Has Climate Activism Gone Too Far?


On October 14th of this year, tomato soup was thrown all over Van Gough’s famous Sunflowers. The two climate activists involved, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, proceeded to glue their hands to the wall of the National Gallery in London and ask the cameras, “What is worth more: art or life?”

Backed by the activist group Just Stop Oil, Plummer proceeded to speak up about the current state of the energy crisis and environmental politics. They begged the question of whether people were “ … More concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and our people?”

I was in conflict with myself after watching the video of the incident, torn between anger for the attempted destruction of a precious piece of art in the name of activism and believing wholeheartedly in the cause behind the act. What does precious artwork have to do with the environment, and why does it have to be ruined to spread the message? Does this not discredit the integrity of the environmental protection movement? 

My perspective then shifted on the situation and my stance became more clear. 

An interview with Plummer, the activist who gave the speech, began circulating the internet. In it, she explained the reasoning behind such a seemingly ridiculous act, even agreeing on just how ridiculous it was. 

She defended her actions by expressing that the only reason for throwing tomato soup at a historical painting was because it was known prior that it was completely protected by a glass barrier and that no damage would actually be done, otherwise they would not have even considered the act. The National Gallery had put the painting back on display only hours after the incident, completely unscathed. Plummer went on to say that the goal of the activism was to open up dialogue about the climate atrocities that governments are continuing to implement without any concern for the wellbeing of the planet. She talks about Liz Truss licensing over one hundred new fossil fuels, which are also  being subsidized around 30 times more than renewable energy. 

Plummer and Holland were met by vulgar comments below the video, so much so that I felt sickened and disheartened with society by just looking at them. They will not be quoted in this article, but I encourage readers to look at the comment section under the video here. Users commented derogatory messages regarding Plummer and Hollands’ appearances, age, and even went so far as to say that the girls deserved to be hurt for what they did. I was taken aback by what I saw; users were actively degrading the young women and calling young people “too stupid” to talk about such a serious issue, as if we are not the generation that will suffer most from the effects of climate change. Commenters were calling the girls privileged and thus hypocritical for their backgrounds, as if they were not using said privilege to advocate for the good of society. 

Ask yourself: what is the point of admiring a painting of sunflowers if there are none left to see in real life? So many people are missing the point of the act or are simply too blinded to see it. A world without real sunflowers is much scarier than a world without a painting of one. People in the comment section of the video seem to be much more passionate about the foolishness of young women than the detrementing state of the environment. Those people are the real threat to society. 

The world needs to wake up about climate change. While grassroots incentives are so vital, they are not enough. Governments and corporations must act now in order to combat the consequences of climate change, and the only way to grab their attention is to stand out. If the activists had marched in front of a government building, there would have been no media attention. By doing what they did, videos of the protest and interviews afterwards have gone viral millions of times over on social media, no matter how ridiculous it seemed. It got people angry, but it got people talking. 

In the end, everyone has the right to see the situation as they will. With that said, I leave you with the quote said by Vincent Van Gogh himself, and encourage you to ponder what he would have thought of tomato soup being thrown on his art:

“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures”

Vincent Van Gogh

Featured image by: The Guardian

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