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Climate Activists: Throwing Soup?
Dec. 13, 2022
Grace Pieters, Grade 8

Many activists from the United Kingdom have protested climate change by throwing cans of soup at famous paintings in England.

On October 14, 2022, a group of young people protested against the extraction of fossil fuels by throwing cans of tomato soup onto famous paintings. The group, called Just Stop Oil, is an environmental organization attempting to prevent the British government from licensing and producing new fossil fuels. Just Stop Oil was originally formed by Welsh activist Roger Hallam on February 14, 2022.

The day of the soup incident took place in London’s National Gallery at 11 a.m. Two activists threw cans of tomato soup onto Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, reported to be worth €‎86 million, and then went ahead to glue their hands to the wall below the paintings. Spectators promptly began videotaping as the protestors, 21-year-old Phoebe Plummer and 20-year-old Anna Holland, began their speech. 

“Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people? The cost-of-living crisis is part of the cost of oil crisis, fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”

Evidently, the point they were trying to get across was that the government needs to stop spending money on protecting a piece of art and to start stopping fossil fuel production. Although this incident was sensationalized and picked up by the global media, the Just Stop Oil group has had more than just one protest; others include the time when protestors glued themselves to highway road signs, causing a roadblock and traffic.

Nonetheless, the group’s protests sparked much debate. Many people agreed that the extraction of fossil fuels should stop and that we need to take direct action, while others disagreed and said it was wrong to destroy a painting and that it did not solve the problem. However, the painting went undamaged because it had a glass case around it. 

Regardless of the verdict on Just Stop Oil’s October protest, it began a ripple effect that cascaded around the world, including in Canada: many other groups against the extraction of fossil fuels have followed suit and started protesting. On November 12, 2022, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, two women threw maple syrup on Emily Carr’s “Stumps and Sky” and made a speech. Another case occurred in Vienna at Leopold’s Museum on Klimt’s “Death and Life”. On this painting, two people threw black liquid. One man was escorted away, and the other continued his speech as security ushered civilians away from the scene.

Ultimately,  Just Stop Oil’s soup-throwing protest has 58% of UK adults agreeing and supporting their ideas, while 57% are against the group itself. In an interview with Indigo Rumbelow, a Just Stop Oil member, she said that they want to gather people so that together they can stand up to the government’s lack of climate action. Just Stop Oil plans to continue protests until the government stops the production of fossil fuels.