A recent wave 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 on grocery store floors. Despite the support these activists have received, including from prominent media sources and financial support from families of oil tycoons, the effectiveness of these protests is questionable at best. These activists believe that all media attention is good media attention – that these high-profile incidents will spur a complacent public to action.
Their theory of change, however, is totally wrong. The “complacent” public is not at all complacent. Instead, they want practical reforms that can improve the environment and human lives, which many mainstream environmentalists have sadly forgotten. Just Stop Oil activists, alongside other environmental and animal rights groups, should engage in more effective forms of environmental advocacy that focus on building consensus and solutions practice.
As the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP27), the annual international climate conference, approaches, it is more important than ever that environmental activists focus on practical solutions and highlight how the global community can move forward. forward rather than dismissing these international collaborative efforts as “greenwashing” because they do not meet the criteria of ideological purity.
Yale’s climate opinion maps show that 72% of Americans think climate change is real and more than half believe in man-made climate change. In terms of solutions, they find broad support for the financing and expansion of renewable energy. Support for environmental causes is even stronger among young Americans who view climate change not as a “future” but as a “current” issue. The idea that the public needs to be reminded through abrasive stunts that climate change is a problem worth solving is simply wrong and only breeds division and distrust.
Instead, these activists should focus their energy on building a positive vision and platform for the future, including environmental protection and development that can improve human life. Even young Americans, most concerned about climate change, believe that a balance can be struck between environmental protection and economic growth. The details of the COP27 agenda also show how far these activists are from the most critical environmental conversations, including the substantive issues of clean energy financing and climate adaptation. These activists could have much more success 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 progress that has already been made. Solar energy costs have fallen by 64% since 2010, making solar energy more accessible to the masses and marking a shift towards renewable energy. Countries like Costa Rica have successfully reversed deforestation, presenting a vision of how environmental improvements can be made in the future. Economic growth also becomes decoupled from carbon emissions, making possible a viable and economically dynamic future.
These improvements weren’t brought about by flashy stunts. They were accomplished through the hard work of individuals from all sectors, including private companies and individual advocates. These flashy new activists are only hurting the movement and hurting the real work that is being actively done to fight 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 chief of the Raleigh-Durham branch of the American Conservation Coalition.