Police remove a Just Stop Oil activist taking part in a blockade of the ESSO Birmingham Fuel Terminal
Police remove a Just Stop Oil activist taking part in a blockade of the ESSO Birmingham Fuel Terminal. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

Just Stop Oil: The Young Climate Activists Shutting Down Fossil Fuels

Many are in their late teens and early 20s, and are willing to take radical action and risk arrest to put an end to our dependence on oil.

Around 2:45AM on a cold Wednesday, Nathan McGovern entered one of Britain’s largest oil depots and ascended 15 metres of pipes. “It was a mad scramble to get onto something,” the 22-year-old Just Stop Oil activist tells me over the phone. A police officer shoos me away when I am deemed to be straying too close to the site that Nathan has already occupied for eight hours, even though I remain behind the “Private property – No trespassing” signs at all times.


Fresh from gluing himself to a microphone during an LBC interview the previous weekend, Nathan was the last of around 25 protesters to occupy the Navigator terminal in Thurrock, Essex that morning.  Like Nathan, many of those here today are in their late teens and early 20s and represent the newest generation of climate activists taking drastic action to curb our dependence on fossil fuels.

Just 35 hours earlier, as the IPCC’s leading climate scientists released a “now or never” warning on what must be done to prevent catastrophe, the UN’s Secretary General had issued an excoriating statement. Condemning the “lying” governments and corporations that put us “firmly on track towards an unliveable world”, António Guterres said: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

The latest IPCC report is clear: there can be no new fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to keep global warming below the critical level of 1.5C, beyond which the devastating impacts of climate change accelerate and some become irreversible. We are moving dangerously close to the tipping points that could spark a domino effect of runaway climate breakdown. But with fast action, we can still avert the most nightmarish scenarios.

Just Stop Oil activists protesting outside the BAFTAs

Just Stop Oil activists protesting outside the BAFTAs. Photo: William Joshua Templeton

Against this backdrop, Just Stop Oil’s insistence that the government halt new oil and gas projects does not seem like an outlandish demand. In February its supporters delivered an ultimatum letter to No 10 Downing Street, urging ministers to commit to ending all new fossil fuel investments. “If you do not provide such assurance by 14 March 2022 it will be our duty to intervene – to prevent the ultimate crime against our country, humanity and life on earth.”

A month later, as famous guests piled into London’s Royal Albert Hall for the BAFTAs ceremony, Harley McDonald-Eckersall was one of a small handful of Just Stop Oil supporters who succeeded in storming the red carpet. Along with four fellow protesters there who had got hold of tickets to the event in order to disrupt it, the group chanted “Just look up, just stop oil.” More activists echoed their words outside the gated-off area, some of them gluing their hands to the pavement. 

Their refrain was an homage to Netflix’s allegory of climate inaction Don’t Look Up, whose director Adam McKay has offered to get arrested with Just Stop Oil.  (On Monday, Good Morning Britain presenter Richard Madeley’s dismissal of Just Stop Oil’s demands as “playground-ish” in an interview with one of its supporters drew comparisons with one the film’s key scenes.)


“I’m scared for my future,” Harley tells me on her return from the red carpet. “I'm from Australia and at the moment, people there are dying because of the floods. Not long ago, we had the forest fires that destroyed entire communities.”

For her, the protest was an attempt to plead with the glittering attendees to use their platforms to amplify the Just Stop Oil message. “It would have been incredibly powerful if they’d joined us – if they’d turned around and said, look: none of this matters unless we take action now. Instead of just trying to look amazing in their dresses or collecting their awards.” 

Growing up, Harley “idolised” Emma Watson and admired her stance on social issues. But her excitement when the actor emerged from a car was short-lived: “Seeing her and other celebrities turn their backs and ignore us was disappointing. These people should be shouting from the rooftops that we’re in a crisis because they are the ones who can make the public take notice.”

Police remove Just Stop Oil activist Louis McKechnie after his protest during the Everton vs Newcastle match

Police remove Just Stop Oil activist Louis McKechnie after his protest during the Everton vs Newcastle match. Photo: Anthony Devlin/AFP via Getty Images

The following week, Just Stop Oil supporters attracted more attention by disrupting four football games; 21-year-old Louis McKechnie received death threats after tying himself to a goalpost during an Everton vs Newcastle United match. And then on April 1st, the group put its name into practice by beginning its wave of blockades, on ten oil facilities in London, Birmingham and Southampton.


The coalition, which Nathan describes as “spearheaded by young people” has repeatedly spoken of moving “beyond protest and into civil resistance”. Resistance, they say, means actively stopping the government and corporations from continuing a “business as usual” approach to burning fossil fuels rather than protests urging them to do so. “It’s a more ongoing attitude towards a fundamentally broken system,” Nathan says.

It’s 11AM on Just Stop Oil’s sixth consecutive day of oil infrastructure disruption and he is cold and tired. A long day looms ahead as the specialist police removal team figures out how to safely remove the group. Outside, the great hubbub of activity I had expected is mostly absent; police vehicles come and go, a couple of ambulances enter. 

“We’ve seen a cherry picker, a couple of fire engines and another raised platform all drive up to us and drive off,” says Eben Lazarus, also 22, who is up in the rafters with his 23-year-old girlfriend Hannah Hunt. Like numerous Just Stop Oil supporters, they were previously involved in Insulate Britain, albeit in the media team. Many others have roots in Extinction Rebellion (XR), which has joined Just Stop Oil’s campaign by taking part in the blockades.

Just Stop Oil activists Eben Lazarus and Hannah Hunt in the rafters of the Navigator terminal in Thurrock, Essex. Photo: Courtesy of Just Stop Oil

Just Stop Oil activists Eben Lazarus and Hannah Hunt in the rafters of the Navigator terminal in Thurrock, Essex. Photo: Courtesy of Eben Lazarus

Eben sends me a picture of the couple perched in the network of pipes in the depot’s loading bay. “We’re really inaccessible at the moment.”


Climbing 15 metres was “nerve-wracking”, he admits, with “no ropes or harnesses or anything” and “the huge packs” that carry their lock-on equipment and sustenance. But it’s also exciting knowing that “every minute that we're here, we've stopped more oil,” he says. He estimates that between 15-30 tankers leave the site every half hour, and each one carries about 39,000 litres of petrol or diesel which is worth around £67,000. “Causing that material disruption to the oil industry is what it takes to get the attention of the government and the media.”

As BP and Shell celebrate bumper profits from the record surges in global oil and gas prices, the cost of living crisis bites, with many households forced to cut back on food and heating. Research has pointed to the long-term economic benefits to ordinary people of transitioning our energy system to renewable sources, which become cheaper the more they are deployed and do not carry the same risk of price volatility. 

Meanwhile, war in Ukraine has raised questions about the moral cost of Europe’s reliance on the fossil fuel sources funding the Kremlin’s war chest. Even though Russian gas imports constitute less than 4 percent of UK gas supply, Britain remains vulnerable to the global price hike in oil and gas sparked by increasing demand in light of sanctions on Russia. The government has rejected calls for a windfall tax on energy companies, allowing the cost burden to be shouldered largely by a population already facing soaring inflation and tax rises.


But the chances that Just Stop Oil’s message might cut through to the public consciousness or win more support than XR and Insulate Britain is likely to be overshadowed by anger at the blockades causing fuel shortages. On April 10th, the Fair Fuel UK campaign for cheaper petrol said it was receiving “credible intelligence that one in three garages have run dry of petrol and/or diesel particularly in the south, because of the ‘stop oil’[sic]  amoebas”. The following day Labour called for a more draconian response to the blockades by imposing nationwide injunctions on them. The Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed said: “Tory ministers need to get on with their jobs. Motorists were already being hammered by prices at the pump, and now millions can’t even access fuel.” 

“[The protests] are a load of crap,” a worker at the Navigator terminal tells me after checking that I’m “not up to any mischief”. His colleague agrees, suggesting that Just Stop Oil should be lobbying the government instead. 

But what can be done when conventional campaigns go unheeded by those in power? As we speak, the government is preparing to launch its much anticipated energy security strategy, which defies its own net-zero targets to allow for more North Sea oil and gas exploration. “The government’s not really in control anyway,” the Navigator employee says. “It’s big business, it’s the 1 percent who own 99 percent of wealth.”


His sentiments may share more than he realises with the young people camped out in the rafters, and perhaps even the scientists who wrote the IPCC’s latest report. The report noted that in the US, opposition to climate action by carbon-connected industries “is broad-based, highly organized, and matched with extensive lobbying.”

Eben says he did encounter a “few supportive [tanker] drivers” a few days earlier, while locked onto a tanker for 36 hours outside the Navigator terminal in subzero temperatures. “They said fair play to us and just engaged in an actual conversation, which is all we want – to have actual conversations with people.” NHS and fire service staff – present for health and safety purposes – were also supportive, he adds.

“We even had a police liaison officer saying they respect us for what we’re doing, and the fact that we're willing to be arrested for this.” At the time of writing, Just Stop Oil activists have been arrested almost 1,000 times in total.

Most of the drivers there directed verbal abuse at them, Eben says, which he completely understands. “We’ve disrupted their day at work. And we’re so sorry that we have to disrupt the lives of ordinary people.” Ultimately, though, Just Stop Oil is “not here to please people, or to win the popularity vote. 

“And hopefully people will see, further down the line, that the disruption we're causing is microscopic compared to the disruption that we’re going to face because of the climate crisis.”