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In an oil strike, environmentalists dump soup over Van Gogh's sunflowers

At London's National Gallery, environmentalists of the ‘Just Stop Oil’ campaign threw tomato soup all over Vincent van Gogh's well-known painting Sunflowers, causing only slight damage to the frame. However, this act caused a stir throughout all social media platforms raising debatable questions about the UK government's recent activities regarding the Oil and Gas industry.


On the morning of Friday October 14, 2022, the campaign’s page posted a video of the two individuals, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, throwing two tins of Heinz tomato soup on the Van Gogh painting of an estimated value of $84.2 million prior to gluing their hands on the wall and proclaiming, “What is worth more, art or life?” “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?” “Meanwhile crops are failing, millions of people are dying in monsoons, wildfires and severe drought. We cannot afford new oil and gas. It is going to take everything we know and love," before being escorted by security.


(Source: Just Stop Oil/PA Media)

Just Stop Oil states that the following strike was performed as an initiative to bring light to and demand the UK government halt all new oil and gas projects. The campaign also tweeted that the protest’s central message was “Choose life over art.” further explaining that "Human creativity and brilliance is on show in this gallery, yet our heritage is being destroyed by our government's failure to act on the climate and cost of living crisis."


This is not the first protest the campaign has initiated. They have targeted other famous paintings with similar glue attacks; to name a few, two protesters attached their hands to the canvas of Van Gogh's Peach Trees in Blossom at the Courtauld Gallery in London in June using glue, and supporters have also bonded their hands to the National Gallery's frame of John Constable's The Hay Wain in July.


Experts have projected that when extreme weather events like droughts, wildfires, and storms become more common and the need for action increases, acts of so-called "climate sabotage" will rise. “The government have made promises without taking any action. As climate activists, we need to take a step further to push because the government is not giving ears to all our campaigns,” Goodness Dickson, founder of the Eco Clean Active Initiative in Abuja, Nigeria, tells Al Jazeera.


After the incident, Holland and Plummer were detained and charged with criminal trespass and aggravated trespass by the London Metropolitan police. Before her arrest Phoebe Plummer stated, "I want to make one thing perfectly clear, we did no damage to the painting whatsoever, we’re not asking the question, should everyone be throwing soup at paintings? what we’re doing is getting the conversation going so we can ask the questions that matter,” which is exactly what the group did, bringing the public masses to question the doings of the UK government and stirring more, or even similar, strikes to call action against the heinous activities of recent oil and gas projects.


The vast number of fossil fuel licenses in the UK is one of the concerns to which Plummer said she intended to raise attention. Prime Minister Liz Truss acknowledged the disparity in subsidies between fossil fuels and renewable energy, despite offshore wind's substantially lower reported cost, as well as the link between the UK's present cost-of-living problem and rising energy prices.


“We’re using these actions to get media attention to get people talking about this now and we know civil resistance works, history has shown us this works,” Plummer went on, “I’m standing here as a queer woman and the reason that I’m able to vote, go to university, and hopefully someday marry the person I love is because of people who have taken part in civil resistance before me.”


The videos of Plummer discussing the Just Stop Oil protest action have since then received 1.7 million views on TikTok and 7.1 million views on Twitter.

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