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Climate activism

The reality of an oil-free “utopia”

Just Stop Oil activists made headlines around the world last week when they hurled soup over van Gogh’s Sunflowers, says Ross Douthat in The New York Times. No damage was done, thanks to the painting’s protective screen. But it’s worth reflecting on what these and other green protesters say they want: for us to stop using fossil fuels, immediately. They seem to imagine the impact of this will fall only on the “greedy rich and consumerist upper middle class”, who will be forced to accept “a certain austerity”. Poorer folk, the activists reckon, will somehow experience the “post-capitalist, de-growth future” as more affordable, not less. But the energy crisis has revealed an “obvious crack” running through this “crystalline utopia”.

By cutting off supplies, Vladimir Putin has given us a taste of the Just-Stop-Oil world: “immediate unavailability” of fossil fuels and a forced transition to renewables. And it’s proved just how “disastrous” it would be. Soaring energy prices might fall hard on Britons, but they fall even harder on developing economies, which in a time of shortage will be “simply outbid for energy”. There’s a serious risk of destabilisation in “blackout-beset nations” like Bangladesh and Pakistan this winter. The main losers in a completely oil-free world would be the world’s poorest – the very people activists shout about saving from “the starkest environmental threats”.