Just Stop Oil – what are they really about? Some thoughts from the planet, the scientists and Stephen Fry

Maria Talking Just Stop Oil

Like suffragettes and civil rights freedom fighters before them, today’s environmental activists are generally unpopular with the general public. They are disruptive and annoying (which is kind of what they’re trying to be). But I reckon that history will judge them as favourably as their forebears.

Many of us now do our bit for the environment but, honestly, it’s governments and the fuel industry that need to make the big changes required. Fast. Time is running out. Already millions of people around the world are homeless from climate conditions while those no longer able to feed themselves in drought areas are falling under the control of extremists. Signing petitions and writing to our MPs is important but it no longer seems to be enough. So maybe activism is the last remaining tool for people who feel that change is needed.

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres following the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on April 4, 2022. “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

We recommend you go to the next talk by Just Stop Oil (which is actually lobbying for no new oil) in Hungerford on Tuesday 1 November (with Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion). Alternatively, watch the talk here that Penny videoed on Wednesday 19 October and decide for yourself. You can also have a chat and a drink on them at The Plume in Hungerford on Wednesday 26 October from 7.30pm.

They aren’t asking you to sit on a road or glue yourself to a wall if you don’t want to.  They just want people to take more action in whatever way feels comfortable for them and there are many ways to do that.

When JSO started the government was planning to grant 40 new fossil-fuel licences. That number has now risen to 130 (including fracking). They believe civil disobedience is the only remaining way to get the government to listen. Their tactics are non-violent (note that the soup hit a pane of glass, not Van Gogh’s Sunflowers…)

For more information please visit juststopoil.org or contact Christine from JSO Newbury on JSONewbury@protonmail.com

What is happening now?

  • The world has already heated up by around 1.2°C, on average, since the pre-industrial era.The oceans alone are absorbing the heat equivalent of five Hiroshima atomic bombs dropping into the water every second.
  • The effects have become obvious globally. Even to us here in the UK with our relatively benign climate, we saw an-all time record temperature of 40°C this summer. Wildfires broke out around the country, railway lines melted and the London fire brigade had its busiest day since World War 2. 
  • This summer in Europe temperatures reached a record high of 47°C in Portugal. No rain fell for weeks on end, 25,000 people in France had to flee their homes due to wildfires, crops failed and rivers (including the Rhine) dried up causing major problems for supply chains. These events were repeated many times across the developed world including the US and China.
  • In the Global South, at least a billion people in India and Pakistan experienced record-breaking heat waves lasting weeks on end in March and April. India recorded its hottest March since records began, while in April in parts of Pakistan, temperatures reached above 49°C. News reports suggested that exhausted birds were falling from the sky in India.
  • Low rainfall and extreme heat this year has hit crop yields across Asia. In India some farmers saw wheat yields collapse by 50%. 
  • Starting in June, Pakistan was hit with a mega monsoon. By August devastating flooding had spread to one third of the country – and a staggering 33 million people have been displaced.

The list goes on and on…

What the scientists say

  • In February 2021 at Melbourne’s National Climate Emergency Summit, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government Professor David King said “We need to move rapidly. What we do in the next three to four years, I believe, will determine the future of humanity. We are in a very, very desperate situation” That was a year ago, so we may even be looking at just two to three years until catastrophic changes in the global climate system may become inevitable and self-perpetuating. These are called climate tipping points.
  • At current levels of warming the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet are possible. This is a major concern as they would commit future generations to sea level rise of as much as 10 metres over thousands of years to come. This change would likely be irreversible for millenia even if we were to abruptly stop burning fossil fuels. 600 million people (10% of world’s population) currently live in coastal areas that are less than 10 metres above sea level and that figure is expected to rise to a billion by 2050. This will destroy their homes.
  • At current levels of warming the abrupt thaw of the northern permafrost is also a possibility. Permafrost is the name given to ground – soil or rock – that contains ice or frozen organic material that has remained at or below freezing for at least two years. It covers around a quarter of the non-glaciated land in the northern hemisphere – including large swaths of Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada and the Tibetan plateau – and can be as much as a kilometre thick.
  • The Arctic is warming at four times the rate of global average temperatures ( five to seven times more quickly in some places) and so a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures would mean at least a six-degree increase in the Arctic. So even modest increases in global temperature can lead to landscape-scale changes.
  • There is already evidence of rapid permafrost warming. The IPCC’s special report on the ocean and cryosphere for example, says that record high temperatures at 10–20m depth in permafrost have been documented in the northern hemisphere permafrost and in some places, these temperatures are 2-3°C higher than even 30 years ago. Should permafrost thawing accelerate, there is the potential for a runaway positive feedback process where the release of previously stored carbon dioxide and methane will contribute to further Arctic warming, subsequently accelerating future permafrost thaw.

This list could go on and on as well.

What Stephen Fry says

Perhaps you don’t believe the scientists, trust the politicians (even the ones who seem to be taking this seriously) or are unwilling to accept the tactics used by XR or JSO. Who else’s opinion might be useful?

In this excellent video (which has the uncompromising title Something has to be done), Stephen Fry says that not only is the situation every bit as serious as these people are all claiming but also that the disruption that the protests cause is largely justified. “Disruption” is, he points out, not always destructive: it can be necessary “to stop the world going down the wrong path.” The suffragettes and the civil rights protestors were disruptive and caused inconvenience but few people today would feel that the causes they were fighting for were wrong. At the time, though, many felt otherwise. This is perhaps the very situation we find ourselves in now.

Being prevented from crossing a bridge or leaving a motorway by a protest is, he concedes, incredibly inconvenient. These are, however as nothing compared to the inconveniences that otherwise lie in wait, ranging from a ruined landscape to violence and instability; a kind of “Mad Max horror,” as he vividly puts it.

“Sometimes,” he concludes, “you have to sacrifice the present to save the future. All we’re being asked to sacrifice are some of the conveniences that will never exist if we don’t act now.”


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