Good morning. Over the past week, the climate action group Just Stop Oil has been hitting the headlines for a series of protests, the latest of which involved blocking a major motorway between Essex and Kent yesterday. That prompted the home secretary, Suella Braverman, to attack you, dear reader, as responsible for disruption to traffic, saying: “I’m afraid it’s the Labour party, it’s the Lib Dems, it’s the coalition of chaos, it’s the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating, wokerati – dare I say the anti-growth coalition that we have to thank for the disruption we are seeing on our roads today.”
Luckily, you’re off the hook for what was perhaps Just Stop Oil’s most high-profile action so far, when two activists threw cans of Heinz tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and proceeded to remove their jackets to reveal their Just Stop Oil T-shirts before they glued their hands to the wall of the National Gallery last Friday. “What is worth more,” said Phoebe Plummer, one of the activists, “art or life?”
I spoke to the Guardian’s Damien Gayle, who has been reporting on environmental protest groups closely since 2018, and has been following Just Stop Oil since its inception, about what this latest protest group tells us about climate action and the growing agitation of young people when it comes to the climate crisis.
Five big stories
Fracking | Analysis of House of Commons Library data by the Liberal Democrats found that between 2018 and 2019, a fracking site near Lancashire, the UK’s only active site, was responsible for daily earthquakes.
Strikes | Trade union leaders have intensified their warnings of a synchronised strike this winter to cause maximum disruption. “If we win those ballots, we stand prepared to take action on the same day as any other union to show the government we strike together,” said Mark Serwotka, the head of the Public and Commercial Services union.
Protest | A British MP has said that one of China’s most senior diplomats was involved in the violence against pro-democracy protesters at China’s consulate in Manchester.
Criminal justice | A study by the University of Manchester and barrister Keir Monteith KC has said that the judiciary in England and Wales is “institutionally racist”, with discrimination particularly directed towards black court users.
Music | The 28 year old rapper and actor Little Simz has won the Mercury Prize for her fourth album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
In depth: A more radical breed of activism
When Just Stop Oil protesters climbed on top of the M25 Dartford Crossing for the second day running, the bridge had to be closed again – causing rush hour chaos. This extremely dangerous action sent a message to the country: Just Stop Oil are serious and they have no intention of stopping until their demands are met.
Following hot on the heels of the Van Gogh protest (the painting was safe behind a sheet of glass), the activists are causing quite a stir – just as they wanted. More than 450 arrests have been made over the last two weeks of protests.
Who are Just Stop Oil?
Just Stop Oil emerged early this year as a successor to Extinction Rebellion (XR). While the group looks as if it appeared out of nowhere, many of the activists behind it also have close links to other environmental action groups, including Roger Hallam, who is the social movement strategist behind XR and Insulate Britain. However, unlike these other groups, which often rely on older activists who believe they have less to lose, Just Stop Oil positions itself as a youth-led movement with Hallam reportedly going to universities to recruit eager students who have an abundance of time and passion.
Their plans at the start were specific and bold – they were going to block the distribution of fossil fuels in the south of England. This is because, as their name suggests, they want the government to announce a moratorium on all new licences for fossil fuel projects. “This was their first demand,” says Damien. “It was chosen because it’s in line with the advice of the International Energy Agency, which had said there cannot be any new fossil fuel projects if we’re going to stay within 1.5 degrees of global warming.” A demand this audacious requires audacious action, so the group has said it is moving away from “civil disobedience” to “civil resistance” – opting for more extreme methods like mass trespassing and climbing tankers.
“When they came up with their coordinated blockades, it seemed that the action was tightly synchronised with their central demand because they were specifically targeting oil infrastructure and the distribution of fossil fuels around the country – focussing on petrol and diesel specifically.” Damien says.
Are their tactics working?
When Just Stop Oil activists were taking action against up to 10 fuel distribution facilities a day, they hurt the companies they were targeting: “The areas affected by the actual blockades were down [in the supply of petrol and diesel] by about 40-50%,” says Damien. And despite hundreds of arrests, the group continued to cause major disruptions to the fossil fuel industry in the UK, particularly in the south of England and London.
However, the group went quiet over the summer to regroup and have come back with an expanded list of demands, referencing social justice and the cost of living crisis to attract a broader coalition of support. This has affected how effective their actions are. “The kinds of protests they’re doing have, in some sense, become dislocated from their original demand,” Damien says. The group have taken to blocking roads by glueing themselves to the ground and spray-painting buildings – a model that causes disruption and gets attention, “but it’s more difficult now to see a link between the actions they’re taking and the demands they’re making.”
The government has not been too happy about all of the disruption. The home secretary, Suella Braverman, has unveiled plans to crack down on climate protests, accusing the activists of holding the public “to ransom”. This would give the police new powers to take a more “proactive” approach to counter the civil-resistance tactics that Just Stop Oil like to use. “This is the government saying, ‘We’re sick of these disruptive protests, we want them to stop so we’re giving the police stronger powers to deal with them’,” Damien says. “And that’s why they’ve published the public order bill, which will introduce new offences that seem to be targeted at this new breed of more radical, dedicated climate action.”
This is all part of a wider crackdown on protests that started under the previous home secretary, Priti Patel, who gave the police much stronger powers to deal with protests via the police crime sentencing courts act. The government also want to bring in national injunctions that the home secretary can apply for, which would effectively ban certain protests from happening, and have huge ramifications for the kinds of trials the activists would be entitled to.
“Anyone who was arrested for conducting a protest that the home secretary banned would then be found to be in breach of the injunction, making them in contempt of court and could be prosecuted on that basis,” says Damien. “And contempt of court comes with a special kind of trial, which has a judge and no jury.” This would create huge jeopardy for activists: juries keep acquitting them at trial, mainly because it seems that they’re not buying the idea that causing any disruption is an offence. Without a jury, they are far more vulnerable to lengthy prison sentences. (And some are already serving long stretches behind bars in the build-up to trial).
Yet there is a suspicion that this might be just what Just Stop Oil want – because another significant part of their strategy is to end up in prison – “so they give the legal system and the carceral regime so many activists to deal with, that it ends up clogged up and ceases to function properly”, says Damien. Whether young activists can truly comprehend the threat a conviction would have to their future is unclear – but Damien isn’t sure that this will deter them: “They would probably turn around and say, ‘Well, we don’t feel like we have a future if climate change progresses in the way that we’re expecting’.”
As the impacts of the climate crisis continue to accelerate, it’s clear that protest networks will only grow. “These activists are really dedicated and there’s a lot of them, and they’re willing to go back day after day and put everything on the line,” says Damien. “There’s a real sense that we’re hurtling towards civilisational collapse, and it’s led to a moment of radicalisation.”
What else we’ve been reading
Tom Regan’s love letter to Nintendo’s Wii U, a console that was such a flop it tanked the companies share price, is a heartwarming read. Nimo
Jason Okundaye’s interview with The Pact actor Rakie Ayola is a beautifully written look at hard-won success, grief, and playing an alleged “dragon lady” on screen. Hannah J Davies, deputy editor, newsletters
If you need some recommendations on what to watch tonight, Martin Belam has put together a comprehensive list of the BBC’s greatest cult classics. Nimo
24-hour monitoring in your home might sound dystopian, but many of the devices we buy and services we subscribe to do just this, all with our consent. The Atlantic (£) looks at the rise of “luxury surveillance”. Hannah
Ross Ellenhorn and Dimitri Mugianis take a look at why the American right’s sudden obsession with psychedelic drugs could have highly dangerous consequences. Nimo
Cricket | Sri Lanka beat the UAE in a fiery and competent display during the T20 World Cup, despite a hat-trick from Karthik Meiyappan.
Football | Last night’s sluggish Premier League game between Brighton and Nottingham Forrest ended in a 0-0 draw.
Football | A small group of Barcelona fans are taking legal action over Lionel Messi’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. Lawyers have argued that the move broke European laws on state aid, urging the European Commission to investigate the transfer.
The front pages
The Guardian print edition leads today with “Truss faces Tory unrest over ‘toxic’ budget cuts”. The Iranian sport climber Elnaz Rekabi is shown on the front page – her fate inside Iran being unknown after she competed in Seoul without a hijab. The Telegraph says “Truss may abandon pensions triple lock” and that sets the tone for other headlines that follow here. “Hunt set to postpone cap on social care costs”, says the Times, with the subhead “Tory revolt over threat to pensions triple lock”. “Millions facing pain on pensions” says the Daily Mail while the Express draws a line in the sand: “Don’t dare go back on pension triple lock”. “UK pensions U-turn leaves Truss facing fresh peril” – that’s the i while pensions are not the emphasis in the Financial Times: “Bank profits in line of fire as Hunt seeks to close £40bn funding gap”. “Truss hit by minus strike” – the Metro says the PM’s approval rating is at -70%. “Oh for Fawkes sake” – the Sun warns of “bonfire weekend rail strike hell”. The Mirror reports on NHS failings: “War hero’s 26-hour wait on A&E trolley”.
Today in Focus
Liz Truss’s attack on nature
Amid the chaos engulfing Liz Truss’s government, one part of her growth agenda still in place is the junking of environmental protections. Sandra Laville reports on why green groups are so furious
Cartoon of the day | Steve Bell
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
The death of the great Carmen Callil is a moment to celebrate her huge achievements – the publisher and writer leaves behind a legacy of which anyone would be proud. At Virago, Callil (pictured above) published a host of fantastic female writers. Originally founded as Spare Rib Books in 1972, the name changed a year later and, as this beautiful tribute by Carmen’s friend and colleague Lennie Goodings makes clear, she was a true inspiration: “I asked her why she founded the feminist publisher. She answered, ‘To change the world, darling, that’s why.’ And by god, that’s exactly what she did.”
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Bored at work?
And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.