Geopolitical Monitoring Report | October 28, 2022
Climate Activists Continue Targeting Priceless Artwork, Raising Fears of Further Escalation
Climate activists affiliated with the group Just Stop Oil have taken to vandalizing priceless great works of art in museums across Europe, which may be a sign that some members of these groups are escalating their activities. In addition to the vandalization of priceless artworks, activists have also begun targeting financial institutions that fund fossil fuel development.
Protesters stormed the Climate Finance Day meeting – which brings together financial institutions to discuss green energy investments – on Oct. 27th in Paris by throwing smoke bombs and pouring black paint on the historic building where the meeting was being held. The protest was due to the fact that one French bank that was participating – BNB Paribas – has not completely ended the funding of fossil fuel projects, but has stated it will limit them in the future.
While this latest round of protests is likely inspired by the upcoming COP27 climate change conference in Egypt that begins on November 7, the shift from peaceful protests to vandalism of artwork and buildings could foreshadow future actions that target fossil fuel infrastructure. For example, Just Stop Oil activists have already blocked oil transport terminals in the United Kingdom by gluing themselves to the roadways and climbing on oil tankers earlier this year. The group stated that the action marked a shift from, “civil disobedience to civil resistance.”
These escalations from peaceful protest to what Just Stop Oil calls “civil resistance” comes at a time when nations around the world are taking significant steps to reduce their carbon emissions. However, many environmental activists have argued the current international efforts to combat climate change do not go far enough and are demanding more rapid steps to reduce emissions. This is likely a key factor that is driving radicalization among a small minority of committed activists in these groups and may lead to more calls to sabotage fossil fuel infrastructure from some in the environmentalist movement.
While it is highly unlikely that the small subset of activists that may move from peaceful protest to intentional destruction of property will intentionally attempt to kill or injure people, an escalation by these groups to the targeting of fossil fuel infrastructure has the potential to have severe unintended consequences.
First and foremost, sabotaging fossil fuel infrastructure has the paradoxical potential of releasing more greenhouse gas emissions than would be released during regular operation. For example, the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines – which was almost certainly destroyed by a nation-state as part of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine – prompted one of the largest releases of methane in world history.
The risk of sabotage increasing greenhouse gas releases unintentionally is not lost on environmentalists who advocate for industrial sabotage. Anders Malm, the author of How To Blow Up A Pipeline, stated in a recent interview that the destruction of Nord Stream, “caused an environmental disaster due to the enormous amount of methane that was released.” and that, “it’s about as far as you can come from the kind of sabotage that we would envision as part of a climate campaign.” Malm would continue on in the interview to state that, “hackers shut down the Colonial Pipeline by hacking into the software” and note that while this was not done as a way to protest fossil fuels, this might be an effective manner of sabotaging fossil fuel infrastructure.
This resulted in a 45% cut in fuel supplies on the East Coast of the US for several days, which led to panic buying and shortages. It is important to note that the Colonial Pipeline hack did not target the critical systems required for the pipeline to operate, but did prompt the operator to close the pipeline as a precaution. If a similar attack was launched with the goal of knocking pipeline infrastructure offline permanently, the results may be far more disruptive and could result in outbreaks of civil unrest due to fuel shortages.
Finally, efforts to disrupt traffic and cause disruptions to draw attention to their cause will remain a persistent risk in major cities, at major sporting events, and at corporate headquarters buildings. These risks will only increase surrounding major climate conferences and other key events.
Companies and organizations in the fossil fuel industry need to ensure that they are taking extra steps to care for the physical and cyber security of their facilities to make certain that they do not become victims of industrial sabotage. This will include making sure that your company has adequate threat landscape assessments for all physical facilities and network systems completed to reduce and mitigate both types of threats.
In addition, verifying that you have adequate cyber intelligence capabilities to investigate any potential breaches or disruptions is also essential to being able to resume operations quickly and minimize any disruptions. Disruptions to critical infrastructure can have significant knock-on effects that have the potential to disrupt a variety of other businesses and industries. Regular OSINT monitoring and analysis of open source information can help organizations – both in the fossil fuel industry and outside of it – anticipate and quickly identify potential disruptions that could be caused by various threat actors to better prepare their organizations to respond.
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