Activist attacks on famous paintings dwindle support for tackling climate change, study finds

Protesters from the Ultima Generazione group stick to a wall after throwing soup on Vincent van Gogh's “Sower at Sunset” on November 4 in Rome.

Protesters from the Ultima Generazione group stick to a wall after throwing soup on Vincent van Gogh’s “Sower at Sunset” November 4 in Rome. (Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

The recent wave of high-profile protests by young climate change activists, such as throwing soup at famous paintings in museums or stopping traffic on busy roads, makes the public less likely to support action to address climate change. according to a new survey conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Republicans, Democrats, Independents — in every case, people reported that these actions made them less likely to support climate action,” Michael Mann, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Penn and a co-author of the study, told Yahoo News. . . “People dislike him and as a result are less likely to support the cause of the people who are holding the protests.”

The researchers asked more than 1,000 Americans if they approved of using tactics like blocking traffic or sticking to a painting. “A plurality of respondents (46%) report that these tactics reduce their support for efforts to address climate change,” the researchers wrote. “Only 13% report growing support.” Forty percent said that such protests had no effect on their views.

The study was carried out after activists from the British environmental group Just Stop Oil launched tomato soup in the painting “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh, which is on display at the National Gallery in London. Two activists then stuck to the wall next to the painting and yelled: “Are you more concerned with protecting a painting or protecting our planet and people?” The painting, which is encased in glass, was not damaged.

Throughout October and November, Just Stop Oil members also have repeatedly blocked traffic on roads and roads in london.

Protests against art have also continued. In late October, a couple of activists from the climate action advocacy organization Last Generation threw mashed potatoes in a painting by Claude Monet that was sold for $110.7 million in 2019 and were glued to the adjacent wall in the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany. A few days later, a protester at a museum in The Hague, in the Netherlands, stuck his head to the painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer. And on Tuesday the group Last Generation Austria tweeted a video of some of its members pouring a black liquid on a painting by Gustav Klimt in the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

Just Stop Oil climate activists block traffic in Trafalgar Square in London on October 6.

Just Stop Oil climate activists block traffic in Trafalgar Square in London on October 6. (Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Although there is no direct connection between these artworks and climate change, activists have used the paintings in an apparent attempt to raise awareness of rising global temperatures. But the protests have drawn criticism from many in the art world, and even from some in the climate community.

Last week, the directors of 92 leading art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, signed a joint statement condemning attacks on works of art and calling on activists to stop. Although none of the works have been damaged so far, the directors warned that they could be. “Responsible activists underestimate the fragility of this irreplaceable work, which must be preserved as a world cultural heritage,” they wrote. “As museum directors entrusted with works, we were deeply shocked by their dangerousness.”

On Thursday, art historian and climate activist Lucy Whelan wrote in The Guardian that throwing things at art it is counterproductive. “These attacks feel like part of a helpless race toward climate chaos,” she wrote.

The results of the survey from the University of Pennsylvania reinforce that case. The findings, however, were not the same across all demographic groups. Republicans responded more negatively to these climate protests, with 69% of them saying their support for climate action decreased, while only 9% saying their support increased. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said the protests reduced their support, while 21% said they increased it. Among independents, 43% reported a decrease in support and 11% reported an increase.

The researchers found that mentioning to respondents that the painting was unharmed had no statistically significant effect on the survey results. Neither Just Stop Oil nor Last Generation immediately responded to Yahoo News’ requests for comment.

Critics of the Penn survey countered that a recent online survey in the UK found that two thirds of Britons support “take non-violent direct action to protect UK nature”. But, Mann points out, not all direct actions are created equal.

“It’s one thing to ask people if they support nonviolent protest in general,” Mann said. “But it doesn’t capture the unsavory nature of the recent defacement of mock art, which seems to cause widespread revulsion from a large section of the public, partly because there’s no logic or connection there. People ask, what did Van Gogh do to deserve this wrath?

Climate activists from Just Stop Oil stick to a Van Gogh painting at the Courtauld Gallery in London.

Climate activists from Just Stop Oil stick to a Van Gogh painting at the Courtauld Gallery in London. (Kristian Buus/In pictures via Getty Images)

Some climate activists have applauded the recent protests. “This is exactly the kind of activism we need more of,” Andreas Karelas, the founder and of RE-vola non-profit climate justice organization, wrote in an opinion piece on the hill. Comparing climate action to civil disobedience by civil rights activists like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Karelas argues that “nonviolent forms of direct action are the most effective tools we have to change society.”

“I believe the climate crisis has progressed to the point where we must take disruptive measures to try to turn the tide on a planet that is becoming increasingly uninhabitable,” Aileen Getty, oil heiress and environmental philanthropist, wrote in the guardian.

Mann does not disagree that the urgency of climate change requires direct action. But, he said, blocking travelers or defacing works of art has no connection to the problem that, say, civil rights protesters sitting at a segregated lunch counter had.

“The hearts of these young people are in the right place,” Mann said. “They fear for their future, and rightly so.”

But, he argued, they should choose “stocks where the goals make the most sense.”

“There are bad actors and villains in the climate space: fossil fuel companies involved in greenwashing campaigns, plutocrats financing climate denial and retardation campaigns with dark money, gas-guzzling vehicle manufacturers, the list goes on,” Mann wrote. Tuesday in an opinion piece for Time magazine. “A public opinion poll earlier this year by researchers at Yale University and George Mason found that direct actions that target bad actors (for example, flying billionaires private jets that burn fossil fuel) get substantial support.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *