A few weeks ago, a video of two British teenage activists throwing soup onto a Van Gogh painting in a museum went viral. As they attempted to glue their hands to the wall behind them, one of them shouted, “What is worth more, art or life?” in an attempt to make a statement about the dangers of the oil crisis in relation to the cost of living crisis. The painting wasn’t damaged due to a protective glass pane covering, but people were left curious by Just Stop Oil, the group that the teenagers acted on behalf of.
Just Stop Oil is a British environmental activist group funded by a US-based organization, The Climate Emergency Fund, that claims to use civil resistance and direct action to stop the British government from exploring new avenues to produce and exploit fossil fuels. The large amounts of funding, about $1.1 million, Just Stop Oil receives give them room to rally for their cause without worrying about negative public opinions.
The UK has gone through a lot of political changes, particularly in leadership, in the past five years, but policies surrounding climate change have remained more or less the same. Earlier this year, the UK parliament passed the “energy profits levy,” a 25% tax on any profits that UK gas and oil companies generate, on top of the regular taxation that they are subject to. However, this energy profits levy has a workaround. Companies can escape or minimize the effects of the levy by claiming tax savings when they invest in new fossil fuel extraction efforts in the UK, which gives them subsidies for every investment they make.
Recently, the UK introduced a windfall tax that essentially extended the energy profits levy. A windfall tax is a levy that the government puts in place to target specific companies that are benefiting from conditions they aren’t responsible for (i.e. a windfall). In this instance, some companies have seen a significant increase in profits due to COVID restrictions being lifted and the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Since windfall taxes are non-distortionary, they’re a good way for governments to generate revenue through excess corporate profits without having to worry about how to prevent the companies from attempting to escape taxation.
Although Just Stop Oil has shown they don’t care about public opinions, a majority of British citizens agree that fossil fuels are a threat to their nation. This year, British citizens saw their energy bills rise significantly. It’s estimated that the average household energy cost has gone from £1100 to £3500. Compared to other European nations, the UK is in a concerning place as a result of many different factors, like the widespread use of gas boilers, generation of electricity in gas-fired power plants, poor housing insulation, and political standings. As Rishi Sunak takes the position of Prime Minister, many are wondering how he will approach this increasingly dire situation.