Just Stop Oil protesters glued themselves to the wall of the National Gallery in London and threw tomato soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers on 14 October 2022. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

Will disruptive action help save the planet?

[Rupert Read] No: If you don’t like shock ploys, the answer is simple. Join us, become the moderate flank

Nothing’s worked. More diplomatically put: nothing has yet worked at anything like the pace required. Is it any wonder that desperation is growing?

The closest anything came to working was Extinction Rebellion in April 2019. The radical flank of the environmental movement punched a hole through complacency and denial and raised climate consciousness permanently. But it didn’t succeed in its ultimate aim of provoking meaningful climate action from the UK government.

Governments the world over are simply not taking the findings of climate science seriously. In parallel, the same governments resist the blunt and terrible truth that the world can no longer stay below the 1.5C “safe” heating limit. This year’s United Nations climate summit, starting in a week in Egypt, is extremely unlikely to admit this failure. Yet deep down, everyone who pays any attention to the climate debate knows.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing therefore if academics, environmental and business leaders – even committed politicians, not to mention activists – were to admit that nothing yet has really worked? I believe the public is waiting for those brave enough to speak these truths and to invite a broad and popular response. But it won’t happen anything like quickly enough if the public continues not to be trusted with the full reality of our situation.

This is the tragedy of the moment. Because it is frustrating the full emergence of so much energy and endeavour that will, in my view, become a new moderate flank – one that is all about you: all about where you work or the communities where you live, acting collectively in the day to day to turn around the legacy of failure outlined above.

By way of example: lawyers can express their professional agency by choosing what clients and what business they take. The same goes for insurers who can disclose what they know about the rising threat we face. For academics and teachers, it’s about transforming what your teaching and research is about. And for those with access to land, it’s about building resilience and inviting the community at large, including those who you may not agree with politically, to join in.

It’s about fully facing and sharing the reality of the situation and acting on it. This is the opposite of a recipe for doomism. In lieu of anything even remotely resembling adequate plans from our “leaders”, we need to embody an exit strategy from fossil fuels or else we’ll be ejected into the fossil record.

So it’s clear the next big step forward in climate action must bring the public with us. We need together to step beyond the lures of polarisation, roll our sleeves up and get down to business by identifying (and changing) the underlying reasons for past failures.

My challenge to every reader who doesn’t want to throw soup at anything… join us. Make it so. Make the new moderate flank a reality. It’s too late to keep ourselves safe, but not too late to save ourselves from full-scale climate breakdown.

[Indigo Rumbelow] Yes: Half-hearted tactics can’t reach people at a visceral level. So let’s up the ante

You’re asking about tactics – which ones work and which ones don’t. First, let me throw a question back to readers: why is this what your newspaper wants you to think about? Why do they want you to pit people taking action against each other? As they’ve pitted me against Rupert Read here? Why do they want you to obsess over who is right and who is wrong when climate breakdown looms over us all?

The division is clear – it’s between those who are prepared to accept the reality of this critical moment in human history and act and those who are not.

Let’s face it: climate breakdown shatters the deepest bonds that hold us together: our families, our health and our communities.

In Pakistan, 33 million people have had to leave their homes; 146 million people in sub-Saharan Africa can’t get enough to eat. Thousands of lives were lost because of the summer heatwave we experienced here.

And this is just a tiny hint of the catastrophe coming down the road. Everything about this situation is disruptive.

We can’t wake our world up to this reality without disrupting daily life ourselves. Blocking roads, throwing soup and painting luxury shops orange are nothing compared to the disruption that is already affecting millions of people around the world.

Our government needs to wake up – and that’s exactly what disruption brings. It’s an electric shock that calls upon people to see the horror of what’s unfolding before us and to join us in standing up to the evil of the fossil economy to save humanity before it is too late. When we are taking action, we are calling upon people to break through the fear of repression and to join us in civil resistance.

Moderate tactics can’t reach people at this visceral level. So they can and will be ignored. A million people marched to try to stop the Iraq war in 2003. It did nothing. How many tweets, letters, petitions and marches have there been since we’ve known that oil is killing us? And the carbon hasn’t stopped rising, the death count hasn’t stopped climbing.

Honestly, answer me this: if our government is ready to destroy humanity in the race to make oil profits, why would it listen to a tweet?

Historical precedent tells us that in extreme situations only disruption can break through. So we trace our lineage to the suffragettes, to Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders and to the fight for LGBTQ emancipation. These are our sources of inspiration – they show us that civil resistance does work.

And to finish, a question for you, dear reader. In order to protect your freedoms and your rights and all that you love, will you stand with us?