“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing production of fossil fuels.” These are the words, spoken by António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, following the release of the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report in April 2022.

In the report, which is in essence a final warning for governments on the climate, scientists have stated unequivocally: “It’s now or never.” The implication for the biggest culprit of global warming, fossil fuels, is clear: it’s over. 

The UK government seems to have heard the opposite, that it’s party time for fossil fuels. Just a few days after the IPCC came out, the government announced in its Energy Strategy that new licences for oil and gas production will be issued. In other words, more fossil fuels. At the same time, the UK is telling lower-income nations and developing countries to move away from fossil fuels while simultaneously aiming to squeeze out, in the words of MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, “every last drop” of ours. We are living a scene out of Don’t Look Up.

One group of environmental activists have taken matters into their own hands. In March, 21-year-old Louis McKechnie, ran onto the pitch during a football match between Everton and Newcastle and zip-tied his neck to a goalpost.

He wore a t-shirt with three simple words on it: Just Stop Oil. Just Stop Oil describe themselves as a coalition of groups working together to ensure the government commits to halting new fossil fuel licensing and production. And their ambition is big. “We are mobilising upwards of 1,000 people,” one JSO activist told us.

The group is in the midst of a month of planned action across April. In recent days, members of the group have clambered onto fuel tankers, glued their hands to roads, and infiltrated and locked themselves to pipework in oil refineries.

About 1,000 arrests have taken place so far and protesters have vowed to continue until “all are jailed.”

Global Citizen spoke with Claudia, 24, one of their clean energy campaigners taking climate action, to find out more. 

What is Just Stop Oil?

Just Stop Oil isn’t just a single group, it’s a coalition of environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Animal Rebellion, and Climate Swarm. All of these different movements have joined together with one demand.

What’s the demand?

The name says it all: just stop oil. We demand that the government immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development, and production of fossil fuels in the UK.

Of all the climate problems to choose from, why this one?

Because you can’t argue with fossil fuels being bad for the environment; everyone knows it. The UN Secretary General described them as “choking the planet.”

How long have you been taking action?

We’ve been around since at least the Insulate Britain protest in September 2021 but after some pretty huge recruitment pushes, we really kicked things off with serious action in April this year. 

What kind of protests and blockades have you done?

We’ve had two people zip-tie themselves to goalposts during football matches. We’ve blocked roads in major cities, protested on the red carpet at the BAFTAs, and locked ourselves to pipes in oil refineries. 

What’s it like locking yourself to a pipe in an oil refinery?

I’ve been involved in direct action twice. It’s scary is the reality. I don’t expect it to be easy. It’s important to acknowledge it is a big step. None of us woke up thinking we’re going to block off refineries and chain ourselves to tankers. We started the way most people do: signing petitions, writing letters to the government, and such things. But we all came to the same conclusion: taking this kind of action is actually not the scariest thing. 

When I heard about how the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill [a piece of legislation dubbed the “anti-protest” bill] was going to increase sentences and police powers aimed at restricting non-violent protest, I contemplated what that would mean for me knowing that I would potentially be arrested. 

But I realised that not taking action is scarier than going to prison. Once you know what is going on, not taking action makes you complicit. The alternative — that is, climate collapse — is more scary than anything the government could ever do to us. 

Why are you taking such drastic measures?

People are desperate. The reality is that the UK government is pushing for more domestic oil and gas which will take over a decade to be usable. It won’t help us with the [energy] crisis now. It will just keep us hooked on our oil addiction. 

The government is not responding and we are out of options but to take action. The change that we need is not going to come from world leaders. It will come from young people taking action. If we care about our children and people on the front lines of the climate crisis in the global south, we need to take action. 

What’s one thing you wish people knew about oil?

The sheer inequality and suffering that comes from it. These oil companies are making so much money. Exxon said earlier in April that its first-quarter results could top a seven-year record, with operating profits from pumping oil and gas of up to $9.3 billion. Meanwhile workers are in horrible conditions. 

What’s the number one thing that gives you hope right now?

Seeing people rise up and come together to take action all over the world. Just Stop Oil might be in the UK, but there are movements all over the world.

How can people join the group?

Anyone can join. I got involved through word-of-mouth but you can also attend one of our in-person meetings happening all over the country or register to join an online meeting if there isn’t one near you.

You can join the movement calling on world leaders to immediately transition away from fossil fuels by taking action to support our Climate Action NOW campaign. You can also directly call on the UK government to stop new fossil fuel projects now by taking action here

Global Citizen Asks

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We Asked a Climate Activist: What’s It Like Locking Yourself to an Oil Refinery Pipe?

Por Tess Lowery