When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Just Stop Art? 'Just Stop Oil' And Rousseau's Flawed Nature-Culture Divide

In the last few weeks, the Just Stop Oil protests have been catapulted to global attention by soiling art masterpieces in the name of environmental protection. But their choice of target says just as much about their view of art as their view of oil.

Photo of Just Stop Oil activists after splashing tomato soup across Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Just Stop Oil activists after splashing tomato soup across Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Gaspard Koenig


PARIS — In a matter of weeks, tomato sauce splashed across Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, mashed potatoes covered Monet’s Haystacks, and human hands were firmly stuck on Picasso’s Massacre in Korea.

The climate activists who performed those striking actions are part of a global collective. "Just Stop Oil" is the name of their branch in the UK; "Letzsche Generation" in Germany; "Fireproof" in Australia; or "Dernière rénovation" in France. They object to their governments’ climate inaction and, more generally, society’s inaction.

Despite all my efforts, as a progressive and eco-anxious citizen, I still couldn’t come to celebrate their protests. Of course, it was all symbolic because the paintings were glass-covered and well protected. And yet why do I still find all of this objectionable?

Have I already fallen out of touch? How can we explain the discomfort felt when we see those masterpieces being soiled?

A generation more mature than its elders

Is it their message that I find displeasing? I really don’t think so. Raising awareness on climate issues is more necessary today than ever. In the last few days, a WWF report stated that 70% of the wild animal population disappeared in the last 50 years; a CNRS study predicted that global warming in France was going to be worse than expected; and the UN Secretary-General warned of a current "planetary catastrophe."

And yet, as if this is not happening, people keep exploiting new gas fields in South Africa; they keep constructing giant basins for irrigation; and they organize bobsleigh contests in the middle of the desert.

Political conquests always began with provocative acts that are barely legal

So the young rebels appear, surprisingly, much more reasonable than those adults who continue with their self-destructing actions, wearing suits and ties. The activists' protests are based on scientific arguments and moderate demands ("Just Stop Oil" is not asking for the destruction of capitalism, but for energy retrofit in social housings).

It is maybe the first time in history where the new generation looks more mature than its elders.

A protest from French climate activists in Paris, ahead of the COP27

Dernière Rénovation

Civil disobedience

Is it their method, then, that I don’t like? Not even. Political conquests always began with provocative acts that are barely legal. Henry David Thoreau, who invented the concept of civil disobedience in the 19th century, was imprisoned because he refused to pay federal taxes to the U.S., because it still supported slavery.

And Teresa Billington-Greig organized exploits that resulted in her being arrested several times before she was able to bring the feminist movement to the public’s opinion.

What disturbs me is the target. Those paintings were not just chosen because the media would talk about them. In their various interviews, the Just Stop Oil activists are systematically mocking our attachment for those simple paintings — an attachment that they find ridiculous while the planet is burning.

We cannot build an ecological world by acting against civilization

This kind of ecology activism is explicitly playing the nature-culture divide again — a direct reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s First Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. And the philosopher already created a buzz back in 1749 when he glorified the simplicity of virtue against the corrupting arts.

Questioning growth without rejecting progress

But we cannot build an ecological world by acting against civilization — and against the best creative minds of that civilization.

So, let us not fight the wrong battle here. It is not about getting back to the innocence described as the state of nature by Rousseau. This is only a delusional consolation from modernity. What is at stake here is the reconciliation of the Anthropocene and our ecosystem. And this is a hard task. But we can question growth without rejecting progress.

Would a humanity deprived of its groundbreaking works of art even be worth saving?

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


When A Library Is Born On A Tiny Italian Island

Inside an old watchtower dangling over the crashing waves of the port of Capraia, dwell 6,000 books and their keeper: 33-year-old Viola, a librarian who took the time during the COVID-19 pandemic to ask herself, "What makes you truly happy?"

A photograph of a book about the importance of reading, held up against the tower of Capraia's library

In front of the library of Capraia, a woman hold up a book about the importance of reading

Biblioteca Isola Di Capraia/Facebook
Federico Taddia

CAPRAIA — "The waves crashing loudly against the cliffs, the bad weather that prevents the ferry from arriving for days, the strong northeast wind making its presence felt... And then a handful of men and women, each with a kettle and their own cup of tea brought from home, protected inside the tower, reading a novel together: this, for me, is the library; this, for me, is building a community - building an identity - starting from books."

It almost seems as if, off in the distance, one can glimpse the Corsairs sailing on their galleys. Meanwhile, with the passionate gaze of someone who loves their land and the enthusiasm of someone who adores their job — actually, of someone who has realized their dream — Viola Viteritti, the librarian of Capraia, explains how the tower, built by the Genoese in 1540 to defend against pirates, is now home of what the Center for the Book and Reading has dubbed the most extraordinary library in Italy.

"I've spent four months a year on this island since I was born," she explains. "It's my home; it's the place where I feel good, where I am myself. As a child, I devoured books, but on the island, there was no place for books. When I chose to move here permanently, the library project started simultaneously. There couldn't have been a better cosmic alignment."

Keep reading...Show less

The latest