What Just Stop Oil really wants

Forget the tactics of these activists. Their creepy, authoritarian, anti-human ideology is easily the worst thing about them.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Politics UK

Everyone’s fed up with Just Stop Oil. The eco-extremist troupe’s recent stunts – bringing traffic to a standstill with their ‘slow marches’ through London; disrupting play at the snooker, the cricket and now the tennis – have turned off even its natural allies. Last week, Californian millionaire Trevor Neilson, who once helped bankroll the group, said its activities had become ‘performative’ and ‘counterproductive’. Even Swampy (aka Daniel Hooper), the notorious, tunnel-digging eco-warrior of the 1990s, has distanced himself from Just Stop Oil. When asked by The Sunday Times whether he would storm the pitch at Lord’s, as JSO did last week, he said ‘I wouldn’t have thought so, no’, adding that greens today should focus on ‘bringing communities together’. When Swampy is telling you to tone it down, you know you’ve lost the room.

The penny finally seems to be dropping among the chattering classes that Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion and all its other spawn aren’t the wonderful campaigners they once thought. Working-class people, of course, had their number from the beginning, given their antics disproportionately affected those with real jobs. But since JSO decided to switch from disrupting the lives and leisure activities of the working class to those of the upper-middle class, from blockading builders to storming Harrods, from ruining the snooker to interrupting the Glyndebourne opera festival, it seems its support among the bourgeois set is starting to waver, too. Its latest exploits certainly haven’t received the gushing, uncritical coverage that Extinction Rebellion first enjoyed when it burst on to the scene, blocking roads and bridges, in 2018.

But there’s a problem. The media seem to talk endlessly about Just Stop Oil’s tactics, about whether or not they are turning people off, even though they quite obviously are and have been from the beginning, all with barely a mention of what this group actually stands for – of what sort of society it is agitating to bring about, and what principles guide its irksome activism. The great and good seem to take it as read that Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion et al have their hearts in the right place. Tennis star Andy Murray summed up this sentiment ahead of Wimbledon this week: ‘I agree with the cause – just not always how they go about expressing it.’

So let’s talk about that cause for a moment. Because for all the hippyish, faux-left trappings – for all the placards, singsongs and craft-table kitsch – this is the most reactionary movement to hit Britain’s streets for some time. This demand that we ditch oil and gas, in the midst of a crushing cost-of-living crisis, the pain of which is being borne disproportionately by the most hard-up, is a demand that we push people into poverty so as to appease Mother Earth. That we put the quasi-spiritual beliefs of well-to-do greens ahead of the living standards of working-class people. It is a policy that is both barmy and unbelievably cruel.

This is not really an environmental movement, it’s a doomsday cult. Just Stop Oil’s well-worn lines about today’s young people ‘having no future’, its prognostications of imminent mass death, are not borne out by any credible reading of the evidence. Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and the mastermind of Just Stop Oil, is fond of saying that six billion people – that is, the vast majority of humanity – are going to die from climate change in the coming decades. He’s never been able to back this up. But that hasn’t stopped him offering up the most grotesque, lurid visions of the sort of societal breakdown he thinks will follow this semi-apocalypse. In one of his YouTube videos, titled ‘Advice to young people as they face annihilation’, he lays out this scenario:

‘So what will happen is… a gang of young men, come into your house, they take your girlfriend, they take your mother, they put her on to the table, and they gang rape her, in front of you, and then after that they take a hot stick and they poke out your eyes and they blind you. That’s the reality of the annihilation project that you face.’

So, what sort of society do Roger and Co envisage, after they’ve done away with our only cheap and reliable energy sources and thus avoided this Mad Max hellscape? Well, it isn’t some high-tech ecotopia, in which we live lives even freer than we do now, only powered by windmills rather than those nasty fossil fuels. Not least because ‘renewables’ are expensive, unreliable and incapable of keeping the lights on at the moment.

On this front, Hallam is at least more honest than most of his fellow greens. The society he wants would be semi-feudal, with crushingly low horizons. Not only does he want to ban flying and cars, he also wants an end to all ‘non-essential consumption’. He has called for a society ‘similar to a Covid lockdown scenario, but with local people being able to meet, socialise and be politically active’. Is this the ‘cause’ Andy Murray agrees with, so long as Hallam doesn’t disrupt the tennis?

Then there’s the authoritarianism of these people, and the rage they reserve for those who dare question their gospel. Another of Roger’s videos that is worth checking out is colourfully titled, ‘Dominic Lawson will be hanged for climate crimes’. In it, he stages a kind of mock trial of Lawson, the Sunday Times columnist and climate sceptic, which he imagines will take place at some point in the near future. At the start, Hallam makes this disclaimer, lest he land himself in trouble:

‘Just as a little spoiler, I’m going to suggest that [Lawson is] going to get hanged, maybe in 20 years. I’m going for that as a sociological prediction, okay? So if the Times is listening – don’t panic, Times! It’s a prediction, not what I want. What I want is… I’m going for lifetime imprisonment, because I’m a Christian, or former Christian, and killing people isn’t really my thing, just for the record.’

How reassuring. All this talk of hanging – sorry, imprisoning – opponents explodes any notion that this is a democratic movement. One of Extinction Rebellion’s central demands is that we initiate ‘emergency citizens’ assemblies’ to work out how best to usher in eco-austerity. But there would be nothing democratic about this. These greens have already decided what we supposedly must do. Ordinary people would be left only to hammer out the details, guided by handpicked ‘experts’.

Poll after poll tells the same story: that while the public are concerned about climate change, they refuse to be made poorer in any transition away from fossil fuels. A survey in 2021, just before the COP26 Glasgow climate conference, found that only seven per cent of Brits think that ordinary people like them should be expected to foot the bill. Green activists know this, they just don’t care. ‘We are not here to be popular, we’re here to make change’, said JSO spokesman Grahame Buss to Sky News last week. Whether or not the populace is onboard is irrelevant to these people.

The sons and daughters of privilege who swell the ranks of Just Stop Oil are so detached from the real economy, from the work of actually doing and making things, that they see industrial society as a silent killer, even though it is because of economic development that we are now so much better protected from the whims and ravages of nature (deaths from climate-related disasters have plunged by over 95 per cent over the past century). And they are so detached from working-class people, and so ignorant about their lives, struggles and desires, that they see them only as ignorant polluters and consumers, rather than human beings with aspirations well beyond their supposed station.

So forget the tactics of Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion and the rest. Their creepy, authoritarian, anti-human ideology is easily the worst thing about them. This reactionary little cult has no claim to the moral high ground – and it never did.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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