 198 years ago, but since then we have regrettably fallen behind countries like France, China and Germany when it comes to developing top-class rail. Faced with this failing system, which lacked the speed, capacity, or environmental friendliness that the country requires, a cross-party coalition endorsed HS2- a plan to get our railways back on track. By connecting three major cities in the UK (Birmingham, London and Manchester), with a non-carbon emitting transport system which is both practical and meets the needs of our economy, HS2 has presented itself as one of our best tools to fight climate change. However, the usual suspects fail to give it the support it so deserves- Just Stop Oil has lambasted the HS2 on social media, accusing its planners of plotting the “destruction of 100+ ancient woodlands”.

Just Stop Oil’s impassioned rejection of any solution that would enable us to just stop oil casts severe doubts on its status as an organisation which opposes climate inaction. Within the mind of a Just Stop Oil activist is an understandable feeling that I empathise with. They proclaim that “the Tories are turbocharging climate collapse with 100 new oil and gas licences”, but the reality is slightly different, it is the citizen, the consumer, who is demanding this eventuality. Every use of oil and gas within the UK is authorised by a citizen- oil companies aren’t forcing you to switch your lights on when it goes dark or heat your rooms when it is cold.

The only way to stop fossil fuels is to propose an energy plan which does not involve oil and convince people your plan will work- Just Stop Oil does neither. They are campaigning for an end goal which everyone ultimately wants but are not dealing with the more difficult question of how to practically achieve it. Holding a banner which says “Just Stop Oil” is almost synonymous with holding one which says ‘Reduce inflation’ or ‘Save our NHS’. The immediate unanswered question that pops into any reader’s head is ‘How?’ The fact that the group does not answer this makes the rest of its strident messaging hollow, crude, and inauthentic.

Future climate campaigns should take note: if you want something to be achieved come up with a plan and convince people to vote for it. If you care about the climate take the difficult road of thinking and researching workable solutions, don’t get caught up in the Just Stop Oil mania.

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