Fuel Protests – Is Climate Activism Working?

June 07, 2022

The year 2022 has seen several protests at refineries and fuel terminals, causing disruptions in fuel supply. Does action of this magnitude help or hinder progress in stopping climate change?

The Context of the Protests – IPCC Assessment Report

Protest groups such as Just Stop Oil are asking the government for meaningful commitments to stop fossil fuel production, which they say was lacking at COP26 and other subsequent emissions declarations.

The protests focus on the issue of global warming, particularly due to the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shed new light on the real effects of global warming on our society: “People living in cities face higher risks heat stress, air quality, food shortages and other impacts caused by climate change and its effects on supply chains and other critical infrastructure.

“About half of the world’s population currently experiences severe water shortages at some time of year, in part due to climate change and extreme events such as floods and droughts.”

Food webs are also affected by global warming: “Many species are reaching limits in their ability to adapt to climate change, and those that cannot adapt or move quickly enough are at risk of extinction. As a result, the distribution of plants and animals across the world changes and the timing of key biological events such as reproduction or flowering changes.

“In many cases, this reduces nature’s ability to provide the essential services we depend on to survive – such as coastal protection, food supply or climate regulation via carbon absorption and storage. ”

Blocking of gas stations and interruption of oil supply – Protests of 2022

One such protest saw Just Stop Oil block two petrol stations on the M25. Protesters blocked entrances to the gas pump area by sitting in the road with banners. Some also sabotaged the gas pump by smashing the screen glass and covering it in spray paint.

Activists also disrupted oil supplies to Inter and Navigator terminals in Essex and Kingsbury terminal in Warwickshire, severely disrupting terminal operations. The Warwickshire action involved seven people entering the Kingsbury terminal, climbing into the loading bay piping and locking themselves out.

The action is reminiscent of the 2021 Insulate Britain protests, where highways were blocked. Those affected by the resulting long delays included an ambulance that was 55 minutes late to an emergency call for chest pain, according to April 2022 court hearings.


“We have heard from many people speculating that the disruptive protests used by Just Stop Oil are detrimental to the climate movement. Our survey results do not support this, finding no loss of support for key climate policies, and instead we find that the likelihood of the UK public taking up various forms of climate action has increased over the same period.

–James Ozden

Director of the Social Change Lab

Data shows Just Stop Oil Protests increased the number of people in the UK willing to take climate action

Social Change Lab, a research organization focused on understanding the impact of protest and social movements on social change, surveyed over 2,000 adults in the UK in March 2022.

The results showed that three weeks after the Just Stop Oil protests began, the number of people likely to speak with friends and family about climate change, contact their MP about climate issues and attend a legal protest on climate change had increased by a significant amount:

  • The number of people saying they were likely to engage in some form of climate action in the next 12 months increased from 8.7% to 11.3% over a 3-week period, equivalent to around 1.7 million adults in the UK.
  • 58% of UK adults support the Just Stop Oil demands, with just 23% against and 19% neutral.

Dr Ben Kenward, a lecturer in psychology at Oxford Brookes University, who was involved in the research, said: ‘We don’t know for sure what caused the increase over this period, but the fact that 63% of the population have now heard of Just Stop Oil suggests this may be a factor. Moreover, it shows that it is not true that these demonstrations have backfired by provoking a broad negative reaction in the population.”

James Ozden, Director of Social Change Lab, added: “We have heard many people speculate that the disruptive protests used by Just Stop Oil are hurting the climate movement. Our survey results do not support this, finding no loss of support for key climate policies, and instead we find that the likelihood of the UK public taking up various forms of climate action has increased over the same period.

Public Order Bill

The recently announced Public Order Bill means that such protest actions will soon become criminal offenses if the Bill receives Royal Assent. Any interference with “key national infrastructure, such as airports, railways and printing presses” will carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison and an unlimited fine.

Several Just Stop Oil activists are already facing criminal charges – four people have pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal damage at M25 petrol stations, with a court date set for 2023.

With new powers likely to clamp down on protest actions, could there be implications for advancing climate change awareness?

Image: A photograph of one of the Just Stop Oil protests. You can see people sitting on the side of the road. A police vehicle is in the background and several police officers can also be seen. Image Credit: Just Stop The Oil

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published on June 07, 2022

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