The Cavities of Climate Activism


We can hear your shouts. We can hear your pain and we share your rage. But please get off the road. I need to get to my 11am class. 

Despite climate change being one of the biggest threats to our future, the general public still doesn’t see the hurry to solve Earth’s crisis. Studies have shown that non-violent but potentially disruptive climate protests deter the public from supporting the movement. Why is that? 

The rules of ethics seem to be stretched when it comes to climate change. We know the world is dying, as if the invasive brutalist-style buildings popping up like unwanted weeds aren’t a sign. We should be concerned. But because we can’t see the consequences in front of our eyes, it’s easy to pretend it’s not there. Whole cities aren’t sinking at once and turtles aren’t dying every time we use a plastic straw—so why give a fuck? Use that plastic bag; leave that plastic bottle in the sand; nothing will happen, except for the occasional karma recoup. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. Climate activists are barking the same message with no consequence to come. You’ll never know if you’ve accidentally drowned a fish: ignorance is bliss. 

But this is not to say that it’s their fault. We might feel real change, the real effects of climate change on a hot day, but the heat will cool down. The anxiousness of heat calms down once it’s cool. Out of sight, out of mind. At the heart of every political debate is human nature, and perhaps it is in our human nature to be obsessed with the Now and not the Future. We are blindsided by our wants and not our needs. 

On 15 October 2022, Just Stop Oil activists, an environmental activist group based in the U.K., threw a can of tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in London’s National Gallery of Art. The group’s spokesperson, Emma Brown, told Vox’s Today, Explained podcast that they “wanted that dramatic, slightly bizarre protest.” 

“Because by targeting something that is precious and valuable, the people feel a sense of shock and discomfort when they see that being threatened,” Brown continues, concluding that people need to be feeling this shock when governments make active decisions to perpetuate climate change. Noel King, interviewer for Today, Explained, reported that activists from Just Stop Oil view it as unethical to protect art but not the earth. 

Brown makes a good point and using tomato soup as the form of protest was a smart move considering that many still can’t afford it in London. She wasn’t wrong, as the protest definitely caught headlines and evoked a sense of threat in many people. But the group’s fatal flaw lies in its logical fallacy: the comparison between art, highly contested for being elitist, and climate change. The group argues that we cannot live in a dying world, so why care about trivial things like art? There is no future without healing the environment. 

Art has its own place in the world. It has healed the world in its own ways. It teaches us history, the intricate connections between people and culture and allowed expression where, in some places, freedom is censored. To some, art is their whole way of life. Thousands of cultures and ethnic groups would crumble without the appreciation of pictures. There is no world without art, just like there is no world without mending climate damage. 

Perhaps it was the choice to protest against art that deterred people from supporting the environmental group. It was this logical fallacy that made the public doubt the group’s credibility. Most people will have heard about the news, scrolling and stopping to see soup on a painting of a sunflower on their phones. That is where their interest peaks. Upon seeing the words climate activists, they breathe a heavy sigh of annoyance, or make a dismissive comment to the person next to them. 

Many protestors believe their cause is the one and only thing that should matter. We must be unified to attain this goal and nothing else. They forget that, above all else, our world is shared.


Photography: Samuel Corum/Getty Images


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