Just Stop Oil’s vandalism in the light of the Sycamore Gap tree; an acceptable kind of vandalism?

In the past few weeks, England has been struck by acts of vandalism from two very different vantage points. On one side of the spectrum, multiple politically charged acts of vandalism by Climate group, Just Stop Oil, and on the other, what appears to be senseless criminal damage with the felling of the Sycamore Gap tree in late September. These acts exist completely separately, and yet they are both actions of vandalism which have caused feelings of outrage across the country. But how can these acts of vandalism and the public reception of them inform us about our own attitudes towards the environment?  

It isn’t an unusual occurrence to be hearing about Just Stop Oil in the news. Their commitment to peaceful protest against plans to license new oil and gas projects by the UK government has previously involved slow marches and interrupting stage shows such as Les Misérables in London. In the last week their actions have involved covering a spate of UK universities, including Leeds, Manchester, Falmouth and Oxford, in Orange Paint. However, vandalism in the news is no stranger to the English public this autumn. 

In late September, Northumberland’s Sycamore Gap tree was illegally felled, leading to the arrests of a 16 year old boy and a 60 year old man. The website of Northumberland National Park describes the Sycamore Gap tree as “The most photographed spot in the whole of Northumberland National Park,”, and its illegal culling in late September elicited strong feelings of anger across England. Famous for its feature in the 1991 Robin Hood film, the Sycamore Gap was a well-known feature of Hadrian’s wall.  

Both acts of vandalism come from vastly different places; one comes with the aim of halting the production of fossil fuels in the UK and one appears to be a random criminal act. However, both acts have generated equally strong emotions. In Oxford, the covering of Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera in orange paint, was met with mixed reactions.  

It’s interesting to me how Just Stop Oil have committed vandalism in the name of climate protection and yet their actions are met with indifference or anger, whereas an act that is almost symbolic of a nation’s cavalier attitude towards climate change is met with outrage. This is by no means me trying to suggest that people don’t care about climate change, because I believe they do. However, the similarities in people’s attitudes towards vandalism which harms the environment, and their attitudes towards vandalism which is trying to work for the environment, is somewhat astounding. Maybe the English public really hates vandalism, which, to be fair, is illegal. But the question has to be asked: is it vandalism that we as a nation hate, or are we reluctant to consider the possibility that protecting the environment extends beyond trying to stop famous trees being culled illegally?  

The Sycamore Gap was a beautiful tree and it meant a lot for a lot of people. And, obviously, the culling of it is nothing short of horrible. But it does give rise to the point that if people felt the same anger and passion towards ongoing climate issues, which groups such as Just Stop Oil make a stand against, then climate damage on a wider scale could be avoided in the future.  

Vandalism, in any capacity, is detrimental to society. However, there is a point when the human destruction of nature and our passive involvement in it has to come to a stop. The volume in which the nation is outraged by the felling of the Sycamore Gap tree, should be applied equally to wider issues of climate inequality. Vandalism in England clearly has the ability to garner strong reactions and press coverage. If it is going to be carried out, it seems prudent that its at least carried out in the name of protecting our climate. 


Image: Yaopey Yong on Unsplash












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