Fired Up! Art vs. climate change

As the world criticizes methods of environmental activism, global warming is swept under the rug


photo by Caitlyn Hale

Fired Up is a monthly column by Lifestyles Editor Sophia Canabal.

What’s more absurd: the fact that U.S. oil companies release 8 million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year, or a can of tomato soup being thrown at a painting? Unfortunately, many think it’s the latter. 

In an attempt to increase climate change awareness, climate activist Phoebe Plummer publicly threw a can of tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” attracting national criticism for the demonstration’s disruptive nature. The incident comes after a slew of other wild demonstrations in the wake of the movement Just Stop Oil, including cake-facing Prince Charles’ wax figure. After kneeling in front of the painting and gluing her hands to the exhibit, Plummer addressed the onlookers. 

“Crops are failing, millions of people are dying in monsoons, wildfires and severe droughts,” she said. “We cannot afford new oil and gas. It’s going to take everything we know and love.”

In her speech, Plummer reminds us of the inevitable famine, natural disaster and destruction that global warming entails, but when the demonstration ends, onlookers pay their condolences to the painting, not the environment. As critics continue to flame Just Stop Oil for their dramatic protests, they only confirm what the organization is trying to prove: people care more about property than the planet. 

Yes, throwing soup on a work of art is disruptive, but it shouldn’t detract from the underlying issue. Instead, it should serve as a wakeup call. In Nov. 2021, global leaders met at the 26th Conference of the Parties  in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss the initiatives they had set the previous year to abate global warming. None of them actually came to fruition. Today, with COP27 just weeks away, they are about to find themselves in the same position. Meanwhile, the public remains unaffected, currently preoccupied by a more precarious issue: tomato soup, and the threats that it poses to humanity. 

If you found Plummer’s demonstration atrocious, disruptive, or even pointless, this should be a wakeup call. While politicians sit idly by, watching millions of Pakistanis lose their source of income to severe flooding, watching impoverished families in the UK struggle to pay for heat while gas prices surge, watching wildfires rage across Brazil, you mourn Prince Charles’ wax figure. When Plummer asked, “What is worth moreart, or life?” the world chose art. 

Yes, vandalism is a crime and no, climate change does not excuse it. But the point of Just Stop Oil’s demonstration wasn’t to vandalize a painting; it was to encourage critics to reevaluate their priorities. It might be easy to wag your finger at a disruptive demonstration, but if global warming is not addressed soon, a can of tomato soup will be the least of our problems.