This evening I heard some young people from the Just Stop Oil coalition speak, powerfully stating their case for civil resistance and direct action to demand that the UK government award no new fossil fuel licences. Our unelected Prime Minister has initiated 100 new oil and gas developments, when just one – Jackdaw, off the coast of Aberdeen – will already create more carbon emissions than the whole of Ghana.
The speakers reminded us that a year ago at COP26 the cry was Keep 1.5 alive! And we have now reached 1.3 degrees of global warming. The IPCC has warned that if we reach 2 degrees, which seems highly likely, it will result in 700 million climate refugees, nearly the entire population of Europe.
These young people are willing to be arrested; some have dropped out of University, seeing no future for themselves in following that path, preferring instead to do all they can and whatever it takes to end our reliance on fossil fuels and make a meaningful difference to the climate emergency.
Tim Morton spoke in encouragement, evoking the spirit of William Blake (who he called an early maker of memes in his Songs of Innocence and Experience) – ‘the way you say something is what you’re saying’. He saw the Van Gogh soup protest at the National Gallery as ‘weaponised harmlessness’, citing Adorno, who claimed that Proust destroyed the aristocracy with his ‘remorseless gentleness’.
Being a big fan of ‘remorseless gentleness’, I was deeply moved by this intergenerational conversation about climate justice and the failure of democracy. George Monbiot, another member of the ‘Guardian reading, tofu-eating wokerati’ (Braverman), has commented, in the aforementioned publication, on the action, bringing some perspective to the knee-jerk outrage and blame (do read the whole article if you haven’t already – it’s full of good points):
I don’t seek to deny the value of art or the necessity of protecting it. On the contrary: I want the same crucial protections extended to planet Earth, without which there is no art, no culture and no life. Yet while cultural philistinism is abhorred, ecological philistinism is defended with a forcefield of oppressive law.
The soup-throwing and similar outrageous-but-harmless actions generate such fury because they force us not to stop listening, but to start. Why, we can’t help asking ourselves, would young people jeopardise their freedom and their future prospects in this way. The answer, we can’t help hearing, is that they seek to avert a much greater threat to both.