Opinion: I run a football club – here’s why I’m funding protests that stop matches

Opinion: I run a football club – here’s why I’m funding protests that stop matches
It’s a crime against humanity not to get a grip on carbon emissions

The Just Stop Oil campaign has been making an impact in the last few weeks with its blockades of oil refineries and disruption of fuel supplies.

Before they turned their attention to fuel supplies, campaigners disrupted a couple of Premier League football matches by attaching themselves to goal posts. This is what first pulled me into the debate.

I run a football club – Forest Green Rovers. We are carbon neutral, have declared a climate emergency and are reckoned by FIFA and the UN to be the greenest football club on the planet. I also helped Just Stop Oil with some funding.

I was approached by one of the founders a few months ago and agreed to help them get started. And why not? Their goal is as simple as it is essential: to stop all new exploration for oil and gas in the UK.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that such a thing was unnecessary, with all our net-zero commitments and the clear need to end the use of fossil fuels. But unfortunately, there are people who have used the energy crisis and Ukraine conflict to argue for a doubling down on fossil fuel use and production – it’s illogical to the point of stupidity, but there you go.

Just Stop Oil is after one thing: an undertaking from our government to ban further drilling for oil and gas. The people behind the campaign are the same people behind Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain. They use the same tactics – highly disruptive protest, always non-violent – and that part is essential in my view.

So, a few weeks ago I found myself on talkSPORT Radio, where the hosts wanted to discuss the disruption to Premier League football. I told them that I’d actually funded the campaign and that kind of set them off. I told them it was “accidental” in the sense I had no idea that football would be the target, but at the same time it would have made no difference if I had known. The issue at stake transcends everything, including sport.

Towards the end of a 20-minute heated discussion, one of the hosts told me the protest had failed because it had alienated people and achieved nothing. My response was: “Yet, here we are on talkSPORT Radio talking about the climate crisis and what’s wrong with drilling for more oil”. They closed the interview with that and I think it makes the point perfectly.

I’ve done a number of interviews after the fuel supply disruption, and the argument is always the same: this is disruption of people’s everyday lives, it’s wrong, it doesn’t work and so on.

But to be effective, a protest needs to be disruptive. And the disruption caused is minor compared to what the protesters are trying to prevent – climate catastrophe. Though if you call it that, you’ll be accused of exaggeration.

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If we prioritise “business as usual” in our daily lives, we will sleepwalk into an absolutely existential crisis, and that will be our gift to future generations. It’s actually a crime against humanity not to get a grip on carbon emissions – the science is crystal clear, we have the technology, economics is on our side (it’s better for the economy actually) and people are on our side too. The only thing we are missing is a government that gets it and policies that can get us there soon enough.

Right now, the playing field is tipped in favour of the old way of doing things: supporting fossil fuels and intensive animal farming, the two things driving all of the overlapping crises we face (climate, ecological and human health).

The whole system of taxes, subsidies and regulations, the big levers a government has, is pointing in the wrong direction, supporting the old ways and holding back the new.

We must change this, by whatever peaceful means we can.

This was originally published in The Independent’s Climate Warrior newsletter as part of Dale’s Dispatches. To sign up to the free weekly newsletter, written every Wednesday in turn by Lizzie Carr MBE, Dale Vince, Mitzi Jonelle and Mikaela Loach, visit our newsletters page or add your email to the box at the top of this article.