Controversial Climate Activists Express Demand for Change

Madison Stewart, Reporter

A protest is a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something. This is what many call the actions taken to spark an increase in attention towards fossil fuel use that happened in London on Oct. 14.

Two people, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, are part of a climate activist group now widely known as “Just Stop Oil.” According to The Mirror, these two women, ages 20 and 21, threw soup on the famous Van Gogh Sunflowers painting to protest against and call on the United Kingdom’s government to stop further progression of fossil fuel use. After throwing the tomato soup on the painting, which was covered in a protective glass, bystanders say that they were reportedly “stunned” to see the protestors gluing themselves to the wall alongside the now soup-covered painting. 

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) painting pictured inside the Van Gogh section of the National Gallery Museum in London. (Madison Stewart)

“What is worth more, art or life?” one of the women implored while she was glued to the museum wall below Van Gogh’s iconic painting. “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet?”

The National Gallery has since released a statement about the state of the Van Gogh painting, saying that the painting itself faced no damages, except for “some minor damage to the frame.”

This protest has sparked more controversy than those that have preceded it, and many are left wondering if that’s exactly what Plummer and Holland wanted as they sparked conversation about a topic they cared about.

“They [the people] do things like write letters to politicians about climate change,” said AP Environmental Science instructor Chris York. “They get fed up with the fact that they write letters and nothing happens.” 

York thinks that the reason protestors are doing extravagant things is due to this lack of voices being heard.

“This is when they burn buildings down and do crazy stuff. I don’t agree with that. I think destroying a work of art is not the way to go,” York said. “I think it’s frustrating, when you try to get your voice heard and it’s not being listened to, and I understand the position they’re in and how they feel about that.” 

York doesn’t think that the way in which the climate activists protested was beneficial to their cause. 

“I don’t think it’s the right way to go. It’s a bad message to send to destroy classic art when you’re trying to protest climate change,” said York.

Similarly, Genna Riggi, art teacher at Nonnewaug, shared a similar sentiment. 

“It was not parallel to do that to get their point across. To destroy a beautiful piece of art, I think there’s a way to make a point, and there are many ways to not make a point. I think that by any acts of destruction, violence, vandalism, it never really gets the point across,” Riggi said. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate, especially things that we really cherish that are very old and it’s not even about the money that it’s worth. I just think that there’s so much history there. To destroy history, it just doesn’t really make a point.”

In whatever way the protestors decided to make this statement, York can acknowledge that their message was certainly heard. 

“Look, people are hearing about it,” York said. “It gets an average person to look into and figure out why they’re doing this and they’re probably going to bring awareness to their cause, but I don’t think it’s worth it, to destroy a classic piece of art. I mean, It’s kind of sad.”

On the contrary, Riggi believes that the protest could have been done differently in delivering their vital message. 

“A lot of society now uses the shock factor, thinking they can get their point across,” Riggi said. “These protests stand out in the media as a part of history, but I think the lack of respect there really hindered them getting their point across. I think they could have done it differently and been more respectful towards the artwork.”