Just Stop Oil and its crusade for the phase-out of fossil fuel power, has once again found its way back onto the front pages of newspapers across the UK in recent weeks. However, the events and debacles which get the climate activist group into the limelight only seem to last for a limited period before Just Stop Oil and its message go back to relative media dormancy.
So why do they keep popping up and ‘disappearing’ again?
Just Stop Oil Timeline
Well, actually Just Stop Oil does operate all year round with scheduled marches across parliament square every single day. Although it is only the extreme and absurd protests which find their way into the media headlines and most people’s social feeds.
The activist group uploads multiple YouTube videos weekly and has a blog, consistent press releases, and a website focused on their scheduled protests and detailing their previous actions.
Premier League Football Matches
In March last year, a Just Stop Oil protestor invaded the pitch at Goodison Park during the second half of the football match between Everton and Newcastle. Tying himself to the goalpost with cable ties and halting play for 8 minutes whilst he was forcibly removed by pitch-side security.
In a Just Stop Oil YouTube upload of the incident, the protestor 21-year-old Louis McKechnie can be heard stating his reasoning for the pitch invasion, listing extreme climate possibilities including “mass starvation due to crop failure”.
In a later court hearing where McKechnie received a six-week prison sentence for the protest. He revealed that the game was targeted due to the popularity of the premier league and Newcastle’s Saudi Arabian ownership and connections to oil.
Similarly, this was done at another high-profile game between Arsenal and Liverpool in the same week by a 20-year-old Just Stop Oil protestor. The protestor only caused a brief stop in play as he was removed from the goalpost much easier than at Goodison Park. After the demonstration, the protestor stated, “Sorry to have interrupted your game, but no one listens unless we do crazy shit like this”.
The 2022 British Grand Prix
A group of six Just Stop Oil protestors walked onto the track during a red flag after a large opening lap crash at the British Grand Prix in July 2022. They proceeded to take a seat in the middle of the track until being removed by race marshals.
One of the six protestors, Louis McKechnie – yes the same protestor at Goodison Park, said that “Top scientific reports state that the government’s current targets will result in the death of billions”. David Baldwin another member of the six recited “In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General: We need disruption to end the destruction.”
The Just stop oil cause was heavily supported by F1 drivers Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, and Carlos Sainz. Their actions were not. Instead, they were criticized by the drivers due to the risk of potential harm and trouble caused for race-side stewards. F1 president Stefano Domenicali further condemned the decision to invade the track.
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
In October 2022 several London-based protests were enacted. The one which garnered the most attention was when two Just Stop Oil protestors covered the 4th version of Van Gogh’s Arles sunflowers with cans of tomato soup.
Following this they glued themselves to the exhibit. The painting, as with most famous works was covered with glass and received no damage, however, the frame itself received slight damage from the incident.
The use of tomato soup is suggested to be linked to the cost of living crisis with one of the protestors Phoebe Plummer exclaiming “What is worth more art or life”. A spokesperson for Just Stop Oil Alex De Koning, supported the protest event in the National Gallery highlighting that “people will need to choose between eating and heating this winter”.
London Traffic Blocking
In continuation with the London-based protests, one of the most common and debated protest methods – the blocking of major roads was deployed by Just Stop Oil protestors. A similar story to what we have seen before from other large protesting activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.
Just stop oil protestors proceeded to glue themselves to the road in front of Buckingham Palace. This caused temporary disruption on roads across London.
Today this still continues with slow marching halting traffic at West London Bridge and multiple locations across London. Although, these actions don’t make the big headlines like the previously listed events they are still reported on by the likes of the Guardian and Daily Mail gaining over 3,000 comments in just two days.
Just Stop Oil slow marching protestors in the streets of London – Photograph courtesy of press images at JustStopOil
Snooker World Championship
One of the most recent protests involved disrupting the world snooker championship in Sheffield. Two protestors for Just Stop Oil attempted to mount the green baize with one being successful and releasing an orange powder paint across the table, during the live first-round match between Joe Perry and Robert Milkins.
However, on the other table referee Olivier Marteel halted the female protestor and restrained them before being able to mount the table. The disruption forced a 45-minute break in play before the Table 1 match between Mark Allen and Fan Zhengyi resumed. Meanwhile, the play was suspended for the evening on the heavily impacted table 2 as it was checked and refitted.
The snooker world championship, a seemingly niche choice to disrupt when compared to other larger live viewing events was likely targeted due to its prestige, lack of security, and live broadcasting on the BBC.
A protester interrupted the match between Robert Milkins and Joe Perry
When these larger spontaneous protests occur Just Stop Oil seems to alienate the public rather than promoting their message to the very people they are claiming to be standing up for.
The biggest connection between all the events listed above has been the label of “nuisances” on the Just Stop Oil movement and its protestors. This has been demonstrated by significant boo’s and heckling for protestors at sporting events, and cheers when they are evicted at venues such as the aforementioned Goodison Park and the Crucible theatre.
It is a difficult balance to maintain interest and longevity for causes without becoming infamous and synonymous with trouble.
The main message is clear and an increasingly decarbonised world would only be a positive development. However, calls for fossil fuel production and importation to be immediately stopped are unrealistic, and a more in-depth scientific argument would be better appreciated and recognized by both the public and government.
The group also demands investment in renewable energy, something which is constantly being discussed by world leaders, with the Paris Agreement plans accelerated just two weeks ago at the Sapporo conference. However, this has taken time and needs suitable logistics behind it, instead of just demanding that power generation needs to immediately be from just renewable sources. Everyone knows it’s not that easy.
If Just Stop Oil wants to have success in parliament and law, purely aiming for the front pages will unlikely garner any results. The comments from protestors are consistent in believing that only divisive action will get them what they want, but is this truly the best way to be heard?
Instead, the already low public opinion will only get lower, Just Stop Oil has turned off comments on their YouTube channel, knowing the sort of abuse they would receive if the comments were on. Just like Insulate Britain when you cause disruption and problems without a clear roadmap or well-supported plan, your whole purpose is backfiring.
Peaceful protesting is an important part of human rights, but what is considered peaceful – trespassing on a live Formula One circuit?