Stop using oil or the Vermeer gets it. That’s the message from our friends at Just Stop Oil, who have somehow transmuted irritation at the use of fossil fuels to anger at the works of the Dutch masters. Yesterday the group said they were set to “escalate” their activity from attaching themselves to artworks to taking a knife to them in order to encourage the media to discuss Just Stop Oil’s goals and aims, so here we are – and they didn’t even need to ruin a Rembrandt to get us to do so. Perhaps that was the point.
Apart from the blindingly obvious – that destroying works of art is completely unrelated to the use of oil – it is worth interrogating the demands of these extremists. For one thing, it remains clear that these groups have precious little answer to what would replace fossil fuels in the short-term, other than immediate destitution for most of the globe.
Campaigners too have recently extended their remit too, to frustration at the use of raw materials – and the carbon intensive mining that goes with it. This rather ignores the fact that the very minerals and metals required for the energy transition are underground – and need digging up. Sky News’ Ed Conway has written extensively on, for instance, the sheer scale of copper required to build a single wind turbine. For the art vandals, who presumably wouldn’t dare read such things on their lithium-assisted iPhone, the answer is: an awful lot.
Energy and mining companies get an awfully bad rap in the court of public opinion. And it is nonsense. Just yesterday Rio Tinto announced another few hundred million to invest in new greener kit. Shell and BP are investing huge sums in sustainability. Where do Just Stop Oil and their fellow travellers like Extinction Rebellion think the money is going to come from in future to fund the transition? Selling sliced-up David Hockneys?