The problem with Just Stop Oil (and how to start fixing it)

A Just Stop Oil protest
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In my day-to-day life, I don’t encounter many people who are politically active. As such, whenever I’m in a conversation about Just Stop Oil, it’s with someone who’s unimpressed at best, and downright incensed at worst. This has put me in an interesting position. Although I agree with the position that we need to just stop oil, I’ve also found these protests to be more annoying than anything. So why is that?

After a year or so thinking about it, I’ve  got my thoughts in order. My verdict is that Just Stop Oil is fighting to make people aware of the issue, but a lack of awareness isn’t the problem.


Specifically, I’m talking about the Just Stop Oil protests which involve halting (or slowing) traffic. My understanding is these protests are enacted to raise awareness of the issue, and the Just Stop Oil site seems to confirm this. On the donate page, you see:

Interestingly, the same page features this quote from James Özden (director of Social Change Lab):


Just Stop Oil is undoubtedly getting a lot of coverage, but how “strategic” are their actions? This drive to get coverage seems to hinge on the idea that people are largely uninformed about the situation we find ourselves in, and that if the masses only understood, they would rise up and take action. I’d argue, though, that people are actually very informed about climate change, and the issue is they simply feel powerless to enact change.

Read on...

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I’d also argue that Just Stop Oil’s protests are – if anything – reinforcing this sense of powerlessness.

The informed masses

Firstly, let’s look at the statistics.

In July 2022, Ipsos Political Monitoring polling showed that:

strong levels of concern about climate change amongst the British public. Overall, 84% are concerned about climate change, with more than half (52%) ‘very concerned’. Levels of concern overall have increased 8 points since April [2022] but are consistent with findings in July 2019 and August 2021 (both 85% concerned).

Concern about climate change

Similarly, when we ask when Britain will start feeling the effects of climate change, 72% say we are already feeling the effects. This is up 5 points from April but matches the 73% that said the same in both July 2019 and August 2021.

The people who are “very concerned” – 52% – is a percentage great enough that any political party able to command it would have a super majority in parliament. So if people are rightly worried about climate change, why isn’t that translating into political action? I’d argue it’s because people feel powerless to affect change, and polling supports that too. According to the Electoral Reform Society in 2021, a:

poll for the Politics for the Many campaign and the Electoral Reform Society [found] that just 5% of people feel they have a lot of opportunities to influence decision in Westminster

Studies have also shown that people feel specifically powerless on the issue of climate change.

The question then is are Just Stop Oil protests making people feel like they have the power to influence political change, or are they doing the opposite?

Just stop…

Put yourself in the mind of a commuter. You know that climate change is destroying the planet, but you try not to think about it because you have more immediate problems – problems you have some degree of control over (even if these problems do keep getting worse by and large). Now imagine you’re on your way to your shitty job when you get stuck behind a slow march protest. Two things happen at this point:

  1. You find yourselves unable to tackle the daily challenges of your own life.
  2. You’re forced to confront a problem you have no idea how to fix – a problem these people want you to personally solve somehow.

When people see a Just Stop Oil protest, they put themselves in the mind of commuters because they can imagine what it must feel like to be in that position. They don’t put themselves in the minds of the protesters because they can’t imagine what it would be like to stand up to the powers that be, and neither can Just Stop Oil – that’s why they’re standing up to commuters instead.

If you want to inspire people to feel empowered, you need to show them you have power – to show them we all have power. Instead, Just Stop Oil are forcing people to confront their own powerlessness, and they’re doing so in a manner which is proving counterproductively visceral for those watching.

So what does a more effective protest look like?

…and just start

To my mind, the recent Greenpeace protest covering Rishi Sunak’s house in black fabric was a significantly more effective protest because it:

  1. Showed the power we have to act.
  2. Targeted the people with the ability to enact change.
  3. Made said people panic.

(As an added bonus, it also showed that we know where these politicians live):

Another recent UK protest was the action against arms manufacturer Elbit Systems. Elbit Systems has (and in many instances now had) various sites across the UK. Unlike climate change, most people are blissfully unaware of Elbit’s presence, but the protesters didn’t attack the problem by trying to raise awareness; they attacked the problem by attacking the problem:

As reported in the Canary, Palestine Action targeted sites directly – including sites of affiliated companies such as Elbit’s accountants. If they’d instead shut down traffic in the town’s surrounding Elbit sites, the government would have used their actions as a means to turn the public against the movement, and they’d undoubtedly have been very successful. The government will always do this, of course, but to get away with it they need to have a convincing argument. You counteract this by not giving them that argument.

Just stop oily politicians

Increasing voter awareness is good, but it’s not enough. Of course voters need to feel empowered, but that needs to coincide with politicians feeling de-powered  – and not just de-powered – they need to feel scared – to feel terrified, even. These scumbags should be waking up every day in fear of what will happen if they fuck things up, because nothing will get done unless they – and the oil companies they’re protecting – feel that way.

I’m not going to say how we achieve that, but it won’t be through traffic jams the rich (including politicians) can simply avoid in their private jets.

Featured image via Alisdare Hickson – Wikimedia (cropped to 770 x 403)

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  • Show Comments
    1. I think this is a classic example of the concerned fighting amongst themselves (Judean people’s front) instead of focussing on attacking the enemy.
      Anything that makes all of us question the status qui is a good thing and whenever I get frustrated by the strikes etc I remind myself what it’s about.
      Just stop oil will have a limited time before they are a) totally infiltrated by spooks, b) outlawed, c) framed for something, d) all of the above and more.
      We should applaud their efforts (even if we think the approach is misguided) and support anyone involved in peaceful civil disobedience that highlights the burning of our planet for the sake of greed. rjx

    2. If protest movements focus on attacking the enemy – That’s great.
      I’m a type-2 diabetic.
      When I found myself stranded on the M25 for over 2 hours on one of the hottest days of the year, I was pretty pissed off with JSO.
      If I’d had a young child in the car, it would have been even more “fun”.
      It’s hard to believe that JSO haven’t been infiltrated by agents of the state who have sussed out how to discredit the group.

    3. JSO works because it’s very easy to maintain. The barrier to entry for the protesters is very low and it’s impossible to police every road to stop it happening.

      The Greenpeace stunt was good in that it gained press. Could it be rolled out wider to target more eg Oil/Bank CEO’s. It would require a lot of funds and a more skilled team to carry it out. Also as soon as it started action potential targets could very easily increase security to prevent access. Money is no object to those people.

      The Elbit situation isn’t comparable at all. It only works because Elbit won’t stand up in court and reveal what they actually do, so nobody gets prosecuted. Try that level of criminal damage at Shells HQ on the Thames and JSO would be behind bars immediately.

      For future articles like this it would be nice if you contacted people with real world experience of how to disrupt effectively, as this article is offering very little. You could make a whole series out of it as there is so little knowledge around this topic in this country.

    4. The teal problem here is surely that ‘Just Stop Oil’ is impossible. Out entire economy, our so-called ‘civilisation’ is entirely dependent on it. The world’s economy is based on ripping the planet apart and turning it into ‘money’. And this requires heavy machinery that rubs on oil. Trying to shame a few muddle class people into leaving their cars at hone won’t make any difference at all.

      Indeed, it just makes them defensive and hostile.

      We have to accept that if we really want to stop oil, we have to shut down the entire world economy. There isn’t any real alternative. And most people, including politicians, in their hearts, know that and find it a terrifying prospect. The sense of powerlessness actually includes even the wealthy and powerful because they realise that they are destroying themselves along with the rest of us. They are now desperate to take complete control of everything and everyone in a bid to save themselves and their wealth at any cost. But it is futile. We are all of us facing our extinction as a species, but people are desperate to avoid facing up to it. So we try to blame each other, and demand that they change so we don’t have to.

      There are even those who believe that the world is overpopulated and there are too many poor people competing for resources.

      But the truth is that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. We have to stop and reflect on what we need to do. And that surely is to work with the nature we are part of instead of trying to exploit and destroy it. That principle has to guide everything – technology that has been developed with the wrong intention, or hiding or ignoring the real cost, can only make the situation worse. It’s like pouring petrol on a fire to put it out.

      In short, we need to de-urbanise, de-industrialise, de-centralise.
      It starts with just saying no. Refuse comes first. Then re-use. Then recycle. Zero ‘waste’ because in a real, sustainable ecosystem nothing is wasted. With 3D printing we can produce locally, on demand, and cut out the filthy container ships and subsidised air freight that cause far more destruction than a few commuters. For many people, working locally or from home is possible online and there’s no longer any real need to commute. Technology also makes it much easier to set up a small artisan business or other activity rather than being a wage slave.

      It’s been said many tomes but really we have to stop demanding that other people do something, and Be the Change. That requires courage. It means standing up to corporate bullying and fascism. Ot can be done, and it does produce results because when challenged and called out, the powerful have nothing but their lies to support them

      I will no longer vote for any ‘least worst’ politician, at any level. If no candidate in an election will commit to putting people and planet before private profit, I’ll spoil my ballot. And if the number of spoiled ballots exceeds the difference between the winning candidates, I will declare the result invalid.

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