Just Stop Oil’s disruptive protests, blamed for petrol shortages across parts of England, have been funded by US philanthropists who say they want to incite a global “spring uprising” over climate change.
The environmental activists, whose oil terminal blockades have enraged ministers and rightwing commentators, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Los Angeles-based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF).
“We’re their lead institutional funder,” CEF’s executive director, Margaret Klein Salamon, said. “I think actually their exclusive institutional funder at this point.”
On Friday, eight Just Stop Oil activists were still being held after 43 were arrested for allegedly blockading and smashing petrol pumps at service stations on London’s M25 orbital motorway. About 400 people have been arrested more than 1,000 times taking part in the campaign since it began less than a month ago, according to organisers’ own tally.
“A lot of groups we fund use civil disobedience and high stakes civil disobedience,” Salamon said. “But Just Stop Oil to me is the next stage, the next evolution of climate campaigning, in that they really seem to me to be operating as a nonviolent army with that level of discipline, planning, coordination.
“I’m so impressed with what they’ve been able to do with extremely slim resources and, you know, not that many activists.”
This year CEF has made grants of $1.7m to activists in 25 countries, including the UK, the US, Australia Canada, France, Germany and Switzerland. It has particularly focused on the UK with $650,000 given this year to groups including Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. Salamon confirmed CEF had donated Just Stop Oil hundreds of thousands of dollars. Extinction Rebellion had received about $200,000 from the fund this year, she said.
CEF has earmarked $1.3m of its donations for a “spring uprising” to revive the climate protest movement. Before Covid, Salamon said, “the movement was just on absolutely an upswing, gaining so much momentum, with Earth Day 2020 supposed to be the largest environmental demonstration in history”.
“Covid just absolutely took the wind out of its sails and so this uprising this April is the answer to that, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like, OK, the movement’s back and there’s energy. Just Stop Oil and Scientists Rebellion are great examples of how it’s not just back, it’s levelled up during the last two years.”
Insulate Britain, whose roadblock protests last autumn polarised public opinion but catalysed a national debate around its demand to insulate every home, were also funded by CEF. This year, it is funding nine groups in various different countries copying the road blockade tactic.
CEF operated like venture capital, according to Salamon, seeking out small groups who could benefit hugely from $50,000 to $100,000 donations that would barely make a difference to the larger environmental charities.
“We’re looking for ultra-ambitious groups and campaigns, generally that are quite new, that have a plan to scale up and make a huge impact,” Salamon said. Direct action, in which those taking part put themselves in either legal or personal peril, was preferred as a way to communicate the urgency of the crisis.
Salamon insisted CEF does not fund any illegal activity. “What we do fund is recruitment, training, organising staff, core staff, etc … and we fund legal protest and disruption,” she said.
“The fact that some of these groups get into harder edged civil disobedience, that’s their choice. And we think that from a historic and social science perspective, it’s very well supported, and we commend their bravery in doing so.”
All the groups funded by the CEF must be committed to non-violence. “And we don’t fund groups, presently, that allow their membership to take action while concealing their identities,” Salamon said.
Donations to CEF come mainly from wealthy individuals and family foundations. The fund was started with a $500,000 donation from Aileen Getty, the granddaughter of Jean Paul Getty whose petrochemical empire made him the world’s richest man, a source of some controversy in the climate activist world.
Adam McKay, the producer and screenwriter behind the climate change satire Don’t Look Up, had just donated $250,000, “particularly inspired by Just Stop Oil, Scientist Rebellion and other civil resistance”, Salamon said.
Concerns have been raised about the funding of direct action groups by wealthy individuals.
Salamon said she was aware of concerns around “capitalist corruption” but she insisted that the CEF did not demand its grantees tone down their protests or critique. She pointed out that Scientists Rebellion had explicitly called for economic de-growth. Other groups have targeted banks and corporations.
“I think that we need to solve the climate emergency from the system we have,” Salamon said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t transform it, we absolutely have to, but I think we need to channel capital from wealthy individuals to the movement and to the cause of just emergency speed decarbonisation and restoring a safe climate, and living within planetary limits.”
CEF was keen to be more transparent about the work it was doing – and hopefully attract more donors, Salamon said. “And listen, regarding the abuse, which I totally agree is coming, if the activists can take it, so can we,” she said.