The Green Tau: issue 40  

5th April 2022 

‘Just Stop Oil’?

A limited amount of press coverage has been given to the Just Stop Oil movement which is currently blockading various oil refineries and terminals around the UK.  Just Stop Oil are using the tactics of civil disobedience rather than civil resistance to push the government to stop permitting any new oil production. Explaining what this shift would look like, one supporter told the Guardian last month that it would mean “stopping pointing out what the government should or shouldn’t be doing [and instead] actively stopping government doing what they shouldn’t be”. The campaign, which has involved protesters being glued to roads, suspended on bamboo tripods, and locked on to oil drums and each other, is taking place in defiance of a temporary high court injunction banning protests outside oil terminals. Just Stop Oil has vowed to continue “civil resistance” protests until the government agrees a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects and claims it has more than 1,000 supporters willing to be arrested for taking part. “We need the government to stop funding new oil projects and we need it now! Our only means of highlighting this issue is mass civil resistance,” they said in a post on Instagram. ,

Why is Just Stop Oil so committed to and adamant about, their demand? 

In August last year, the first part of the IPCC’s latest assessment (each assessment is the product of five to seven years by three different working groups) was published. This part of the assessment focused on the physical science aspects of climate change, and concluded that the world had on,h a narrow chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C (We are already at 1.1C). This limited window of opportunity needs everyone – governments, businesses, industries, farming etc – to stick to what their agreed 2030 targets.

The second part of the assessment focused on the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather, droughts, floods and temperature rises, and how humanity can adapt to these. This was published in February when it was sadly overshadowed by the invasion of Ukraine. It reported that  3.5 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate impacts and half the world’s population will suffer severe water shortages at some point each year. One in three people are exposed to deadly heat stress, and this is projected to increase to 50% to 75% by the end of the century. Half a million more people are at risk of serious flooding every year, and a billion living on coasts will be exposed by 2050. Rising temperatures and rainfall are increasing the spread of diseases in people, such as dengue fever, and in crops, livestock and wildlife. If global heating continues and little adaptation is put in place, 183 million more people are projected to go hungry by 2050.

Nikki Reisch, the director of the energy and climate programme at the Center for International Environmental Law, said governments should be clear: “There is no room for more oil and gas full stop. [Some businesses] want to perpetuate the myth that we can carry on using fossil fuels. But we need a just transition away from fossil fuels, not techno-fixes.”

The climate crisis is an imminent and highly dangerous. The task of averting this catastrophe relies on us all achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and at least halving them by 2030. Just Stop Oil is not demanding that the government stop all consumption of oil overnight. They are demanding that the government stops our increasing use of oil,  and takes action to cut back our use of oil so that we meet our 2030 and our 2050 net zero targets. 

The war in Ukraine has highlighted our unhappy dependency on fossil fuels, especially those we import from other parts of the world whose regimes are corrupt and un-humanitarian. The solution to this short term problem should be increasing renewable energy capacity – through investment in wind, tidal and solar energy – combined with a comprehensive programme to insulate homes and other properties. Yet there is a risk that the government will opt to escape this problem by allowing more oil exploration in the North Sea. To do so would make meeting our 2030 net zero targets an impossibility, consigning us to trauma of accelerating climate change. 

For Just Stop Oil what is needed is system change. A change from the current oil based system where the government (through taxation and policies) and businesses ( through investment and  practices) perpetuate the use of oil as the main source of energy and the mainstay of production. Consumers find themselves trapped in the system. Gas heating is cheaper than any other form of heating, flying is cheaper than travelling by train, driving is cheaper than public transport, imported food is cheaper than domestically grown, virgin plastic is cheaper than recycled etc etc. It is a system stacked against the environmentally concerned individual. 

Is it surprising then that for many environmentally concerned individuals the only option is civil disobedience? And where does that leave the more fainted hearted environmentalist?

Governments are seldom willing to make system changes unless they feel that is the direction in which the voters have already moved – in recent history one might include the over turning of the poll tax, reining back on nuclear weapons development, and gay weddings. Outside times of severe crisis such as war, system change also needs social change – and that means a change of heart at the individual, ie the average person on the street. Is the average person on the street ready to accept the changes in lifestyle that reducing our dependency on oil and achieving the halfway 2030 net zero targets demands? 

To be continued in issue 41

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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