Fretting about the impact of climate change is one thing. Taking to the streets and making your feelings known is quite another. Not all of us, even when fortified by the courage of our convictions, would be prepared to glue ourselves to buildings, to throw tomato soup over paintings, to spray paint over government offices, and to risk arrest - to say nothing of being confronted by outraged members of the public.

As we have been increasingly seeing over recent years, however, protesters from Just Stop Oil, This is Rigged, Extinction Rebellion and other climate activist groups certainly have the courage of their convictions.

Sports and cultural events have been disrupted, the latest being yesterday's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Motorways and busy city-centre roads have been blocked. Paint has been sprayed liberally across government and other buildings. People from This Is Rigged were arrested and charged this week after a protest at the huge Grangemouth petrochemical plant. There is a sense in which profile-raising protests that target museums, sports events and public buildings recall the long-ago efforts of the suffragettes.

All the signs are that such climate activism will continue. Earlier this month, after disruption was briefly witnessed at Wimbledon, Dale Vince, the lead funder of Just Stop Oil, warned that more high-profile sports events were on the organisation’s target list: he spoke of the need to jolt more people out of their "sleepwalking" amidst the worsening climate crisis.

There has, of course, been a substantial backlash. Members of the public, infuriated by delays caused by activists, have confronted them verbally and physically. A Just Stop Oil protester was this week filmed being punched and kicked by a man during a slow-march demonstration in west London. Two Just Stop Oil protesters who scaled a bridge at Dartford Crossing, forcing its closure, were jailed in April for three years and two years and seven months respectively for causing a public nuisance. Protesters have been labelled as "eco-yobs" and much worse by unsympathetic mainstream newspapers.

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Is it all worth it? Is it worth the disruption caused to commuters and other members of the public, and the extra policing costs? Will any good come from such protests? Just Stop Oil, as a non-violent civil resistance group, wants the UK Government to call an immediate halt to all new oil and gas consents and licences. Government ministers, mindful of the energy security crisis caused in large measure by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, do not seem minded to accede to the request. Labour, however, has announced that the UK will grant no new licences for oil and gas firms to drill in the North Sea if the party wins the next election.

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It has to be conceded that the protests have caused anger and frustration, and have disrupted people's everyday lives. A YouGov poll in February suggested that 78% of Britons thought that disruptive protest hindered activists’ causes.

But it can also be argued that activism and climate campaigning have helped us become more aware of the sheer magnitude of the climate crisis. Many of us have been spurred to do what we can, in our own small ways. Campaigners like Greta Thunberg have played their part in this.

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Dale Vince himself is frank about the disruption. Though a recent cricket match was interrupted by protests for a few minutes, he said, that was nothing when set next to the sheer havoc being caused by climate change. He cited a UN estimate that four million people have lost their lives in the climate crisis so far. Other data, he went on, showed that 20 million people globally were made homeless every year. 

In a telling phrase he said: “The most effective protest is a disruptive one. It is not one where you stand at the side of the road and everything’s going on as normal, while you chant and wave placards. That’s less effective than when you disrupt everyday life, business as usual.

The Herald: Handout video grab issued by Just Stop Oil of the opening night of the BBC Proms being interrupted by two protesters from Just Stop Oil, who set off confetti cannons and sounded air hornsHandout video grab issued by Just Stop Oil of the opening night of the BBC Proms being interrupted by two protesters from Just Stop Oil, who set off confetti cannons and sounded air horns (Image: Just Stop Oil/PA Wire)

“The point we are trying to make is that there’s a big harm happening in the world that is pushed to the background. And if we don’t deal with it properly, the global temperature will disrupt life beyond all measures that we have.”

The protesters' commitment and determination are worthy of applause and are a reminder that real change rarely happens without a fight. Non-violent civil disobedience can arouse hostility and fierce opposition but is permissible in a free society. Blockading a petrochemical plant can be justified so long as it does not jeopardise safety.

You can debate the reasonableness of the aims of groups such as Just Stop Oil and question the more hyperbolic claims of their sympathisers without losing sight of the frightening extent of the climate crisis. Much has been done internationally to address climate change but the sense of urgency remains, amidst authoritative scientific predictions of more extreme rainfall and associated flooding and more intense and frequent heatwaves. Future weather events will cause disruption on an unimaginable scale.