A recent spate of flashy environmental “protests” has garnered international media coverage. These protests have included throwing mashed potatoes and soup at famous paintings and vegan activists dumping milk onto grocery store floors. Despite the support these activists have received, including from prominent media sources and financial support from oil tycoon families, the efficacy of these protests is questionable at best. These activists believe that any media attention is good media attention – that these high-profile incidents will spur action from a complacent public.
Their theory of change, however, is all wrong. The “complacent” public is not that complacent at all. Instead, they want practical reforms that can improve the environment and human lives, which many mainstream environmentalists have unfortunately forgotten. Just Stop Oil activists, alongside other environmental and animal rights groups, should be engaging in more effective forms of advocacy for the environment that focus on building consensus and practical solutions.
As the UN Conference of the Parties (COP27), the annual international climate conference, approaches, it is more important than ever that environmental activists be focused on practical solutions and highlighting how the global community can move forward rather than dismissing these international collaboration efforts as “greenwashing”because they do not meet ideological purity tests.
Yale’s climate opinion maps note that 72% of Americans believe climate change is real, and over half believe in human-caused climate change. In terms of solutions, they find broad support for funding and expanding renewable energy. Support for environmental causes is even stronger for younger Americans who view climate change not as a “future” problem but as a “current” problem. The idea that the public needs to be reminded through abrasive stunts that climate change is an issue worth solving is just wrong and only breeds division and distrust.
Instead, these activists should put their energy into building a positive vision and platform for the future, including environmental protections and development that can improve human lives. Even young Americans, those most concerned about climate change, believe a balance can be struck between environmental protection and economic growth. The details of the COP27 agenda also demonstrate how removed these activists are from the more critical environmental conversations, including the nitty-gritty issues of financing clean energy and climate adaptation. These activists could be far more successful by working with industry leaders, effective nonprofits, and local communities to make practical changes that reduce our carbon footprint without the current radicalism.
Additionally, environmental activists should learn from and highlight the incredible advancements that have already been made. Solar energy costs have decreased by 64% since 2010, making solar energy more accessible to the masses and marking a shift toward renewables. Countries like Costa Rica have successfully reversed deforestation, presenting a vision of how environmental improvements can be made going forward. Economic growth is also becoming decoupled from carbon emissions, making a livable and economically dynamic future possible.
These improvements were not made through flashy stunts. They were accomplished through the hard work of individuals from all sectors, including private companies and individual advocates. These flashy new activists only hurt the movement and detract from the actual work that is actively being done to combat climate change. Not all media is “good” media attention, especially when the media attention in question shifts the focus from practical solutions to museum food fights.
Elijah Gullett is the branch leader for American Conservation Coalition’s Raleigh-Durham branch.