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Cameron Smith: Just Stop Oil is damaging public support for bold climate policies

Cameron Smith (Head of Communications at CEN)

Every time Just Stop Oil or Extinction Rebellion stage a disruptive protest, they damage support for ambitious environmental policies. You cannot unite people behind bold climate action by blocking roads and bridges, glueing yourself to stuff, or vandalism. For all the disruption they cause, they do nothing to help the environment.

Instead, these disruptive, left-wing protesters are playing into the hands of those loud sceptics who say, "we cannot afford net zero" or claim it will shut our economy down. Ambitious, market-led climate action has the potential to create jobs and lower bills, but why would you believe that when climate activists are stopping you from getting to work so you can pay your bills?

If we are going to achieve net zero and end our contribution to climate change, we need to unite people behind stronger policies to build a clean and resilient economy. That means talking about better-paid jobs, lower household bills, and more beautiful communities with clean air and vibrant green spaces.

But the message that many of these divisive protesters send is not about the opportunities or benefits of climate action but a hairshirt approach that will sacrifice our economy and restrict society. Too often, these groups hijack the environmental consensus to call for scrapping capitalism and replacing our democratic institutions.

Their disruptive tactics make even good ideas look extreme. Insulate Britain perfectly illustrated this when they took the simple idea of fixing the UK's energy inefficiency problem and made it controversial. They may have made headlines, but they did more to bring about new laws to limit disruptive protesters than insulate homes.

They also make environmentalism look like a cause for the middle classes who can afford to take the day off to disrupt working people's lives. When the green industrial revolution promises to revitalise our former industrial heartlands, the reality is that climate action could lead to a renaissance of UK manufacturing.

In the UK, there is a broad public consensus - shared across political parties - that we must act to protect our planet. It's already led to major legal commitments, from the 2008 Climate Act to the recent legally-binding net zero 2050 target, as well as rapid emission cuts in our electricity market due to the phaseout of coal power. The challenge is maintaining that consensus and building support for further action to deliver these bold targets.

Because without more action, we will not meet our climate targets. Despite the rapid progress we have seen in recent years, we are not yet on track. Divisive protesters won't inspire the change we need to see. They'll only jeopardise the broad public consensus that serves as the foundation for any permanent change.

If you want to see environmental progress in the UK, you need to reject the tactics of disruptive protest groups. Instead, join the ranks of conservative environmentalists in making a positive case for further market-led action to cut our emissions. You don’t need to be in Just Stop Oil to be an environmentalist. There is a much better way to build a greener, more resilient economy.


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