Just Stop Oil – A Sociological Analysis

Just stop oil are challenging people to rethink what their values are in global context, but are coming up against governmental and corporate power structures which are pro fossil fuel.

Just Stop Oil is a UK based coalition of groups with the aim of getting the government to stop all new licences for exploring and developing fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

Just Stop Oil draws on evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which suggests if the global community doesn’t take action to radically and rapidly reducing its fossil fuel use within the next few years then climate change could be irreversible, meaning today’s children will face a calamitous future of global warming, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

The group has an overtly political focus, and a very specific focus – to get the government to disallow companies to exploit new fossil fuel reserves, and their tactics are very radical involving non violent direct action.

Just Stop Oil’s Tactics

Just Sop Oil uses Non Violent Direction Action to disrupt social activity in England and other countries, in order to draw attention to the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

The group made headlines in the UK in early November by climbing motorway gantries and stopping traffic for hours on end around the M25 and other places – if people enter gantries the police are legally obliged to remove them for their own safety, which requires traffic to be stopped.

The video below gives you an insight into the rational behind these tactics from the words of one of the activists

Just Stop Oil also made headline news back in October 2022 when activists threw soup over Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

The reason for choosing to attack art is to make people question what they value – if people are getting angry over vandalising a work of art, why aren’t they getting angry over governments allowing corporations and lazy individuals to vandalise the ecosystem which art depends on too?

Applying sociology to Just Stop Oil

There are lots of concepts you can apply to the Just Stop Oil campaigns, especially value consensus (or lack of it), indivdualisation, the Marxist perspective on global power structures, and Durkheim’s ideas about deviance and social change.

Value Consensus (or lack of it)

Just stop oil explicitly call on people to rethink what they value, as you can see from the FAQ on their site about ‘why soup over art’ – the whole point of that is to get people to think about why they care more about art than the climate, if they are getting angry about just the art rather than the climate.

You can also see it in this twitter exchange – the person replying to the individualised mother is challenging her to change her values and act on them, like she has done and like the U.N. is calling on people to do.

However the fact that so few people seem to care about the climate crisis and just go on doing their own thing and polluting suggests we are a long way off value consensus over the need to reduce our fossil fuel usage.

In short, Functionalist theory just doesn’t seem to apply here!

Individualisation

The tweet above reminds me of Bauman’s concept of individualisation – we live in a society where individuals are increasingly tasked with finding solutions to their own problems, rather than relying on society to do it for them.

In the above case we see a woman ‘managing’ her ordinary life in a very individualised way – she has a car to transport her kids around and is trying to plan to avoid disruption – which in itself is very efficient and organised.

However any sense of her using the train to care about the environment clearly isn’t on her agenda – and it isn’t on most people’s agendas either as they are too busy trying to just survive on a day to day basis.

There’s a strong possibility that governmental action may well be needed to reduce global emissions – if people aren’t forced to use less fossil fuels most of them will choose to carry on using them for the sake of convenience as any sense of ‘care for society’ has largely disappeared in our individualised age.

Marxist theories of global power structures

The fact that insufficient government action has been taken over climate change to prevent catastrophe by 2050 (according to climate scientists) suggests that they are on the side of the oil and gas companies.

In the case of the UK this is very much obvious – two of our largest companies are Shell and BP and the government isn’t even prepared to tax the current enormous profits they are making on high energy prices.

It seems to be that it’s very much the climate coalition versus the governments plus the oil corporations, and the later two are still putting short term profits before long term sustainability, which suggests that Marxism may well still be relevant today!

The Social Construction of Crime

Just a quick one – the High Court put out an injunction against anyone blockading motorways and other roads in certain parts of the UK.

This means that instead of just being charged with public nuisance offences which only really carry minor punishments anyone blockading a motorway as part of Just Stop Oil’s campaign can now be charged with contempt of court which carries longer jail sentences and unlimited fines!

It’s a great example of how an act can be made ‘more criminal’ by the simple act of a court.

Durkheims’ theory of social change

If you read through Just Stop Oil’s website and listen to the voices in these videos it’s clear that Just Stop Oil activists position themselves as being at the moral forefront of positive social change, in the same vein as civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Durkheim said that deviance in society is necessary in order for social change to take place and that ‘today’s deviance may well be tomorrow’s norm’.

Perhaps these committed activists have the value-system of the future – perhaps in 40 years time we will look back and think these were pioneers of a greener future when it is the norm to live more sustainably?

Another way Durkheim’s theory may be relevant in the future depends on how these activists are punished – if they are given very harsh punishments this could be an attempt by the courts to enforce social regulation through sending out a message.

Just Stop Oil – Relevance to A-level Sociology conclusions

This case study is most relevant to the Power and Politics option, but few students study that module, but this material is still a good example of deviance and so for most people will be relevant to the crime and deviance module.

also relevant to the global development module as this is clearly a global movement!

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