‘Just Stop Oil’ Climate Activists Throw Soup on Painting in London



Climate change activists take a stand.

Julia Aguirre, Staff Writer

In mid-October, two climate change activists threw cans of soup on Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting in London’s National Gallery of Art. This was in response to the UK government’s decision earlier this month to open a new round of licensing for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea off the east coast of England. One of the activists, Phoebe Plummer, was interviewed and explained their motives and the outcome they are hoping for. These two activists belonged to a group called Just Stop Oil, whose members have caused many similar incidents, mainly in the UK. 

Phoebe Plummer, a 21-year-old university student and one of the activists involved in the incident in London’s National Gallery, spoke with Morning Edition about their motives and goals. When asked why they chose that particular painting, Plummer explains, “…it’s a beautiful work of art and I think a lot of people, when they saw us, had feelings of shock or horror or outrage because they saw something beautiful and valuable and they thought it was being damaged or destroyed. But, you know, where is that emotional response when it’s our planet and our people that are being destroyed.” When asked about the group Just Stop Oil, Plummer states, “Since October, we have been engaging in disruptive acts all around London because right now what is missing to make this change is political will. So our action in particular was a media-grabbing action to get people talking, not just about what we did, but why we did it.” Plummer says that civil resistance has proven to be the only thing that draws attention to a problem in society, so Just Stop Oil uses these tactics.

Climate change activists in the group Just Stop Oil have many incidents like the one at the London National Gallery. According to the French magazine The Connexion, at the Musée d’Orsay, a woman wearing a Just Stop Oil shirt attempted to throw soup on a painting and glue her face onto another. On the same day, other climate activists tried to glue themselves to Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ in the Netherlands. Also, according to NPR, members of Just Stop Oil have drawn attention for gluing themselves to other paintings at galleries and blocking roads and racetracks. All of the paintings targeted by the activists have been behind glass and undamaged, and some members of the group explain that their campaign against artwork highlights the difference between protection for artwork but not the billions of lives at risk due to climate change.

Although the activists have said that their intentions were to encourage more protection for the planet and people at risk from climate change, many people disagree with their actions. The Smithsonian explains that Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, says he worries that vandalism alienates people we need in the battle against global warming. He explains that they are natural allies in the climate battle, but their actions create a negative association with climate advocacy. Many of the activists have been arrested, but the group continues on with their efforts.