TED Conversations

Amanda Hooper


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Do extremist tactics push environmentalism forwards or backwards?

Burning down buildings, spiking trees, bombing whaling ships, and poisoning fruit juice. These are examples of protest by groups known as eco-extremist or eco-terrorism groups. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) describes eco-terrorism as, “ the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.” Simply, ecoterrorism can be thought of as acts of violence in support of environmentalism.

The documentary-style reality show “Whale Wars” follows an extremist group that throws bombs at whaling ships to discourage them from whaling. Instead of convincing them to stop, the bombs anger the whalers. Groups like Greenpeace have been working peacefully to negotiate the termination of whaling, and they have been successful. For example, in 2010 Greenpeace Japan activists worked with retailers to significantly cut the demand for whale meat, which in turn decreased the number of whales hunted. Also through campaigning, Greenpeace has helped the people of Japan become aware of corruption in the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) and the whaling industry. The FAJ has since acknowledge this corruption and started to right the wrongs of the Japanese whaling industry, resulting in a reported 30% drop in whale meat sales as of January 2011.

Can extreme tactics ever result in forward progress similar to the progress Greenpeace has made in Japan?

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    Jun 4 2012: I don't have an opinion on this topic but I do have an observation. As a massive geek I've spent unreasonable amounts of time on forums and such discussing the morals of various fictional characters, and comparing those to conversations like this one, people are far more likely to support extremists in fiction, even if they're villains and clearly portrayed as such.

    Now the obvious answer as to why is that there's a big difference between fiction and real life and that undoubtedly does play a part, but these character discussions are serious discussions and people are at least trying to think of things from a real world perspective. So, what are the reasons for this discrepancy? Is it because in fiction we are given a chance to know the extremists, as opposed to in real life they are often little more than a name or a face? Does it have to do with the way writers tend to frame situations and issues, as opposed to how, say, the media does? Is it simply a difference in view between the type of people who usually talk about real world issues and people who usually discuss fiction? Going back to the difference between fiction and real life, does our detachment from friction prevent us from looking at it logically? Or conversely, does our investment in the real world prevent us from looking at /it/ logically? If so, is that a good or bad thing?

    Just some food for thought.
  • Jun 3 2012: This question is loaded. Sea Shepherd Society threw stink bombs not explosives. Butyric acid is industrially prepared by the fermentation of sugar or starch, brought about by the addition of putrefying cheese, with calcium carbonate added to neutralize the acids formed in the process. It smells bad... that's about it.
    Eco-terrorism is a very weird concept, because as far as I can tell the ones causing terror to the ecosystem are the ones over-exploiting it. It is a deliberate attempt to draw attention away from the real criminals, and to allow over-zealous prosecution of those who would interfere in the ability of a corporation to profit.
    You can only push people so far before they feel the need to take action and get justice. If laws aren't enforced, and petitions ignored, is it moral to turn a blind eye?
    If ecosystems continue to be over-exploited, if species are threatened by commercial activity, if in 50 years the sea has risen a meter and is empty of fish, if the climate is causing crop failure, etc, etc (and I see no end to our over-consumption) then we may look back at these days and recognize that the heroes of the day were the ones who were more than just armchair activists and petition signers.
    The best way to stop extreme environmentalism is to make laws based on the latest scientific data and enforce them. The vast majority of terrorism has been against environmental groups, not by them. Remember the Rainbow Warrior?
    I am not a violent person in the least, but I can imagine if some profiteer was killing the orcas in my area I would reach a moral crossroads where after exhausting other avenues, the only option left would be to physically stop the people responsible. What would you do? And how would you explain it to your grandkids?
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      Jun 5 2012: It is true, the Sea Shepherd did only throw stink bombs. This example was used because of the amount of people who have heard about or have seen this show.

      In regards to your last question, I agree with you that I would likely also feel the need to physically stop people the people responsible. However, I would also likely have to ask myself if there a way to somehow physically stop the killing without becoming violent? On that note though, I honestly cannot say what I would do in that situation because I am not in it, and I am a true believer in until you are in a situation you don't really know how you will react.
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    Jun 6 2012: Crimes are not and will never be non-crimes even under the slogan of GREEN.
    In my view. The extreme tactics themselves are against the purpose of environmentalism, which is to better the earth, the environment, for all human beings. If extreme actions, especially those aims to harm other human beings, are taken, then the so-called environmentalists are not environmentalists at all.

    GREEN is just camouflage of crime
    • Jun 6 2012: Charles,
      I completely agree with you. Not only are the tactics used by these "eco-terrorists" counterproductive, they are also an insult to those of us who truly care about the environment and wish to see a change. Fighting fire with fire is not an appropriate solution to the problem our environment is facing. The best we can hope for is that these groups do not encourage further retaliation. These violence centered groups give a bad reputation to environmentalism, and yet because their acts often make the news, they are what many citizens are coming to see as the "face" of environmentalism. This is unacceptable.
      All that being said, it is not hard to see what these groups are hoping for. When you build up enough anger at a situation, it is often difficult to channel such passion conscientiously. If environmentalists who do not believe in these extreme acts were to reach out to these radical groups, try to help them see the harm they are causing, and provide alternative ways for them to channel their energy, perhaps we can incite a change?
    • Jun 6 2012: The original focus of the environmental movement was simply the protection of the environment from human harm. Nowadays the focus of the mainstream environmental movement seems to be all about sustainability and allowing the continuation of consumer society with some consideration for it being sustainable but it mustn't threatens jobs or the economy. To me the movement has lost some of it's original focus.

      Don't get me wrong I think that some sort of post industrial society with the benefits of technological advance is desirable and possible, but the main thrust of the environmental movement should return to protecting the environment first and worrying about jobs and industry a very distant second, if at all, time is running out folks...
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        Jun 6 2012: There is _some_ connection between jobs and the environment though. In various polls, the recession seemed to have caused people to put environmental issues at back of their minds, because they need jobs to make a living and provide for their families. I think for a lot of people, if they have no source of stable income, they'll do whatever they feel they need to.

        Also, wasn't there some sort of correlation between poverty and increased habitat destruction? There's a reason why people are cutting down rainforests in South America.

        My point is, I think the focus of the environmental movement started 'shifting focus' as you say, because people are realizing more and more that it's all connected. People, jobs, social issues, environmental issues, and so on.

        We should still protect the environment, and all the ecosystems, but it's going to be connected to people no matter what, is what I'm trying to say.
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    Jun 4 2012: No extremist action moves any cause forward in the long run. An extremist approach tries to play billiards when the game you need to win is chess. Smart, common sense, clear communications on a subject will always be more effective than extremism, because people can react positively to such media more easily, and in this way a cause can gain supporters more quickly. Persistence is important, but shock and awe tactics, especially extremist ones, cannot solve long term problems.
  • Jun 4 2012: -Extremism almost by definition implies lack of balance and perspective. Any activity extreme enough to be characterized as "terrorism" is probably going too far for its own ultimate good.
    -There is as much extremism on the right as there is on the left and not many of a more moderate or liberal bent tend to see that as a good thing.
    -As some have noted, there may be a good cop-bad cop aspect to extremism, clearing a path for more moderately stated views, but it is pretty hard to show cause and effect. We had demonstrators at my university who wanted it to stop burning coal, but I am pretty sure it was the cost of Hg remediation of flue gas and falling natural gas prices that were the real drivers for the eventual decision to switch fuels.
    -I've heard it said that extremists are usually right about the problem and usually wrong about the solution. I haven't had a lot of experience to contradict that viewpoint.
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      Jun 4 2012: "Usually right about the problem but wrong about the solution." Love that saying. And it fits in perfectly my thoughts on the subject. Yet I would suggest that there are far more instances of extremism on the right than on the left, just as a result of the nature of the worldviews. Its interesting to think though, given this, that we see more extremism on the left in the world of "eco-terrorism". This might be reflective of the way that conservation has typically not been a subject critically close to the conservative heart, traditionally.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree with Bill but have to slightly disagree with Mitchell. Extremist are right about their problem, be it the left or the right, it is just a matter of their view. There is as much extremism on the left as the right. This discussion points out the fact that extremism is only extreme to people that appose the view taken. On the left would be an Eco-terrorist that bombs whalers, on the right would be a Eco-terrorist fisherman that fishes an endangered species or a keystone species from a fragile ecosystem. We mostly see left extremists because we are given media from conservative outlets.
  • Jun 4 2012: Extremist tactics are the downfall of grassroots organizing. Instead of looking for the most direct solution to a problem eco-terrorist attack the symptoms of problems (like the whaling ships instead of the whaling industry). Often times these tactics also cause more environmental damage than just letting the process happen would, for instance when all of those ski lodges were being burnt down in Colorado, they still got built it just took three or four times as much equipment, timber, and carbon emissions. Non-violent protest and campaigning can cause a lot more change, and actually changes behaviors permanently instead of causing temporary rage or frustration. As long as we live in the society we do we must look for change within the market, and change behaviors and life styles that way.
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      Jun 4 2012: I agree that extremism can be counter productive, I especially like your example about burning down ski lodges. While I think who engage in environmental extremism may have the right motive, they also are an alienating factor and something the opposition can point to and make generalizations about the movement as a whole. That being said, I think they are also a necessary part of the movement because they do gain a lot of media attention and make people evaluate their own lives. I don't think that the "market" has the answers because that is just as irrational as extremism. Nonviolence is a good solution because makes those who use violence look bad, for example the civil rights movement, and then that in turn helps the movement gain sympathy. When you engage in violence it is sending the message that you think violence is okay and it makes it easier to justify violence as a response.
      • Jun 5 2012: I guess I was using the market as an example of nonviolent action. Changing people's behaviors changes their consumer habits changes the products that are made removes environmentally harmful products from the market. Though there are definitely other ways of having non-violent action I think we see most of their ramifications in market changes.
    • Jun 5 2012: In addition to the increase levels of environmental harm some extremist movements cause, they also negatively change the perception that the average citizen feels about the subject. When extremist groups do very drastic or harmful demonstrations it pushes the middle ground away further and further and ultimately it is the middle ground that will end up swaying legislation or popular favor in a particular direction. For example when PETA was throwing red paint on celebrities wearing fur, average people felt that supporters were extremists and alienated them. PETA's new "I'd rather be naked than wear fur" campaign is much more subtle and tends to be favored much more by the average citizen.
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      Jun 5 2012: I think Ellen presents a great point. I never really considered the negative impact that extremist could have, outside of negative publicity. The issue of fighting symptoms of problems reaches outside of Eco-terroists as well. If activists on either side are not well informed then they could be spending a great deal of resources fighting symptom with no great outcome.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree with Ellen. For instance the ski resort example, I don't think a lot of people (including me) ever gave much consideration to all the resources that went in to building the resorts and the carbon emissions that resulted from it. Burning them down doesn't solve anything, but just exhausts resources and contributes unnecessary negative outcomes. I think that was a good point.
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    Jun 4 2012: Extreme tactics are examples of forward progression. I went to a conference about environmental activism, there when we spoke of extremists the conversation defined them as a group of people purposefully positioned to do extreme activities that seized the attention of the public. In this way extremists make actual activists, for example Greenpeace, and their demands seem less severe or extreme in comparison and in turn these demands are met with less opposition than if there were no extremists and nothing to compare activists demands to.
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      Jun 4 2012: While I agree that extremist actions get attention, how can you say for sure that they create any forward movement of a cause? Many people see extremists fighting for a cause and get turned off by it, further distancing themselves from what is occurring.
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        Jun 4 2012: The point I'm making is that non-extremists activists that are making demands for change seem less menacing when there is an extremist group to compare them to. In this way, the presence of an extremist group AND an activist group that make points about the same issue, together are progressions of a forward movement. The presence of an extremist group lessen the extremity surrounding the actual activist group seeking change and ultimately allow the activist group to seem less demanding in comparison to the extremists thus encouraging greater support. When talked about during the conference, an example was made of the Black Panther Party and the civil rights movement. In this example the Black Panther Party were the extremists, for instance their presence and high demands made the simple demands of the civil rights movement more acceptable to the public.
        • Jun 5 2012: I think this is a really good point. While I usually tend to think extremist groups are counter-productive, I never acknowledged their usefulness in drawing attention to a larger cause. The example of the Black Panther movement is interesting to me because it really carries over to current environmental problems. While some extremist groups are really "out there" in their approach, they are still bringing awareness to a larger cause, which I generally think is a good thing.
      • Jun 4 2012: Can you Trevor say for sure that they don't create forward movement on an issue? Many people are also inspired by people whose intellect, passion and commitment to a sustainable future do not allow them to be simply armchair activists. Personally I would look to a more creative form of protest, but in the big picture, or in a few decades it may turn out that extreme environmentalism is the only alternative to the juggernaut of our materialistic/consumer/industrial society. It is actually one of my biggest fears that I will one day look out on an environmentally fractured and impoverished world filled with suffering and will know that I could have done more when there was still time to step back from the precipice.
    • Jun 4 2012: This is a very legitimate point that I did not consider. Just as diversity is important on the species, and ecosystem level, diversity in culture and expression of protest also is important. Where one strategy may be most useful in some cases, there may be situations where extremism, or even the threat of extremism is the best strategy for causing real change.
      • Jun 4 2012: While I think that it is possible that extremist behavioral draw he public attention to an issue, I think that history has shown that the dangers of extremist activity is that it causes anger between the opposing parties that can foster actions based on the desire for revenge. Anger can inspire the desire for revenge and retaliation. This could steer decisions from being motivated by what is best for the environment and instead toward what would be the best retaliation. This should be kept in mind because not only would the focus on these actions be lost, but as many others have mentioned, more harm could result than good for these extremist actions.
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        Jun 5 2012: We want to move forward as a society and violence should no be supported in any way. Not in raising children, not in getting a point across, not for controlling someone or a situation, not because we disagree with the way others think. We are humans and are capable of communicating and thinking creatively in order to inform and persuade others. There is no reason for violence, it just leads to more violence. Yes, extremist's acts raise awareness, but such feelings of hatred cannot be good in leading any type of change.
        • Jun 5 2012: Stephanie, I think the best point that you made is that as humans we can communicate. I do not think these extremist acts work as effective methods of communication. You clarified my thinking. These acts of violence muddle the message that these people may actually be trying to get across. This is counter-productive. What is more, extremist actions are often considered unattributed and may drive people away from the problem in the first place so to avoid being associated with the negative connotations of those extremists involved.
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    May 31 2012: If no-one listens to polite and peaceful protest about important issues such as environmental destruction, then unfortunately extremist tactics will be the ultimate resort. Extremist tactics are always seen at face value and in isolation - not least by the media, who do not always report the full story and the reasoning behind a protest movement

    Powerlessness is a significant cause of antagonism and rage. Extremist tactics give any movement a very bad name and ruins its credibility, but it does go some way to empower those who feel powerless, if moderate protest has not worked in the past - or is ever likely to work in the future.

    So who do we blame? The disempowered many who need to be listened to - or the dysfunctionally empowered few, who refuse to listen?
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      May 31 2012: I feel that using extreme tactics in environmentalism results in the movement becoming even more powerless because of the negativity attached to these actions. Most people would not want to support a cause that is associated with violence and such dramatizations.
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        May 31 2012: I agree Kadie. It's just that many people see violence as their only resort
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        Jun 2 2012: These extreme acts though do provide media coverage for their cause. The awareness it provides, not matter how detrimental, will make people look into the matter. The power is in the number of people with knowledge and pushing for change.
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        Jun 3 2012: I agree using extreme tactics make movements become more powerless and negatively thought of in society. Some people may see violence as their only resort but that doesn't usually get them anywhere. As seen with Greenpeace, peaceful movements can make huge differences, although it may take longer, more positive attention will be given to peaceful movements than violent attacks where the leaders may even be killed or thrown in jail. This makes no forward movement, but backwards because society will see these violent attacks and not support their cause. People are more likely to attend protests and want to help if they think they are safe doing it, which will help the cause.
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      May 31 2012: I agree with your comment, Allan. We cannot blame extremists entirely for their potentially harmful measures because the US (and foreign) political climate is often such that many people lack a significant voice in the decision making process. I think there are many extremists who recognize the intensity of their attacks and truly feel that they have no other way to make a point. However, they must be careful in who and what is harmed if they want to be heard rather than demonized. People like Edward Abbey (famous for The Monkey Wrench Gang) seem to have a clear image that severe actions often have to take place, but that mass human destruction and harm is not necessary or useful to make a political statement.
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      Jun 3 2012: I don't think that anyone is really to blame. I think that they are doing this because they feel like no one is controlling or enforcing law on the issue and so they have to step in and do something. I feel like there is an equal responsiblilty to be shared between the protesters, the ones committing the "crime", those who are suppose to enforce the "crime", and society for not creating specific laws about what is considered acceptable and what is not.
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    • Jun 6 2012: If you associate "extreme" with "violence" you are correct. However this association is tenuous. This doublespeak troubles me because it overshadows the real perpetrators of violence which are almost always political groups and governments, religious groups, and some corporations.
  • MR T

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    Jun 6 2012: Greenpeace had excellent success with Japan and I fully advocate what they did. However greenpeace on GM crops is a different story, in my opinion their policy takes no account of scientific evidence, its ludicrous reading it, and yet they destroy GM test crops on a yearly basis. Actions within both of these topics have been illegal, the difference is, that one I support and one I don't.

    Were Greenpeace's actions more violent towards the Japanese than the actions of the Japanese towards the whales?


    Were Greenpeace's actions towards GM crop trails more violent than the violence that could be incited from the success of those GM crop trials.



    The law acts as a very good rein on environmental extremism, it is all too common for young environmentalists in the UK to be swayed by media, idealism and distortion of facts as opposed to straight science. The problem is the law is not progressive enough to permit direct action in circumstances where there often should be, and the evidence supports radical change.

    heres a thought: will climate change stay keep under 2C under current trends, without radical change?
    • Jun 6 2012: Agree completely with your last points. It will take radical change, of some-sort, to keep climate change under the 2C mark and the law is not progressive enough to permit direct action where the evidence supports radical change.

      On GM crops, if the action is based on scientific ignorance and a general fear, then it's wrong. If the action is based on higlighting that a certain biotechnology company is imbuing resistance towards pesticides that it manufactures in order to maximise it's profits and sell more pesticide then it's right.
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        Jun 6 2012: Thanks, yes there is certainly a darker side to GM and I am not an advocate of all the ways in which it is used.

        I think GM can be seen in the same way that a spade can, hit someone with it and it will hurt, but it is a tool and can be put to useful purposes. It is not GM, nor the spade that is inherently bad, they are both tools for which their morality or immorality is determined by the users intent and implications of their use.

        This distinction is what seems to have surpassed the acknowledgement of current greenpeace policy.
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    Jun 6 2012: I do not think that extremist actions are good or necessary, in fact I think they are probably detrimental more often than not. When extremists attack people they do not agree with nothing good can happen, it will only anger the people they attack. Activists bombing whalers in Japan is a prime example of just how terrible extremist tactics are. The bombing will only anger the whalers and make them want to go against the activists even more. I think a lot more good can be done in the world by educating people and having civil discussions and debates.
  • Jun 6 2012: I am an environmental activist and I'm president of an environmental youth organization, so just so you know I'm totally invested in "saving the Earth." But in no way do I believe in extremist actions. They are not only plain wrong and irresponsible, but they turn people off and give the environmental movement a bad name. I find myself getting so angry when I see things in right-wing blogs saying environmental extremists care more about birds and ants than families and jobs, but eco-terrorism just gives those people the right to say that?

    A big challenge I've faced in activism is getting people to care about the environment. Many people feel that the environment is just the animals and the trees and that the whiny environmentalists care about animals too much. What I try to make people understand is that the environment and people are connected, and that we are not whiny and radical, but trying to help this world. As an environmental activist it is important to NOT BE TOO RADICAL in order to have a connection with the public. Eco-terrorism is a total barrier in this way.
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    Jun 4 2012: The activities of eco-extremist groups and eco-terrorism associations should not be placed in the same category as an environmental group like one which bills itself as 'striptease for trees'.
    This group relies on the topless protesters strategy. Women bare their breasts in order to stop logging trucks and engage the mostly male loggers in a dialogue about the perils of deforestation.
    Such extreme expressions may attract more media attention.

    But it is still better for pro-environment organisations to be fair in their fight, and to be percieved to be fair.
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      Jun 6 2012: I must say I really like this striptease for trees group what a great idea! I think everyone can agree that sex sells or at the least can distract someone from almost anything. I think a little skin can go much further than tree spikes which may kill someone. You bring up a great point Feyisayo and I can't help but wonder in what other ways could we use sex instead of violence or extreme measures not just to sell cars and 6 packs but to protect the environment!
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    Jun 3 2012: What is our alternative to extremist acts? Although Amanda related extremist tactics to eco-terrorists, I don't believe the two are mutually binding. Eco-terrorists employ extremist tactics but not all environmental extremists are eco-terrorists. Do we consider the group of individuals that chain themselves to a tree to keep the old-growth forest from being torn down as terrorists? I hope not, but the government may deem them as so because they are hampering our corporations.

    Reading through the comments on this post, I see a lot of focus on education. Austin Diamond, in particular, wrote about targeting the media because they have such a profound influence on the public. What if education isn't fast enough? Climate change and environmental degradation are happening at an excruciating pace and our method of affecting how corporations conduct business by consumer demand is slow. It is especially slow when you're implying to the consumer that they can't buy or do certain things.

    Extremist tactics tend to turn people off because most people are moderate. And consumer education could be too slow to adequately address the issue of climate change. How do we deal with the issues of climate change, then? In the end, the different tactics towards change are based on opinion. Congratulations, we started a Ted Talk where most people, who are largely unaffected by the negative impacts of environmental degradation, can talk about how extremist tactics hurt humans. I would argue the opposite and say that many extremists are very humanitarian and see the negative effects that these practices have on marginalized communities. But rather than sitting on their computer and signing an online petition to a senator who probably won't care, they are out in the field trying to change it. I'm just bringing perspective. It's easier for many of use to support the slow route, but many people, and ecosystems, can't wait that long. Neither side is absolutely right nor wrong.
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      Jun 4 2012: I suppose I feel that we are treading very delicate waters here in regard to extremist action. I do agree that we may come to a point where it becomes obvious, to the majority, that nothing on Earth that we try is working, and an act of extremism is the only thing that can knock people to their senses.

      The problem is that many of the small-scale extremist acts just tick people off. And of course the problem with this catastrophic extremist act I'm talking about is the fact that it's catastrophic.
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        Jun 4 2012: But even when we come to that point where we realize that nothing is working, will we make any changes for the better? I've already encountered numerous people who, after discussing it with me, became convinced that nothing we are doing is drastic enough. Nevertheless, when I asked them if they would make "x" change, they resoundingly responded with a "no" because a lot of the necessary individual, and even systemic, changes may require shifts in our way of living that reduce our already gratuitous comfort. The small scale extremist tactics, not necessarily the violent ones, tick people off because it highlights the things in their life that they are doing to support the environmental degradation. Many people, myself included, get defensive when told that they are passively harming the environment. But I think these extremist tactics make people think but when the mainstream media gets a hold of it, it just becomes a one-sided story about which corporation lost X amount of money. At that point, the only thing people are thinking about is how evil these people are. And I've seen that sentiment throughout this conversation. There is little appreciation for the work they do.
        • Jun 4 2012: Oh Matt, co-directing the CJL with you is going to be a blast! We took completely different stances on this issue (though neither of us is strongly for or against extremist tactics). Maybe we should discuss this issue in terms of the change we as students want to see... like a carbon neutral campus by 2020. It's not going to happen because of our administrators, but attacking the administrators (I mean that in the most figurative way) wouldn't change the situation except to get us new admin who are still just as slow and bureaucratic. Ignoring the education component, a public campaign that is media heavy and attacks the institution where it hurts would be much more effective than egging Steve Mital's car. LTEs in the Oregonian this summer?
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          Jun 5 2012: Matthew
          I agree with you that not all extremist tactics can nor should they be considered terrorism. In regards to your last comment about how once the media gets ahold of the actions extremist preform they get turned into a one-sided argument about how corporations were hurt, do you think this is always the case no matter what the extremist act? Is there anyway for extremists to somehow communicate with the media so that their tactics were portrayed in a positive way that can inform the public of the issue at hand?
    • Jun 4 2012: I disagree that sitting on your computer and signing a petition is not an effective way to cause change. I'm not saying it is a great way, and I am certainly not saying our system is set up well to encourage senators to care what we sign, but it is something that is easy for people to do. A petition takes nothing more than a signature or a click, and I personally have attached my name to plenty of things I feel our senators should know I care about. petitions are an easy way for people to attach their support to something without requiring them to take too much out of their normal day.

      Now of course, peaceful or extremist active participation is a more effective way of bringing attention to an issue. These people are needed, including in my opinion the extremists. But this form of activism is for the dedicated believers in a cause. The majority of people may want more environmental protection, but they also want a multitude of other things. Activism to bring the issues to light, petitions for the majority to get behind numerous different issues. You probably don't have enough time to be active on multiple different issues, but you do have time to sign multiple different petitions.

      Now all that said, actively seeking signatures on petitions on campus is freaking annoying. This should be done by having to get permission from the EMU to set up a booth, and then letting people come to you on their time if they find your issue to be important. If you try to stop me when I've got to get from one side of campus to the other in 10 minutes you're going to have a bad time. And I think posting petitions online on popular message boards like Reddit for people to see and sign there is a much more effective way of getting signatures than standing outside looking for them.
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        Jun 4 2012: Valid points. I do disagree with the petition-gathering aspect. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time as a petitioner, simply setting up a booth and waiting for people to sign is not effective, at all! There are deadlines to gathering these signatures and if these deadlines aren't met, the entire cause is wasted until the next term. I understand the sentiment that people are oftentimes too busy to stop and sign a petition. But I have talked to many people who thank me for stopping and informing them about the issue because they wouldn't have actively sought it on their own.

        Also, your annoyance by these petitioners is an opinion. I'm glad they are there. I may be asked 3 times in a day whether I've signed a petition that I signed last week. But if they weren't there, I would be saddened by their absence. A lot of people are annoyed by petitioners, but I, and many others I know, are not.

        Online petitions are an interesting topic. They are worth much less to a decision-making body than a written petition in the same way that an email is worth more than a signature. Point-and-click signatures are looked down upon because it takes very little effort to sign one. But that is the point. Many people find face-to-face interaction with petitioners to be annoying so they opt for the online signature. Online signatures are also easily distributed to the people. Each form of petition has its pros and cons. That is fine but I would rather see written signatures where there is an opportunity for discussion between the signer and the petitioner.
        • Jun 4 2012: Well yeah, I guess nothing is ever perfect. I have signed a few petitions when I'm stopped on campus, but I've blown off many more that I would've supported if I hadn't been stopped while trying to get to class. It isn't exactly a petition, but I have seen Reddit have tremendous success with gathering people's attention on an issue Congress is about to vote on, and getting those people to send an e-mail or make a phone call to their senators. The best example was the push to stop SOPA. Of course Reddit would be all over that, but they had a top post on the front page that listed the names, states and phone numbers of every senator. It made it so easy for people from all over the country to call in and get their opinions heard.
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      Jun 4 2012: I agree with you Matt in that our measures to ensure the stability and restoration of our ecosystems and climate are not drastic enough. However, at what point do these drastic measures become too drastic? Do we draw the line at the popular TV show that destroys property and potentially endangers human lives, or do we draw it somewhere more towards the moderate end? I think it's important for us to have extremists simply because they do what no one else wants to do, but what do we do when they go too far?
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        Jun 5 2012: And I guess that is the big question. First, what do we call too far? You and I may have a different definition of that. But there is really no way to define it. We could use our legal system to define it but if this is our basis for rules, then corporations should be subject to this the same way extremist environmental groups are. But I can guarantee that they are held to much lower standards of "acceptable" behavior. Unfortunately, this issue will not be resolved anytime soon and I will continue to give my solidarity to those working on the front-lines, getting their hands dirty. I do NOT support the harming of human life, however.
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    Jun 3 2012: It is not in me to be an eco terrorist or an occupy style anarchist but I do believe that extreme circumstances require sometimes extreme actions and can cause a dynamic shift in policy and practice where normal diplomatic or legislative processes fail or are too slow.

    I am involved now in an effort to de rail an outrageous private 4 lane toll road through Miane's wllderness. I decided to drive one of the remote logging roads that is to be used myself to get a first hand feel for it and through a chain of circumstaces a fried I invited invited several friends and it ended up being a caravan of Earth Firsters..national eco terrorists and grass roots organizers.

    I rode about half way with one of the leaders of that group and was impressed with the depth of knowledge and history that group possesed and also with their commitment. They don't employ these tactics because its fun to cause trouble. They do it when the conditions are extreme..

    They would be more helpful and constructive if they could also sometimes just be at the table in less extreme situtaions and share theiir knowledge like other advocates and activists but of course that never happens so the world only sees their violence and excep for the remarkable example of Greepeacee, rarely has a voice in the world.

    The Greepeace model of activism is the way to go using eco terrorism as a tool only when it is a very extreme situation.

    I have to also say as a nationally recognized exert in superfund and environemntal risk amangement, we did it all wrong legislatively as well. When we make a commitment to a national policy that requires extensive retooling and refabrication for almost every phase of operations, we have to do more than just dictate the law and give everyone so much time to comply. We have to comit as well to helping affected companies make the transitions and put some investment in solutions and alternatives.
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    Jun 2 2012: There is a idea that says that the most beautiful and powerful acts are the ones that seek the median, it was said by Aristoteles in ancient Greece. Therefore, extremist tatics even in eco-moviments are wrong, ecological activism doesn`t need that. They must pursue the midterm between urban and nature, this is only way to put their discussions in a higher level where they can be supported by private companies through out the world. The problem is: sometimes eco-groups aren`t worried about the other society sectors thoughts. I think that this is the main reason for these groups been a little bit away of the political discussions. Eco-groups If you really want to change the world now, you must start thinking on that.
  • Jun 2 2012: Extremism in general is bad. When you fight fire with fire you create more fire. By committing violent and destructive acts to get your message across you are no longer an activist but an enemy and potentially a terrorist. Also with extremism the message tends to be lost because people will focus more on the extreme act and not the cause it's self. To fight for environmentalism is a great thing but when you do it through violent and destructive behaviour you have made your self just as bad as the ones you fight.
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    May 31 2012: Talk about fighting injustice with injustice.
    Extremist tactics strips environmentalism of its humanity.
    Environmentalism would be loved for its nobility if it is carefully communicated to more people.
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      May 31 2012: I completely agree. These acts are scary and giving environmentalists and environmentalism a bad rep. I feel like environmentalists who use these tactics are so desperate to get their message out there and feel like time might be scarce, it is sad and I hope that one day awareness can be created without bombing whaling ships or poisoning juice.
    • Jun 4 2012: It is hard to argue with this. I only wish to point out two things. First off, not all extremist acts are the same. A group that refuses to leave a grove of trees about to be cut down are labeled extremists, but they are not the same as a group that sets logging equipment on fire. Secondly in the case of environmental extremism the extremists bring media attention to issues. If they keep extremist activities to a minimum and know when to stop I believe extremism should be tolerated.
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    May 31 2012: I think the amount of credibility PETA has about explains how successful most extremist groups are. They're treated like a joke for good reason: most of their tactics muddy the waters and ruin any kind of credibility they may have had. ACORN was another group that did far more harm than good, and took away credibility from legitimate groups. All the extremists do is give those people against the changes fuel for the fire, by allowing them to point to the antics of the extremists and lump all the moderate and sensible groups in with the crazy people. I do think there is a place for publicity stunts in environmentalism, but I do not think that those stunts should ever involve violence.
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      Jun 1 2012: I agree with you. I think that just like PETA has made talking about issues concerning animal cruelty an awkward conversations, extremist environmentalists are having the same effect. By making bad choices they're turning people that would otherwise be willing to listen away from the topic simply because they associate it the extremist groups.
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      Jun 3 2012: This is very true with the credibility that movements have if they use extreme tactics such as violence. Violence is never the answer, it causes the loss of credibility and makes people not want to fight for them. Extreme groups can exist and fight for their cause peacefully, but won't be seen as legit or worthy if they use violence as a means to fight for their cause. If they use violence they will lose many supporters. I think that any movement that uses violence is a step backwards because of the loss of credibility and supporters.
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      Jun 4 2012: Well PETA is a very interesting example. Their problem lies less with how extreme they are and more with how crazy they are. I mean certainly if they were merely extremist in their methods they would attract a lot of opposition and backlash, but not as bad as what they've been getting. They aren't just disagreeable, they're funny. If someone told me that some of the actions PETA has taken were actually by another group trying to parody PETA, I'd say that makes more sense than the truth. And a lot of the time they display a understanding of what they're fighting for so terrible it borders on comical.

      My point here is not that PETA is a bad example of an extremist group but rather that they are perhaps an example of one of the problems with extremist groups; they sometimes tend to attract those who are somewhat unhinged and/or have a poor grasp of the situation. I don't by any means mean this is true for every extremist group but it does make sense that brash individuals would be the first to seek extreme solutions. I don't know whether or not extremist movements can be effective, but I do know they would need incredibly smart leadership, and I think that's something they're lacking. Certainly PETA is.
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    Jun 6 2012: http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2005/06/worlds_most_fam/

    Just wanted to share this link- an interview with Jeff Luers- the man that set fire to 3 SUV's in Eugene, Oregon back in 2000. He was originally sentenced to 22 years in prison but after many years of appeals was reduced to about 10 years.

    I wonder how many people living in Eugene in 2000 remember this story, and if his actions made any significant advancements or setbacks for environmentalist locally in Eugene and throughout the United States?
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    Jun 6 2012: Progress towards goals, any kind of goals, will almost always work more efficiently/easily if there is a beneficial cycle instead of a vicious cycle between groups, more specifically with the public. Environmentalists need the public in order to establish real change, and if they get the support that they need, things go smoothly.

    Potentially though, by using extreme tactics (especially from the get-go), there lies a (rather large) risk of establishing a 'with us or against us' mentality on _all_ of the various parties, which can severely cut down or sabotage any line of communication/compromise.

    Those on the opposite sides of an issue might become further entrenched, seeing the other side and all who support them as the 'Enemy', while those in the middle/on the bench don't know what to do or don't want to get involved with it at all.

    In other words, in the short term, extreme tactics might work in doing or preventing something immediate, but it isn't sustainable and (as others have said previously) could potentially end up alienating people, putting them in a bind.
  • Jun 6 2012: To me one of the central ethical questions of this debate is what are you as an individual prepared to allow to continue? If the overwhelming majority of the public agree that something is wrong but a certain section of the population still keep on doing it what should you do? If the public are educated and informed fully and if all the scientific evidence points to a thing being damaging but the government and the legislators are unwilling to act what should you do?

    Would you be prepared to accept defeat, would you carry on organising petitions or would you take direct action to oppose the problem? Doesn't need to be violent but it does need to be effective.
  • Jun 6 2012: Backwards. For example PETA often makes mistakes because they actually know little about animals. When people find out PETA is wrong, they conclude that all animal welfare/rights concerns are bogus.
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    Jun 6 2012: Wow! Lots of comments on your provocative question, Ms. Hooper. I hope you will post a closing statement with a synopsis of the replies you received. I'm sure there is value in there. Thank you!
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    Jun 6 2012: In my opinion, extreme tactics bring more attention to the action than cause. Whenever I hear about these types of protests/acts 90 percent of the time I gain no real understanding of the cause the group is "defending". Even organizations like Peta are over dramatic and too radical for my taste.
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      Jun 6 2012: I agree with you, Emil. Extremists often omit the informational piece during their protests and actions. True, people may understand what they are fighting, say animal cruelty or hunting, but their reasoning is often left out. It's one thing to take a stand for what you believe in with extreme action, but in order to initiate real change you need public support. Very few people will stand behind a person with crazy tactics if they can't or don't explain the issue and the reasons for their actions.
    • Jun 6 2012: Perhaps you are being distracted by how the "extreme" protest is reported by mainstream media. The protestors are often portrayed as over-zealous hippies. I have never seen a protest where I couldn't figure out what problem they were concerned with, though at times I have had to do more research to educate myself on the matter. Many environmentalists are absolutists and overly passionate/extreme but very rarely are they doing their actions for immoral reasons. Is it moral to allow the last patches of virgin rainforest to be logged for short-term profit regardless of the legal right that company has to slash and burn? Who gave them that right to deprive future generations of the biological wealth? Who gave oil companies the right to extract a non-renewable resource at such prodigious rates? Let's burn all the oil but let's take 10,000 years to do it, not 35 more!
      I suggest you all know, or can find out very quickly the details of the issues that environmentalists are concerned with, but most of you don't want to be associated with people who have been vilified and portrayed as wackos, violent or otherwise.
  • Jun 6 2012: As Amanda and I have already agreed upon lower on this page, the Sea Shepherd Society threw stink bombs at the whaler's ships not explosives. Butyric acid is industrially prepared by the fermentation of sugar or starch, brought about by the addition of putrefying cheese, with calcium carbonate added to neutralize the acids formed in the process. It smells bad... that's about it.
    Just want to get the facts straight. In 1985 the French Foreign Intelligence Service sunk the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior with real bombs and killed the photographer Fernando Periera. Now that is pretty fricken' extreme!
  • Jun 5 2012: I've always had disdain for extremism and unlawful tactics. I still do! However, and unfortunately I believe such tactics can advance an environmental agenda by drawing attention to issues, and, when it comes time to negotiating a solution it makes more moderate and thoughtful people seem downright reasonable, and their ideas more palatable. Thusly is progress made.
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      Jun 6 2012: While extreme actions bring attention to the environmental agenda, they bring negative attention and seem to turn people off because they do not want to be associated with extreme behavior. In addition, I think that people who resort to extremism are not taken as seriously as those who seek peaceful action because the extreme actions are taken outside the accepted forums for solving problems.
      There may be isolated cases where extremism helped the movement, but I think that in general the actions detract from environmental credibility.
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    Jun 5 2012: There is a difference between extremist actions and violence. If extreme actions are what are needed to draw attention to an issue and gain widespread support, then they are necessary. But we mustn't resort to violence or any sort of action that could backfire and actually cause more harm than good (i.e. the burning of buildings and bombing whaling ships).
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      Jun 6 2012: What would you give as an example of an "extreme" action that should be used?
      • Jun 6 2012: Good question that shows that the term "extreme" is subjective and relative. I remember during the blockades of the Walbran Valley (magnificent old-growth on Vancouver Island) there was this guy who smeared himself with his own excrement. No one would touch him or the bulldozer he was chained to! Poo-man they called him. In an interview he said that he ate organic foods so was pretty comfortable with using his own by-product, unlike everyone else.
        Extreme? What do you think? Effective? Moreso that the other protestors. It is an idea I like to have in my toolbox, just in case! Now it is an option for TED aficionados as well!
        You're welcome.
        • Jun 6 2012: Personally, it seems that the condition of our planet right now is "etreme" in any sense of the word. If people can be presented with the facts about what is ALREADY happening, and not feel moved to act, I find it unlikely that any act on our part, such as bombing boats or burning buildings, is going to rile these people to incite a change. Once again, the problem goes back to encouraging people to see what is already happening. This should be extreme enough for anybody.
  • Jun 4 2012: I have taken part in what could be called extremist action by some. In my more youthful years I took an active part in sabotaging fox hunts in my native UK. The activity of fox hunting is now banned, well just about, though I notice that as the law is rarely enforced it seems to be making a come back now that the fuss has died down...

    I would like to say that my actions were nothing to do with self-agrandisment or wishing to inflict suffering on those doing the hunting it was all about tying up the time of the hunters so that they couldn't hunt foxes, my motivation was about saving the foxes.

    And oh I should say that covering the scent trail of the foxes and controling the hounds through signals that the hunters use were the methods that we used to sobotage the hunting. Where as being ambushed in woods, hit round the head with shovels and attempts to trample us under the hooves of the horses were the actions the hunters used against us as we conducted our protest/sabotage.