Climate Activists Must do More

Image by Markus Spiske.

An environmental activist was arrested Saturday after she stuck a protest sign or sticker to a Monet painting at the famed Orsay Museum in Paris.

The activist, representing the group Riposte Alimentaire, targeted Claude Monet’s Coquelicots or “Poppy Field” painting, affixing a sticker to the artwork and which depicted an apocalyptic, futuristic vision of the same scene.

The group said the sticker was supposed to show what the field would look like in 2100, after having been “ravaged by flames and drought” if more action isn’t taken against climate change.

The defacing of famous artworks, while not my favorite default idea since I believe in the importance and preservation of artworks, is nonetheless a brilliant idea since it succeeds in garnering global attention to a worthy cause.

In May, two elderly activists from Just Stop Oil brought a hammer and chisel and tried to smash the glass case protecting the Magna Carta at the British Library.

Last year, Just Stop Oil activists took action in numerous instances, disrupting traffic and sporting events in addition to many other acts of protest.

What’s clear is that times are changing and activists now understand we must take matters into our own hands.

As Shannon Gibson, an associate professor of environmental studies at USC pointed out, “The lines between reformists and radicals, and between global and grassroots mobilizers, are blurring, and a new sense of engagement is taking root.”

Gibson said activist groups “have long relied on a strategy known as the boomerang effect — using international networks and global institutions such as the United Nations’ climate talks to influence national governments’ actions.”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urging rapid global decarbonization as a necessary action to avoid irreversible ecological and societal loss was a wonderful idea when it was launched, but it has failed to bring the quick and sufficient change we all hoped for.

While the U.N. approach was initially considered well suited to climate change, “results show the talks have been too slow and insufficient.”

The slow pace of action, the growing influence of the fossil fuel industry and the inability of activists to see real change on the ground has led many people to conclude that the U.N climate process is not efficient or useful. The bureaucrats wearing suits and walking the halls of the U.N. or the annual Davos gathering are inept and incapable of carrying our cause forward.

And this is exactly the point. Activists must do more because the conventional method of trying to garner attention through official channels has failed. The process is too tedious, and the results are minimal to non-existent.

This is where activists come in.

However, while we have seen many successes on the ground around the globe, unfortunately, activism against climate change in America does not seem to have the same effect as it has in Europe.

A Pew poll conducted last year claimed that approximately half of Americans (49%) say climate activism does not really affect people’s levels of support, and 21% believe it has the opposite of its intended effect and makes people less likely to support action on climate change.

This sounds discouraging, but a recent study conducted in 60 countries actually shows that activism in America is strong.

We need to do more. We need to engage more people in activism by going to college campuses and public areas where we would have the most visibility and greatest effect in recruiting activists. We must demand action from our employers.

By taking immediate action, whether blocking even more roads like the brave Just Stop Oil protesters or defacing even more famous artworks like Riposte Alimentaire does, climate activists can continue to generate a massive wave of awareness and wider attention to this important, Earth-saving cause.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.