Climate change protesting has gone too far


Aliya Zakir

Advocating for climate change legislation has been of relevance in recent years. The Sidekick executive editorial page editor Manasa Mohan thinks that though performative stunts do bring awareness, they catch the attention of social media more often than organizations that lobby for specific change.

Manasa Mohan, Executive Editorial Page Editor

You’re standing in a highly renowned art museum admiring its beauty when all of a sudden you see two people approach Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting “Sunflowers.” 

In a swift and brief motion they throw two cans of tomato soup at the painting. You watch in horror as you see the soup hit the painting, someone feebly calling out “security” and the two people apply superglue to their hands and glue themselves to the wall. 

They boldly call out “What is worth more – art or life? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?” 

A shocking moment at the Louvre when cake was thrown at the iconic “Mona Lisa,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art where “Sunflowers” was the next target and the Barberini Museum where mashed potatoes were hurled at “Grainstacks” incites a social media storm. A consistent advocate for climate action, Dan Rather tweeted “It’s destructive to protest the destruction of our planet by trying to destroy beautiful art.”

With the exponential rise of social media, the potential for content to quickly gain traction and go viral is dangerously high and in this case, people can easily lose sight of the true importance of climate change protests. People see what social media has curated for them on their feeds or what has gone viral: the protests that could potentially devastate priceless pieces of art.   

There is no denying that these somewhat unconventional protests have gained attention from around the world and have been bringing attention to the ongoing issue of global warming. With the expansive reach of social media, people from around the world can see these protests in an instant. Once people see the videos, they are likely intrigued and curiosity draws them to explore more about the organization or the individuals responsible for the bold move. That is the beneficial part of these protests; they bring awareness in a dramatic and drastic, yet necessary way. 

The issue with these protests arises when you consider how there are other advocates in the world that are actively protesting for specific environmental regulation or change, but aren’t getting the same type of recognition. Instead, social media finds the “food” protests to have more potential to go viral and that gets posted and reposted and reposted, eventually creating an insanely viral video that lands on everyone’s social media pages. 

Thereby, certain protesters go unheard. Their work is hidden. Hidden behind the art.  

Take, for example, Vanessa Nakate on Nov. 8 at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference where she and multiple Fridays for Future campaigners, including Luisa Neubauer and 11-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, wrote “No new gas, no new oil” on their hands. The message was directed towards Germany for their support of new gas projects in other countries which would increase emissions and hurt the surrounding environment. 

This protest gained attention from news and media outlets. But when it comes to social media, it was nowhere to be found. No video of their powerful protest took off in the same way that the art protests did. 

I understand the intent of the “food” protests: humans should focus on protecting the Earth just as much or even more as they care about protecting famous art. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that these protests hide the activism that is lobbying for true, real change through legislation. 

Thereby, certain protesters go unheard. Their work is hidden. Hidden behind the art.

— Manasa Mohan

But this isn’t just a couple of people who find these protests to be unproductive and disruptive. In a survey conducted by the Annenberg Policy Center, 46 percent of respondents claimed that these tactics decreased their support for climate change efforts. A tremendous 27 percent, in fact, said the protests greatly decreased their support. Only 13 percent reported increased support.

Moreover, there are a multitude of short-term effects to consider. Could museums become less accessible because of the fear of the destruction of their artwork? Will museums solve the problem by just putting up more glass or making the art harder to access? 

Either way, these creative protests are causing more harm than good when you consider what is going unnoticed by social media. Let’s stop throwing food at paintings and focus on the real activism that’s happening. 

Follow Manasa (@Manasa_Mohan_7) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter