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By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips

Not so cunning stunts

In her latest Blog, Jo Phillips reflects on Just Stop Oils latest protest, the politicisation of environmental concerns and the difficultly of striking a balance when it comes to implementing green initiatives.

Orange powder thrown across Stonehenge, that ancient monument that for centuries has inspired and mystified millions. To many people, the stones represent a connection with age old rites, nature, the cosmos and a greater spirituality. What could Stop Oil possibly gain from its infantile protest that could have damaged rare lichen or even the stones themselves? Yes, they’ve made the news and their actions are being debated but that debate has been seized on by the climate change deniers, the anti-woke brigade and the usual suspects which does absolutely nothing to encourage sensible conversations about climate change, fossil fuels and the fragile future of the planet.

The protesters have manged to unite JK Rowling, Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer, English Heritage and most public opinion in condemning the stunt. Dale Vince, the green energy entrepreneur (and Labour party donor) used to fund Just Stop Oil but stopped doing that and uses his money and influence instead to encourage people to vote. Last year, Trevor Neilson the American entrepreneur who funded JSO and Extinction Rebellion pulled the money plug, saying their activism was ‘performative’, unproductive and more likely to alienate people it could be winning over.

Certain factions of the media and many politicians stoked the furore over ULEZ and low traffic neighbourhoods so it became framed as a war on motorists instead of a war on toxic air and a public health measure. Constant attacks from the right and claims about the cost or efficacy of green energy and moves towards net zero have made many, including the Labour party, cautious about burnishing their green credentials. And if those who seek to champion the cause are seen as predominantly middle class, white and oh so smug as they disrupt and attack flower shows, sporting events, works of art and ancient stones then that caution will lead to delay when we need urgent and brave measures. If there is the usual sea of discarded tents, plastic and other rubbish after this summer’s festivals, it will play into the narrative of hypocrisy among young people and protesters who are happy to disrupt travel and attack ancient monuments but can’t leave a field as they found it.

Meanwhile, something far more important has happened on the climate front because a landmark ruling by the supreme court means that planning approval bodies must consider the climate impact of burning coal, oil and gas and while it doesn’t prevent public bodies from approving projects with a big climate impact, it strengthens the case for refusal.

The case was brought by campaigner Sarah Finch, challenging Surrey County Council’s decision to extend planning permission for an oil drilling well. The decision will have an impact, particularly if a new government strengthens the law to support it and it’s the result of a long, time consuming and detailed legal battle. No stunts, just using the law and the force of well supported argument.

But, Just Stop Oil are only following the many stunts of Boris Johnson, the worst of which was his oven ready Brexit deal when he hadn’t even plucked the chicken. And the biggest stunt of all, Nigel Farage who may end up as MP for Clacton unless voters there realise they’re the fall guys.

You can do your own rhyming slang should you wish.

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