Do we really care more about Van Gogh’s sunflowers than the real ones? | George Monbiot


Owhat does it take? How far should we go to alert others to the scale of the crisis we face? Only one answer is clear: further than we have yet gone. We are rushing towards planetary tipping points: the critical thresholds beyond which Earth systems collapse. The consequences are unimaginable. None of the horrors humanity has suffered, great as they are, even hints at the magnitude of what we face today.

Everywhere I see claims that the “extreme” tactics of environmental activists will cause people to “stop listening”. But how could we listen less to the warnings of prominent scientists, activists and committees? How could we pay less heed to the polite objections of “respectable” protesters to the destruction of the habitable planet? Something must pull us out of our torpor.

The media and government response to the two Just Stop Oil activists who threw soup on Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers at the National Gallery in London speaks volumes. Decorate the glass protecting the painting with tomato soup (the painting itself was, like the the protesters calculatedundamaged) seems to horrify some people more than the collapse of our planet, which these activists seek to prevent.

Activists throw tomato soup on Van Gogh’s sunflowers at the National Gallery – video

Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “There is a broad consensus that we need to protect our environment, but democracies make their decisions in a civilized way. Oh yes? So what are the democratic ways to challenge the government’s decision to award over 100 new oil and gas drilling licenses in the North Sea? Who gave Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg a Democratic mandate to break the government’s legal commitments under the Climate Change Act by ordering its officials to extract “every cubic inch of gas”?

Who voted for investment zones decreed by Prime Minister Liz Truss that will repeal planning laws and trash protected landscapes? Or one of the major policies she sought to impose on us, having been elected by 81,000 Tory MPs – 0.12% of the UK population? How does “widespread agreement” on the need to protect the environment translate into action? What’s “civilized” about putting the profits of fossil fuel companies above the survival of life on Earth?

Suella Braverman blames ‘wokerati who read guardians and eat tofu’ for disruptive protests – video

In 2018 Theresa May’s government oversaw the erection of a statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, who holds a banner saying ‘Courage calls for courage everywhere’ as a century is a safe distance to celebrate radical action. Since then, conservatives have introduced viciously repressive laws to drown out the voice of courage. Between the Policing, Crime, Sentences and Courts Act that former Home Secretary Priti Patel rammed through parliament and the Public Order Bill chaired by Cruella Braverman, the government is carefully criminalizing all effective means of protest in England and Wales, leaving us with nothing but authorized motorcades conducted in near-silence and letters to our MPs, which are universally ignored by the media and lawmakers.

The public order bill is the kind of legislation you might expect to see in Russia, Iran or Egypt. Illegal protest is defined by the bill as acts causing “serious harm to two or more individuals, or to an organization.” Since the Police Act has redefined “serious disturbance” for include noiseit means, in effect, any meaningful protest.

For locking or sticking to another protester, the railing or any other object, one can be sentenced to 51 weeks in prison – in other words, twice the maximum sentence for common assault. Sitting in the road or clogging fracking machines, pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, airports or printing presses (Rupert says thank you) can net you a year. For digging a tunnel as part of a demonstration, you can be fired for three years.

Even more sinister are the bill’s “serious disruption prevention orders.” Anyone who has participated in a protest in England or Wales in the previous five years, whether or not they have been convicted of an offence, can be served with a two-year order barring them from attending any new events. Like inmates on probation, they may be required to report to “a particular person at a particular place at … particular times on particular days”, to “stay at a particular place for particular periods and submit to wearing an electronic tag. . They cannot associate “with particular people”, enter “particular areas” or use the Internet to encourage others to protest. If you violate these conditions, you risk up to 51 weeks in prison. So much for “civilized” and “democratic”.

Who are the criminals here? Those who seek to prevent vandalism of the living planet, or those who facilitate it?

Every time I visit the National Gallery, I can’t help but wonder how many places of its valuable landscape paintings have been destroyed by development or agriculture. Such destruction, which Truss, Braverman and the rest of the government now plan to accelerate, even in our national parks, is generally justified as “the price of progress”. But if anyone were to burn or tear the paintings themselves, it would be a heinous act of brutality. How can these double standards be explained? Why is life worth less than the representation of life?

Sometimes the tension is explicit. John Constable’s idylls of rural peace were painted at a time of tremendous conflict and destruction, as communities and landscapes were torn apart by owners enclosure. He did not lament the erasure of the “immutable” places he painted, but the reaction to this, lamenting the riots and the rick burning which ensured that there was “never a night without seeing fires near or far”. Constable’s response to the destruction, in his later years, was to paint memorial landscapes: those, in other words, that had already been erased. Like the current government, it has celebrated past glories while attacking measures, such as the Reform Act, to improve life in the present.

In raising these questions, I am not trying to deny the value of art or the need to protect it. On the contrary”: I want the same crucial protections extended to planet Earth, without which there is no art, no culture and no life. Yet, while cultural philistinism is abhorred, ecological philistinism is defended with the force of oppressive law.

Soup-throwing and other outrageous but harmless actions generate such fury because they compel us not to stop listening, but to start. Why, we can’t help but wonder, would young people jeopardize their freedom and future prospects in this way. The answer, we can’t help but hear, is that they seek to avoid a much greater threat to both of them.

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