2022 could be remembered as a year of growing climate activism, with environmental protest taking creative and often controversial forms. In fact, climate activists have decided to take extraordinary initiatives to draw attention to the climate issue. Hundreds of SUVs with flat tires, ring roads and airport runways blocked, not to mention the "art attacks".
How many activists have already glued themselves (literally) to the priceless works in some museums? The most egregious incidents at the moment include sacks of flour thrown on a sports car painted by Andy Warhol and a can of Heinz tomato soup against one of the most famous works in the history of art, the "Sunflowers" by Vincent van Gogh.
Actions criticized by many, there is no doubt about that. But they have also sparked an important debate on the urgency of taking action to combat climate change and on the importance of finding new ways to draw attention to the environmental issue.
In essence, does this type of environmental protest work or not?
Climate protesters are increasingly annoyed by insufficient action on behalf of theenvironment and against climate change. They have decided to adopt more radical tactics, putting themselves at risk of arrest and losing the support of the people. Actions such as blocking roads and disrupting flights have caused inconvenience to many people and have been criticized as vandalism.
However, activists are not deterred by the backlash and say they will continue to fight for the environmental cause no matter how unpopular their actions. “We will be loud, disruptive, inscrutable and a thorn in their side until they listen to us,” he says Emma Brown, spokesman for Just Stop Oil, the coalition behind the museum protests. The group's goal is to get governments to end all new fossil fuel-based projects.
When in October 2022 a couple of Just Stop Oil activists threw tomato soup on a Van Gogh exhibited at the National Gallery in London, an uproar broke out. A survey conducted on more than 2.000 Americans one month after the accident, showed that 46% of the interviewees stated that nonviolent but disruptive actions, such as disrupting morning commuter traffic or damaging works of art, they reduced their support for the efforts to combat climate change. Only 13% he said such actions increased their support.
So why do they intend to continue?
Because the public NEVER approves of disruptive protests, unless they've happened before. For example, the suffragettes who cut out the paintings permanently damaging them were later remembered as heroines. Even peaceful marches can be seen as pointless while they are taking place. After Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, 75% of Americans he believed these demonstrations had hurt the cause, according to a Gallup poll. The following year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.
This doesn't mean that throwing soup at famous paintings will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it does demonstrate that the public doesn't always understand what makes a social movement effective. Experts point out that disruptive protests play an important role in bringing attention to a cause and making peaceful protests more palatable. “Confrontational protests, violent or not, are part of all successful social movements,” he says Oscar Berglund, climate activism and civil disobedience researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK.
The social risks of environmental protest (taken into account)
Environmental protests, even the symbolically harshest ones, are still generally peaceful: but they could become more aggressive in some situations. The line between conflict activism and violence is very blurred. Is there a risk of social tensions for the future, if these demonstrations continue along these lines, if not even more determination?
I can't tell. What I do know is that the level of "clash" has been raised, because it is believed that the population is living in a state of "sleepwalking" towards the environmental situation. That's what Dr. says too Paul Salamon, clinical psychologist. “If you think about it, from an activist perspective it makes perfect sense why they are unpopular. They're making people have really painful feelings, because that's a painful reality to accept."
Last April, a group of climate scientists chained themselves to a JPMorgan Chase building to protest the bank's funding of fossil fuel projects. In the summer, SUV and pickup truck owners in New York and Chicago found their vehicles with flat tires and a flyer on the windshield: "Your gas drinker kills." The action was the work of Tire Extinguishers, an international group that aims to "make it impossible" to own large personal vehicles in cities. Other protesters blocked private airports in 4 US states in December to highlight the negative impact private jets have on the planet.
Everything suggests that this thing will increase
Fighting for the environmental cause can be complex and difficult. Confrontational tactics can draw criticism, anger and even death threats. However, many activists believe that more conventional means of protest, such as petitions and open letters, will not bring about significant results.
Do you know the "activist's dilemma"? It is a problem that dates back to the mists of time. Protesters often have to choose between moderate actions that are easily ignored by the media and authorities or more extreme actions that could alienate the public and weaken their cause. Courageous and creative actions are needed to change things, but there is always the risk that these actions could be perceived as excessive and counterproductive.
Today, environmental activists have decidedly embraced the latter route. "Unpopular" does not necessarily mean "ineffective". We'll see.