- Gabriella Brown
Do Just Stop Oil Protesters Calm the Waters of the Planet or Just Enrage Motorists?
Just Stop Oil protesters created major disruptions on Britain’s busiest motorway, the M25, for four consecutive days (November 7 - November 10) when they called upon Rishi Sunak’s government to halt the production of new oil and gas. The motorway that sees around 165,000 vehicles a day ground to a halt as protesters climbed onto the gantries and police had no choice other than to stop the traffic to manage the situation.
Pushing Rishi Sunak to take action, the Just Stop Oil delivered an ultimatum in a statement saying that his government should consider their responsibilities to Britain in regards to halting further production of new oil and gas.
In a video issued on the Just Stop Oil website, protester Louise Harris, 24, explained her reasoning for dangerously climbing onto the M25 gantries, pleading with the motorists who were halted to direct their anger and resentment towards the UK government and urging them to stop the extraction of new oil and gas. Stating that she had no future, she attempted to explain that the actions she undertook was a last resort in order to make the government listen.
Since its foundation in February 2022, Just Stop Oil has made headlines across the world for its extreme demonstrations – most notably the protesters that threw tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting in London’s National Gallery. The two activists, wearing Just Stop Oil T-shirts, glued themselves to the wall underneath the painting after throwing the soup and proceeded to deliver a speech stating that people cared more about a painting than they do about the planet and climate change. The actions of the two activists sparked mixed opinions from the public post-protest; although many supported the cause, they found that their methods were unnecessary. As a result of their actions, the two protesters were arrested for aggravated trespassing under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and criminal damage.
The legal grey area over policing protests made dealing with the activists and the frustrated drivers increasingly more difficult for the police force. Under the Public Order Act 1986, a police officer has the right to make an arrest if they believe that the actions of protesters may result in serious disruption to the life of the community. Due to this, the police were able to make 58 arrests on the Just Stop Oil protesters for breaching the sections of this Act. The disruption of the Just Stop Oil protests that have taken place over the past several months have resulted in a drastic increase in the number of frontline police to 8,000 to deal with the protests instead of tackling crimes in local communities. This shift in attention not only poses a detrimental effect to several communities in Britain, but also to the police force as a whole as they do not possess the adequate manpower to tackle the protests on top of daily crime.
Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, police are not only provided with greater clarity on what conduct is forbidden by protesters, but also allows senior police officers to direct and enforce conditions surrounding protests. In light of this, police will be able to take more decisive and punitive measures that they deem necessary to stop public disorder.
In April 2022, it was reported that the primary funding that Just Stop Oil receives is from the American-based Climate Emergency Fund. The CEF was started by a donation from Aileen Getty, the granddaughter of the fossil fuel tycoon J. Paul Getty. Some have argued that it is hypocritical for the Just Stop Oil coalition to ask the government to end all licences for the development and production of fossil fuels when their main source of funding for protests is a direct result of the production and distribution of fossil fuels.
Just Stop Oil activists have repeatedly crossed the line between peaceful protesting and unlawful actions under the pretence of protesting for a cause. As a result of its hypocritical funding and disruptive protesting, the Just Stop Oil campaign has received a considerable amount of backlash, which may adversely affect its ability to sway the minds of the public.