A priceless Vincent Van Gogh painting was splattered with tomato soup by a pair of environmental activists at London’s National Gallery as supporters of Just Stop Oil blocked the road in front of New Scotland Yard on the fourteenth day of action demanding that the British government halts all new oil and gas developments.
Just Stop Oil is a coalition of groups working together to urge government action to end the exploration, development, and production of fossil fuels in the UK.
The soup slightly damaged the frame of the artist’s famous “Sunflowers” painting, but the gallery said the painting itself was not affected.
The activists wearing Just Stop Oil shirts then glued their hands to the wall. Patrons are heard gasping in astonishment and one shouts, “Security.”
Members of the group plan to hold demonstrations at 11 a.m. each day throughout the month of October, in a fight for climate and social justice at Downing Street, a location in the City of Westminster which houses the residence of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and other top offices of the British Government.
The actions this month are timed to coincide with the planned launch of a new round of approvals in which over 100 new licenses for oil and gas projects are likely to be awarded in conjunction with an energy price hike that means almost 8 million households are expected to fall into fuel poverty by April 2023.
“Is art worth more than life? More than food? More than justice?” asked Phoebe Plummer, 21, of London. “The cost of living crisis is driven by fossil fuels—everyday life has become unaffordable for millions of cold hungry families—they can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup. Meanwhile, crops are failing and people are dying in supercharged monsoons, massive wildfires and endless droughts caused by climate breakdown. We can’t afford new oil and gas, it’s going to take everything. We will look back and mourn all we have lost unless we act immediately.”
“UK families will be forced to choose between heating or eating this winter, as fossil fuel companies reap record profits. But the cost of oil and gas isn’t limited to our bills,” said Anna Holland, 20, of Newcastle. “Somalia is now facing an apocalyptic famine, caused by drought and fuelled by the climate crisis. Millions are being forced to move and tens of thousands face starvation. This is the future we choose for ourselves if we push for new oil and gas.”
Outside the UK, the impacts of climate change are being felt by millions experiencing the deadly consequences of global warming.
“We have two to three years left to take decisive action to prevent complete catastrophic climate breakdown. This government is behaving with criminal irresponsibility in granting licenses for more fossil fuel extraction against all scientific advice,” said Sally Hayes, 66, a grandmother and shop owner from Hebden Bridge who participated in a roadblock on St. George’s Circus, a major intersection in London, on the thirteenth day of October.
While conservatives cite the radical actions as measures contributing to higher energy prices, Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the new book Earth For All, said that spiraling inflation is in large measure a result of decades of government failures to decarbonize their economies.
“So the problem is not that we don’t understand the diagnosis, that the planet is sick and that we are the cause,” said Rockstrom. “The problem is that we don’t act like the house is on fire, which it is.”