Just Stop Oil: Is the UK-based climate movement in the pocket of oil billionaires?

With requests for cryptocurrency donations and funding from an American oil fortune heiress, the controversy surrounding Just Stop Oil is larger than one can of tomato soup and a painting.

 Activists of "Just Stop Oil" glue their hands to the wall after throwing soup at a van Gogh's painting "Sunflowers" at the National Gallery in London (photo credit: Just Stop Oil/Handout via REUTERS)
Activists of "Just Stop Oil" glue their hands to the wall after throwing soup at a van Gogh's painting "Sunflowers" at the National Gallery in London
(photo credit: Just Stop Oil/Handout via REUTERS)

By now, the photos and videos of two climate activists from the Just Stop Oil group throwing soup on Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers in the National Gallery have been widely circulated on the internet and splashed across newspapers.

However, several hours after the story broke, people online began wondering if there was something more sinister happening than just some young activists naively thinking that throwing soup on a painting from over 130 years ago would fix an impending climate emergency.

A TikTok user by the name of Mars posted a video that garnered 927K views, discussing the possibility that the climate activists were not acting in good faith, and rather, they were planted by large oil companies to distort the public's view of climate activism.

@rumhamburger Replying to @poki_dex KINDA BEGGING FOR YALL TO SHARE THIS AROUND BECAUSE THIS IS SCARY CLIMATE CHANGE IS BECOMING IRREVERSIBLE #juststopoilprotest #fossilfuels #vangogh ##climatechange ♬ original sound - Mars | he/him | 20 | ASD & SZA

But just how much truth is behind these claims, and could they actually be real?

What is Just Stop Oil?

Just Stop Oil is a UK-based coalition of climate groups who say they are "working together to ensure that the government commits to ending all new licenses and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK."

 Demonstrators participate in a ''Just Stop Oil'' protest outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 9, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS) Demonstrators participate in a ''Just Stop Oil'' protest outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

Founded in February 2022, the group has made headlines multiple times for their reckless stunts, including one incident in which a group member ran onto a soccer pitch in Liverpool during a match, and cable-tied himself to a goalpost by his neck. In another instance, several activists walked onto the race track at the 2022 F1 British Grand Prix, although the race they were protesting had been suspended minutes earlier due to a crash. 

As well as protesting sporting events, the group made themselves known in the art world long before they threw soup on Van Gogh's painting.

In July 2022, two of their members glued themselves to John Constable's The Hay Wain at the National Gallery, covering the painting with a printed image that reimagined the piece as an "apocalyptic vision of the future" after the climate collapses. And, just a day later, a group of Just Stop Oil members glued themselves to a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper painting at the Royal Academy of Arts, spraypainting the words "No New Oil" on the wall underneath.

On their website, the group states that the majority of their funding comes from the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), a US-based movement founded in 2019 which provides grants and funding for climate groups across the world.

Since the start of 2022, CEF claims to have funded 39 different organizations with over $4 million distributed among them. Other notable groups that receive funding from them are Extinction Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion, both of which came to fame for their acts of civil disobedience. 

While this may seem innocent enough on the surface, information began to circulate online about the founder of CEF, Aileen Getty, of the billion-dollar Getty Oil company, and people began to wonder if the organization has some skeletons in its closet after all.

 Police officers detain a demonstrator during a 'Just Stop Oil' protest outside Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain October 10, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY) Police officers detain a demonstrator during a 'Just Stop Oil' protest outside Buckingham Palace, in London, Britain October 10, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY)

Who is Aileen Getty?

As mentioned above, Aileen Getty is one of several heirs to the $5.4 billion Getty fortune, which the family acquired through their oil company, founded in 1942. While the company no longer exists today, having been sold in the early 2000s, the money certainly still does, and so people have started questioning if, in reality, Aileen Getty still has active links to the oil industry.

However, unless Getty is investing in oil ventures so secretive that there are no records of them available to the public, the opposite appears to be true. In 2012, she founded the Aileen Getty Foundation, which, according to the foundation's objectives, "supports a wide range of local and global organizations and initiatives that enhance the environment, our communities and the lives of individuals through innovation, preservation, connection and kindness."

 Aileen Getty attends The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association Hosts ''Meet Me In Australia'' To Benefit Australia Wildfire Relief Efforts at Los Angeles Zoo on March 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  (credit: RODIN ECKENROTH/GETTY IMAGES) Aileen Getty attends The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association Hosts ''Meet Me In Australia'' To Benefit Australia Wildfire Relief Efforts at Los Angeles Zoo on March 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (credit: RODIN ECKENROTH/GETTY IMAGES)

Based on this, it would appear that the heiress to an oil fortune has been using her money to combat the very business in which her family found its fortune.

In 2019, Getty provided the foundational grant to establish CEF and has pledged over half a million dollars to their cause, citing her belief that civil disruption is the only way to make a change on the climate emergency front. 

If 'big oil' isn't funding CEF, is Just Stop Oil trustworthy?

While Getty herself doesn't seem to be funneling money into bad-faith actors aiming to make climate activists look bad, Just Stop Oil has certainly gained a less-than-positive reputation.

However, when examining the facts, it appears that they are genuine in their belief in their cause, despite the ways in which they protest being viewed as controversial.

"UK families will be forced to choose between heating or eating this winter, as fossil fuel companies reap record profits."

Anna Holland, Just Stop Oil

Despite their singular cause being the end of fossil fuel use and production, the Just Stop Oil website offers a way for interested parties to donate through cryptocurrency if they so wish.

Just Stop Oil and the use of cryptocurrency

Ethereum, the movement's cryptocurrency of choice, was reported by the Digiconomist website in 2021 to use the same amount of energy as an average US household goes through in 2.5 days, per every transaction made, equalling a carbon footprint of around 34 kg of carbon dioxide. This means that the cryptocurrency, through which the majority of all NFTs are made, consumes more energy per year than all of Denmark and has a carbon footprint the size caused by Lithuania.

 Just Stop Oil offers interested parties the option of donating cryptocurrency to their cause, as seen on their website (credit: SCREENSHOT/JUST STOP OIL) Just Stop Oil offers interested parties the option of donating cryptocurrency to their cause, as seen on their website (credit: SCREENSHOT/JUST STOP OIL)

As of last month, Ethereum claims to have upgraded to a more environmentally friendly plan, which it says will reduce its carbon emissions by more than 99%. However, crypto experts and users seem to be divided on whether not this upgrade is actually significant.

According to The Verge, a technology news website while it is true that the upgrade has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 99%, there's no guarantee that this will actually happen.

"Some miners are resisting the change, hell-bent on keeping the existing proof-of-work Ethereum blockchain alive, which could limit the total energy savings," the Verge article on the subject explains, saying that if people continue to mine using the old methods despite the change, the reduction will be less dramatic.

And, due to having launched just last month, there is no information available yet regarding whether or not this was indeed the case.

Additionally, even if the reduction in Ethereum's carbon footprint is as dramatic as it claims to be, there is no information on the Just Stop Oil website regarding when they actually began accepting donations via this cryptocurrency. That means that if the option was available prior to September 15, an organization with the primary goal of minimizing the UK's carbon footprint would have been supporting the use of cryptocurrency with an annual CO2 emission rate of over 11 million tons.

The Jerusalem Post reached out to Just Stop Oil for more information regarding their use of cryptocurrencies but did not receive a response.

A misjudged act of rebellion

cryptocurrency use aside, the group has been widely criticized for their actions inside the National Gallery on Friday, and not just by climate change deniers.

In statements given to an aghast crowd, activists Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland explained why they had just thrown two cans of tomato soup down one of Van Gogh's most famous works of art.

Demonstrators participate in a ''Just Stop Oil'' protest in London, Britain, October 9, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)Demonstrators participate in a ''Just Stop Oil'' protest in London, Britain, October 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

"The cost of living crisis is driven by fossil fuels—everyday life has become unaffordable for millions of cold hungry families—they can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup," said Plummer, with Holland adding that "UK families will be forced to choose between heating or eating this winter, as fossil fuel companies reap record profits."

To some, the repeated references to food insecurity were offset somewhat by the cans of soup that had just been flung against the wall.

In response to the incident, a climate activist going by the handle @katie_jr took to Twitter, criticizing the group's actions.

"I'm usually 100% supportive of your actions," wrote Katie, who has over 16K followers on the social media platform. "I don't support this and that saddens me. I think the target was wrong and I can't condone food waste. Yes, it's publicity for the cause but for most of the public, there's no link between this action and the cost of living crisis."

Climate activist and member of the European Climate Foundation Monica Araya also took to Twitter to voice her concerns, specifically regarding the use of art as a target.

"I fully support the push for a fossil-free society. I fully support civic engagement and call out to polluters. But leave art alone, please! This is not the way. It was sad to watch," she said in her statement.

Furthermore, others were quick to point out that the National Gallery is a free museum, meaning that the art it houses is accessible to all, regardless of their financial status.

"The arts have always brought me joy in times when I've felt low. I've never been wealthy. In fact, I'm being stretched to maximum capacity financially," one person said, explaining her point of view. "The art gallery here is free and is one of my happy places that I go to relax and ground myself."

In fact, this wouldn't be the first time that the Just Stop Oil group has seemingly misjudged the target of their protests.

In March of this year, a Just Stop Oil activist ran onto a soccer pitch during a match and was ultimately sentenced to six weeks in prison for aggravated trespass. According to the Telegraph, his reason for disrupting the match was to protest Newscastle FC being owned by Saudi oil giant Aramco. However, in reality, the group is owned by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.

Just Stop Oil: In the pocket of oil giants or genuine activists?

While it's almost impossible to know if Just Stop Oil is actually funded by good-faith climate activists or if they are secretly in the pocket of oil billionaires, it's clear from the widespread reaction to their National Gallery stunt that they are certainly controversial, regardless of who is funding their work.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to their tomato soup-based act of protest on Friday, the group shows no sign of slowing down. In spite of the arrests of both the members involved, as well as around 20 others, the group took to the streets again on Saturday, this time blocking off a key road in central London, leaving vehicles waiting in traffic, CO2 leaking into the environment, for well over an hour.