Students, faculty discuss increase in climate protests across UK
With climate change worsening, the past year has seen many climate protests from groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. Some of these protests have caused wide-scale disruption across the U.K., leading to police intervention. According to The Guardian, over 100 climate activists were jailed for protesting in 2022.
World Languages and Cultures Teacher Tamara Smith said protests can inspire action and ignite change through the power of collective voice.
“The greatest value of protests is the way that people can come together to inspire others to care and to get actively involved,” Smith said.
The greatest value of protests is the way that people can come together to inspire others to care and to get actively involved.
— World Language and Culture Teacher Tamara Smith
Furthermore, Smith said the most effective protests are “peaceful, inclusive and creative.”
According to the BBC, with climate protests on the rise, new legislation allows police to stop protests before they result in major disruption.
Sabina Peterson Rajalingam (’25) said the police should have the right to control climate protests if they become chaotic or violent.
“If things do become violent, their job is to protect citizens,” Rajalingam said. “If that means stopping a protest, then so be it.”
According to the BBC, environmental activist group Just Stop Oil has conducted multiple protests which have received international publicity. For example, two activists threw tomato soup on the Vincent Van Gogh painting “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery in London, per The Guardian.
Alessandro Arpaio (’26) said he found this act to be ineffective and inconsiderate to those who value the artwork.
“You can’t carry out acts like this and expect it to make a change,” Arpaio said. “They got their publicity but at the end of the day, it’s insensitive towards people who treasure these artworks.”
Rajalingam said more aggressive approaches to protesting are one of the reasons why climate change protests are given a bad reputation.
“Rash actions grab a lot of attention but there’s also a negative side gearing towards climate change protests because of that,” Rajalingam said. “It undermines the idea of protesting for the issue, and I don’t think it has sparked a lot of change.”
Arpaio said while he does not support violent or destructive protests, he finds it aggravating when climate protests are undermined.
“When there are people in the street fighting for something, it’s cruel not to listen to them and to play down their efforts,” Arpaio said. “I just hope they strive to keep going and they take this as fuel to go further.”
Saoirse Burlingame (’24) said when she attended climate protests in the past, the environment “didn’t feel dangerous at all” since the protestors were “welcoming of each other.”
Rash actions grab a lot of attention but there’s also a negative side gearing towards climate change protests because of that.
— Aurelia Peteron-Rajalingam ('23)
Burlingame said the younger generations have been motivated to protest more since they will have to face the repercussions of climate change in the near future.
“It comes down to the younger generations being the ones who are going to have to deal with the consequences of climate change, and that’s definitely propelling them to protest more,” Burlingame said.
Likewise, Arpaio said there has been an increase in awareness and prioritization of the climate crisis over the last few years.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen a whole issue come out of the blue due to protestors and activists fighting for attention,” Arpaio said.
Smith said education has also contributed to the recent growth in climate awareness.
“I can see that calls to action in education are having an impact,” Smith said. “It might not be as quick and as overarching as we need or hope, but I think there is measurable progress.”
Overall, Smith said these climate protests show how the importance of climate change issues has transformed into a core value of modern-day society.
“The messages that people were trying to convey back when I was at university now have been adopted as shared principles by younger generations,” Smith said. “It’s just an illustration of how there’s been a gradual impact of consistent advocacy, because what once might have appeared as a tangential idea has now been adopted as a core principle.”