Make Climate Activists Pay for Disruptive Behavior

Op-Ed by Emily Thompson

Climate change activists are causing havoc throughout Europe, whether by blocking traffic or defacing famous artworks.

An environmental activist was arrested Saturday after she stuck a protest sign or sticker to a Monet painting at the famed Orsay Museum in Paris.

The activist targeted Claude Monet’s “Poppy Field” painting, affixing a sticker to the artwork and which depicted an apocalyptic, futuristic vision of the same scene.

The group said the sticker was supposed to show what the field would look like in 2100, after having been “ravaged by flames and drought” if more action isn’t taken against climate change.

This damaging behavior has become a pattern among these activists.

In February, two activists from Riposte Alimentaire (Food Counterattack) threw soup at the artist’s work Spring (1872) at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in the French city of Lyon.

“This spring will be the only one we have left if we don’t react,” the pair chanted, in reference to the painting’s title. “What will our future artists paint? What will we dream of if there is no more spring?”

This comes just two weeks after different members of the same group threw pumpkin soup at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris.

A similar protest took place when climate activists flung tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London in 2022.

Monet’s paintings have been in the firing line before. The Haystacks (1890) was pelted with mashed potatoes at Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany in October 2022.

Riposte Alimentaire is an environmental group specifically focused on the rising cost of food, better working conditions and rights for farmers, and a more sustainable agricultural system.

Similarly, Just Stop Oil protesters repeatedly disrupted traffic on major motorways in the UK. They staged sit-ins on busy roads, causing significant traffic delays and garnering media attention.

Protesters from Just Stop Oil interrupted high-profile sporting events, including Premier League football matches. They ran onto the pitch and glued themselves to goalposts or other structures to halt the games and bring attention to their cause.

Just Stop Oil activists have also targeted cultural institutions such as museums and galleries. They glued themselves to artworks and exhibition stands to highlight the link between fossil fuel sponsorships and cultural institutions, demanding an end to such sponsorships.

But the actions taken by these activists should not be acceptable or overlooked.

While the legal action we can take against climate change activists in Europe varies widely depending on their actions and the country where the activities take place, this does not preclude the fact that these protesters can and should be punished for their disruptive behavior.

Authorities must be able to charge activists with offenses related to public order if their protests disrupt traffic or cause public disturbances, leading to fines, community service, or imprisonment in severe cases. Trespassing charges should apply if activists enter private property or restricted areas without permission, and this should result in fines or jail time.

Criminal damage charges must be brought if activists cause property damage during their protests, such as graffiti or equipment destruction.

Companies or authorities should not hesitate to seek court injunctions to prevent activists from protesting in specific ways or locations, and violating these injunctions must lead to legal penalties.

Affected companies or individuals should be encouraged to file civil lawsuits against activists for damages or financial losses. Unauthorized protests must result in whatever fines and penalties the law allows, which differs across European countries.

Authorities should be given the legal right to detain activists pre-emptively if there is credible evidence of planned illegal activities. To this effect, police should be given wide authority to issue dispersal orders to break up illegal or unsafe protests, and failure to comply should result in immediate arrest. Repeated legal violations by activists should lead to banning orders, prohibiting their attendance at certain events or areas.

Obviously, the legal landscape and enforcement practices differ significantly across Europe, sparking debates over the balance between public order and the right to protest and freedom of speech.

Bearing this in mind, governments must find a way to balance these rights with the rights of ordinary people who need to get to work or want to view art without the hindrance of protesters.

Protest whatever you want but stand on the side of the road, hold your sign, and let us go about our daily lives. And stay away from our priceless works of art.

Image: Pixabay

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