Flat SUV Tyres and Soupy Van Goghs: 2022 Was a Vintage Year for Climate Protest

Mung beans at the ready, folks.

by Clare Hymer

28 December 2022

a man in a blue shirt is held by three police officers wearing high vis vests
Police officers detain a Just Stop Oil for blocking a road in London, Britain, October 2022. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

The UK climate movement is alive and well. Despite the government’s assault on protest via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which came into effect in April, 2022 saw unbowed environmentalists kick up more of a stink than they have in years.

But while the last big wave of activity in 2019 was a parade of mass mobilisations and A-to-B marches, this year activists favoured a different repertoire of tactics. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the key trends from across the movement in 2022.

1. Roadblocks.

Coming in at number one we’ve got roadblocks, enraging motorists and media pundits alike. Extinction Rebellion offshoot Insulate Britain took up the tactic in autumn 2021, with Just Stop Oil (another XR spin-off) picking up the baton in 2022. Throughout the year the group staged rolling shutdowns of major London roads and the M25, and even scaled the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. These actions led to thousands of arrests and over 150 imprisonments – and there’s no sign of a slow-down in 2023. 

A member of the public drags an activist from the road during a Just Stop Oil protest, London, October 2022. Henry Nicholls/Reuters

2. Media stunts.

Ah, soupgate. In October, in what was to become the most high-profile activist stunt of the year, Just Stop Oil activists chuck a tin of tomato soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery. While the action drew criticism from some quarters, the fallout from the stunt was enormous. In fact, for a few days, it was all anyone was talking about.

This was far from the only media stunt performed by climate activists in 2022. In October, Just Stop Oil sprayed orange paint over everything from luxury car showrooms to the Home Office, while in September Animal Rebellion – another XR outgrowth – poured milk over supermarket floors.  

@novaramedia Replying to @GearRat Last week two climate change protesters threw soup at Van Gogh’s painting Sunflowers. Why? #juststopoil #climateactivism #climatejustice #climatechange #ukpolitics ♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim

3. Tyre extinguishing.

Not quite blowing up pipelines, but a nice development nonetheless. In late March, following the success of the tactic at COP26 in Glasgow, activists in nine countries took a leaf out of Andreas Malm’s book and deflated nearly 900 SUV tyres in a single night using mung beans. To date, the Tyre Extinguishers claim to have taken out over 10,000 vehicles worldwide. That’s a lot of legumes.

4. Targeting MPs.

Sometimes you’ve got to target those in power. That’s the strategy of Green New Deal Rising, who this year doorstepped politicians over everything from their climate failures to the government’s Rwanda plan. Meanwhile, the RSPB and other conservation groups put down their binoculars and staged a protest in the constituency of former environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena over the government’s “attack on nature”. Ornithologist black bloc, rise up.

5. Occupations. 

This autumn also saw the revival of the occupation, as students around the world camped out at schools and universities in protest at climate breakdown. Borne out of frustration with the declining momentum of the school strikes, students took lessons from the occupations in France in May 1968, the Penguin Revolution and the Primavera Secundarista to pressure their institutions to meet their demands.

While Spanish students won big victories – from 2024, the University of Barcelona will run a mandatory climate course for all students – in Britain, success was more limited. Things don’t end here, though: activists say we could see a second wave of occupations in the spring.

Students occupy a courtyard at the University of Barcelona, November 2022. Photo: Iva Mareva

Beyond more occupations, what can we expect from 2023? Well, with a new public order bill looking to criminalise “locking on” (a tactic whereby protesters attach themselves to objects or one another in ways that make it difficult for them to be removed), the government seems hellbent on pursuing its protest crackdown. But with the recent approval of a new coal mine in Cumbria, there’s only more reason to do so. Whether or not this will be enough to prompt a new mass climate movement in the UK remains to be seen. 

Clare Hymer is a commissioning editor at Novara Media.

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