Mark Sowers: The vacuous vandals of Van Gogh



There have been instances over the last few days of climate activists committing acts of vandalism and destruction as a form of protest.

It’s happened before. Remember the ELF (Earth Liberation Front) committing arson against car dealerships in the 1990s?

At the National Gallery of London, two anti-oil activists poured tomato soup on a Van Gogh painting this weekend. A short time later another group visited a grocery store, also in the UK, and proceeded to remove milk from the cooler and pour it on the floor.

can (sort of) intellectually understand the Van Gogh event, even though I completely disagree with the tactic. He’s a world-famous painter and defacing one of his works was certain to draw attention, even if it didn’t create much sympathy for their cause.

The pouring out of the milk I don’t understand at all, nor do I really want to do any research to find out if the perpetrators voiced a rationale for their actions. They’re idiots and I don’t have any interest in what they have to say. Pouring out milk that some mother might want to buy so she can feed her kids is not protesting; it’s utterly petty and self-centered.

The goal of these activists is, ostensibly, to stop “climate change”, which would, presumably, ensure that everyone on earth lives some sort of climate-utopian better life. What that would actually look like I don’t know, and I’m not sure they do either. The bottom line is if you want to protest something, vandalism and the destruction of property are not the way to convince people your cause is just.

I’m not going to get into the whole “is climate change real” debate here, other than to say I believe climate is changing because it always has changed. The simple fact that it’s possible to find fossils of aquatic life on 10,000-foot-tall mountains, or the remnants of tropical flora buried under the arctic tundra should be enough to prove that fact. What I do not believe is that driving my car is going to destroy the planet.

So, what were these activists actually protesting? Oil, among other things. One of the most terribly bad, horrifically evil supervillains, according to climate change activists, is the oil industry. They tell us if we don’t stop drilling, the entire world will look like Mars or the moon in three years. Or something. And exactly how bad are oil companies and the products they produce? Well, I have a bit of experience there, because for six and a half years I actually worked in an oilfield – Kuparuk on Alaska’s North Slope. I can’t speak about other fields and the companies that operate them, but Kuparuk was the most environmentally conscious place I’ve ever been.

Here are just a few examples.

Wildlife has the right of way at all times on the North Slope. Herds of caribou, thousands of them, move through the field each summer. If there is a caribou, or three hundred, on a road blocking traffic, everyone stops. They don’t harass them or blare their horns. Everyone waits until they move. That’s true regardless of what animal might be in the road. I once sat in a pickup truck for fifteen minutes waiting for a red fox to decide it wanted to trot off into the tundra. Interfering with the animals or walking on tundra in summer without permission is punishable by termination.

There are pipelines there that carry all sorts of products other than oil from one facility to another. They’re built on pilings or columns above the ground, and not just a few inches either; many of them are six or eight feet up. I once watched a training video where a biologist explained one of the reasons why they’d been built so far off the ground: It’s so the caribou can walk under them when the snow melts in summer. They actually studied the caribou herds and determined an ideal height for the pipelines.

There is also a full-time spill response team that will respond to a spill like a fire department would to a fire. (Oh, they have one of those too – with huge fire trucks and everything.) Any liquid spill consisting of more than a cup, I mean a measuring cup like you’d find in a drawer in your kitchen, requires notification of the spill response team.

I remember one incident in winter when a piece of equipment blew a hydraulic hose. There was a trail of hydraulic fluid droplets that covered an area that was about 20 feet square. A coworker and I spent a half hour out in the sub-zero cold digging those tiny little droplets out of the snow and dumping it in hazmat bags so that it could be taken to a hazardous waste facility for disposal. There was so little hydraulic fluid on the ground that if that had happened on the gravel driveway at my house, I would have ignored it. But not up there. If that spill hadn’t been reported, the management at that facility could have faced serious repercussions, including termination, for not reporting it.

What’s the point of all this? The point is that there are oil companies out there that do it right, who actually do care about the environment and about the health of their employees. Maybe the anti-oil activists should do a little research about oil companies before they go throwing their lunch on a masterpiece painting.

Mark Sowers writes novels at and Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, he was raised in Tacoma, Washington and lived for two years in Greece, while his father did a tour of duty in the U.S. Army. He graduated from Tacoma Community College with an Associates degree, met his amazing wife Marcy and moved to Juneau, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in history, with minors in economics and political science from the University of Alaska Southeast. He’s always been a reader, and loves both fiction and non-fiction, but there has always been a special place in his heart for fantasy stories. He now lives in Wasilla, Alaska, with his extraordinary wife where they love working in their gigantic yard and keeping the moose away from the crabapple tree by setting off the car alarm.


  1. Activists and protestors don’t see themselves wasteful. I felt sorry for the furry animals who died for fashion only to have paint thrown on its beautiful old fur. Remember?

  2. Since I can’t say what I really think, let’s try this.

    Give them candy, teddy bears, and big hugs for distribution of society, vandalism, and attempted destruction of priceless works of art. Tell them they are stunning and brave, striking a blow for the planet. Then give them good citizenship awards.

  3. Just look at these two, a product of our school system. I remember a funny Rodney Dangerfield line from the movie “Caddyshack.” He looks at this kid named Spaulding, rolls his eyes and says, “Now I know why tigers eat their young.” Very much applies here.

  4. They used Super-Glue to affix themselves to the wall under the painting, right? Why help them get loose? Just leave them stuck to the wall. Sooner or later they will get hungry, thirsty or need to pee!

    • Better yet, just yank them off the wall and haul them off to jail. If the skin of their palms remain stuck to the wall, oh well. Maybe next time they’ll first consider the consequences of their asinine stupidity.

  5. Children. Toddlers really.
    Not getting what they want, so they throw a tantrum.
    Add to that a lack of critical thinking, not a second’s thought to whether their approach to the problem might not be the absolute best approach. “No matter what it takes…” “If it just saves one life…”
    I think these people should be forced to live in a world that meets their ideals. 100% organically grown food, no petroleum products, all green/renewable energy. Oh… wait, can’t have wind/solar without petroleum, so, I guess it is whatever nature provides. Only sustainable building products, etc….
    I have a feeling they will suddenly thing “some” use of oil is OK, especially if it is for their use. But… you are not allowed to use it…

  6. Climate activists are without a doubt amongst the most hypocritical people on Earth. I once had an employee who asked to take 15 minutes off work so he could drive two of his teenage children to a global warming protest. When I pointed out that the protest was less than a mile away from his home he replied, “So what, how else are they supposed to get there?” Walking never entered any of their minds!

  7. A terrible waste of soup although I don’t recognize the label. I like that picture too. Had I not liked it like some of Picasso’s, I I would have just moved on. These soup throwing lesbians are more about bringing attention to themselves then against oil. There’s enough hair tonic in that one Chick’s hair that probably derives from oil to make her a hypocrite. Perhaps her vibrator has some amount of oil in it.

  8. Thanks Mark, during a time of record profits the producers should be pressing harder to cap methane gas. IMO

  9. As was mentioned, this is what is taught in public schools. Those same kids probably drink water and and eat food items in one use plastic packaging, then put their trash in the recycling bin not knowing that mountains of it are stacking up in third world countries. There’s plenty of ways to make our environment better, but I fail to believe that driving my car and heating my home have enough effect to make me change. And I too have seen how clean the North Slope is kept. Cleaner than any city in America. Perhaps these young people should learn how to clean up their own mess, and learn how to up cycle to reduce their own footprint. Then they can peacefully protest with clean hands. Otherwise they should be locked up for their destructive behavior.

  10. Start putting the paintings behind bulletproof, shatter proof glass.
    Then put them in jail, “protestors” have destroyed, statues, paintings, businesses, anything they don’t like gets destroyed.

  11. Start putting the paintings behind bulletproof, shatter proof glass.
    Then put them in jail, “protestors” have destroyed, statues, paintings, businesses, anything they don’t like gets destroyed, under a banner of social justice.

  12. I recall a bunch of anti-oil activists protesting an offshore drilling rig that was in the bay off Seattle some years back. And how did they get out on the water? In PLASTIC kayaks!

  13. As a conservationist, these publicity stunts piss me off. They give credence to the Right’s label of extreme environmentalists.

  14. The author writes, “What’s the point of all this? The point is that there are oil companies out there that do it right, who actually do care about the environment”

    Anyone remember Alyeska and Exxon during the spill?

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