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van gogh stunt

Climate activists tossed cans of tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" at the National Gallery in London on October 14, 2022. (Photo: Just Stop Oil/Twitter)

Climate Actions Like Throwing Soup at Art Dampen Support for Cause: Survey

Researchers found that "overall, the public expresses general disapproval of nonviolent, disruptive protests to raise attention to the dangers of climate change."

Brett Wilkins

In the wake of high-profile climate protests that target priceless works of art or block streets and other public infrastructure, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania on Monday published a survey showing such actions broadly decrease support for addressing the climate emergency.

Shawn Patterson Jr. and Michael E. Mann of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media wondered if acts like last month's soup-splashing of Vincent van Gogh's famous glass-protected painting Sunflowers in London by Just Stop Oil activists helped or hindered the cause of boosting support for climate action.

The survey team set out to answer three questions: "First, does the public approve of using tactics like shutting down traffic or gluing oneself to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring to raise attention to climate change? Second, do these tactics affect public beliefs surrounding human-driven climate change? And third, do the framing of these tactics influence that support?"

The researchers found that "overall, the public expresses general disapproval of nonviolent, disruptive protests to raise attention to the dangers of climate change."

"A plurality (46%) report that such efforts decrease their support for their cause," Patterson and Mann noted. "However, these efforts have minimal effects on people's perceptions of the dangers of climate change."

"Moreover," they added, "the framing of the actions appears to also have a small impact—respondents did not differentiate 'damaging' and 'pretending to damage' pieces of art in their appraisal of such actions."

The survey team did find that Democrats are "significantly more likely" to say that these disruptive tactics increase their support for climate action compared to Republicans or Independents.

The researchers also found that "Black and Hispanic respondents are more likely to report increased support than white respondents."

On social media, Mann said the "key finding" of the survey data in his mind was that independent voters "who might be critical in establishing majority support for aggressive climate policies express strong disapproval of the tactics."

Among independents, 43% of such voters reported decreased support compared to just 11% who reported an increase.

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