Just stop the farce
Updated: Jul 24
Do the ends always justify the means?
By Ketan Bhatt
Developed countries, ex officio, are relatively exempted from criticism for contributing to greenhouse gas emissions – in comparison to their lesser developed counterparts. Their unchallenged economic clout further emboldens their ecologically endangering actions. Over the years, they have also successfully managed to circumvent accountability by indulging in diversionary tactics such as trading in carbon credits. By its very nature, carbon credits shift responsibility on developing economies to limit carbon emissions - which can then be offset for emissions made in developed countries. This literally means that the polluting culprits could continue with their ecologically reckless behaviour, by simply purchasing credits, that frees them from reprimand and any punitive action. However, citizen action movements in some developed nations have been heating up the protest scene in recent years, with rise of groups such as Extinction Rebellion. Just Stop Oil, the latest addition, claims to be a coalition of groups fighting the common cause of pressurizing the Government to abort issuing licenses to new fossil fuel reserves in the North Sea.
While the cause certainly is important, it is their modus operandi that is de-legitimizing their reputation and the movement itself. Just stop oil climate activists have been sabotaging public sporting events such as the world snooker championship, the F1 race at Silverstone in 2022, the Ashes cricket match at Lords this year, attempted to wreck even a football match by tying themselves to the goal post and the recent disruptions on Wimbledon tennis courts. Add to that list, vandalizing Vincent Van Gogh’s precious artwork and ruining floral exhibitions such as the Chelsea Flower Show. All were let off the hook lightly by the judiciary, who could have meted out strict punishments to set an example for deterrence. If prison time is too harsh, why are we not seeing judges passing reasonably fair verdicts such as suspending their driver’s license for 3 to 4 years for participating in socially disruptive practices. We have seen how their highly irresponsible and unethical forms of protest – such as road and highway obstructions, have cost people dearly; be it a missed Doctor’s appointment or a flight, the funeral of a loved one and several millions of pounds lost to reduced manhours at work.
Third world and developing nations experience the harshest effects of environmental degradation, owing to the sheer financial impact of extreme weather events in resource-limited settings. Climate activists have often used this plank to justify their disruptive public protest actions, conveniently ignoring the fact that these countries themselves contribute to rising pollution levels and hence, global warming. However, these nations are heavily energy dependent and need fossil fuels to lift them from poverty, drive growth and achieve the same level of prosperity that the western world has enjoyed for decades. The question we need to ask is why are the just stop oil members never seen disrupting daily life in top polluting countries such as China, US and India? Well, we all know the answer to why they cherry-pick their locations closer to home - all thanks to the kid glove treatment by the Government and the courts.
How can the Government allow these protests to terrorize public life and jeopardize civic order is dumbfounding to say the least. On the one hand we have climate activists and campaigners fighting to spread their influence through conventional legal methods and these disruption causing anarchists at the other end - who have been given the license to cause massive civic distress and get away with total impunity. This rightfully has to be treated as a way to not just inconvenience the innocent citizenry but to defraud the system in general. If corporate companies that misappropriate and siphon off money have to face the brunt of the law, these protesters deserve the same treatment as they are bleeding the economy in more ways than one.
More than 50% of food consumed in the UK is import dependent. Local thriving businesses with a heavy carbon footprint include the meat industry (poultry and livestock). Moreover, the use of arable land to cultivate crops for animal feed thwarts any attempt at shifting gears to achieve increased food self-sufficiency. It’s bewildering to see these eco-campaigners not fix their gaze on the horrendous neglect and policy inaction the local agriculture sector has faced at the hands of the Government. This insipid behaviour is all the more disturbing when improving self sufficiency of fruits and vegetables will not just bring the retail food inflation down but contribute to a more responsible carbon footprint in the light of reduced imports. But we have not seen the just stop oil coterie protesting anywhere near farmlands or even next to the shelves in supermarkets that have imported foods on display.
Ultra-processed items such as cigarettes with a carbon-burdened production (deforestation and limiting cultivation of arable land for tobacco production as opposed to using the same land for food production) and supply chain (logistics and distribution), can be considered as a serious environmental hazard. Additionally, targeting this lobby has the potential to yield significant public health dividends. But again, this doesn’t fit the selectively convenient agendas of these extreme protesters.
Democracy enshrines ideals that transcends all the barriers plaguing other non-democratic styles of governances. It espouses for a form of living that protects the right to freedom and guarantee everyone a voice to express. While the freedom that comes with it makes democracy fair and just, this very facet of a free society can spiral into absurdity and disruptive chaos, if left unchecked. Winston Churchill once famously said that:
“democracy is the worst form of Government- except for all the others that have been tried”.
Despite the flaws, democracy should be deeply cherished and celebrated as it gives the power of voice to the voiceless. But certainly not at the expense of larger civic and economic interests. Moreover, if every Government decision could be challenged and overturned by encroaching public spaces and hindering daily lives of the general public, why do we have a parliament in place?
Any action that jeopardizes the functioning of a democratically governed free society is indistinguishable from taking entire communities’ hostage, through methods ridiculed and unsupported by a large majority. The Government needs to take the action to the parliament, perhaps to introduce new laws or tweak existing legislation around public order to protect the interests and rights of everyone involved. This is especially important since the core message, of protecting our environment from climate change, is increasingly being overshadowed by the law-breaking and often insensitive tactics used by these new age eco-warriors.
The cause is undeniably a global emergency, but the methods laugh in the face of constructive momentum true-blue climate activists have garnered over the years through consistent, systematic and most importantly, lawful initiatives to protest Government inaction on reducing emissions. These cheap theatrical tactics unfortunately threaten to undermine the legitimacy of genuine climate change protests. No major victory can be achieved through attempts at persuading people to join a movement by inconveniencing and angering the very folks they expect support from.