April 20, 2023 - 10:00am

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t approve of what Just Stop Oil (JSO) did at the Crucible Theatre this week. While there is a place for civil disobedience, protests that deliberately disrupt the lives of the general public are not justified. And, yes, that includes despoiling the green baize of a snooker table with orange powder. 

But let me try to steel man the JSO position: the climate emergency is real. Over the last few days, Asia has experienced a brutal heat wave. In a region where more than half of humanity lives, the mercury is soaring and temperature records are tumbling. It’s bad enough already — but with an extra two or three degrees of global warming on the way, the future looks grim. If you think that the current migration crisis is intolerable, then just wait for the mass population movements of future decades. 

The planet won’t die, of course. Life always finds a way, but our way of life hangs in the balance. Even if one takes the case at face value, though, JSO is still making is a big mistake. 

Just look at their stunts so far: the snooker thing, the soup attack on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, a track invasion at the British Grand Prix, the spray painting of Harrods (ditto banks and think tanks), disruption at football matches, multiple road protests and a cake attack on ‘King Charles’ at Madame Tussauds. It’s reported that the London Marathon could be next. 

What do these targets have in common? It’s not political, because only some of them are overtly capitalist or Right-wing. Rather it is the small-c conservative normie-ness of it all. Or to put it another way, JSO are clearly out to épater les bourgeois (bearing in mind that, these days, les bourgeois includes the Brexit-voting working class).     

But aren’t trendy Left-leaning bohemian types just as responsible for the looming climate catastrophe as the rest of us? Without a doubt, so why aren’t their events being targeted? Music festivals, for instance — or fashion shows or experimental theatre productions. These too are displays of self-indulgent, resource-wasting frippery, so by that logic there should be orange paint for them as well.

Is it because these folx are more aware of the issues? Well, if that’s true, they’ve got less excuse for living their carbon-spewing lifestyles. If one accepts JSO’s logic, then the climate protesters should be going out their way to upset everybody, not just Middle England. Progressive politics should not constitute a free pass, because if the climate emergency is real, then, ultimately, wokeness doesn’t matter. 

At the very least, the clear political bias of Just Stop Oil is self-defeating. A challenge to all of humanity is shrinking to a sub-faction of one side in a trivial culture war. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.