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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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    May 30 2012: No no no. Extremism never works.

    Think of every extremist organization which you hear about everyday. Al Qaeda, Black Hand, KKK, Black Panthers, Nazi's, Bolsheviks, and more are all spawned by and motivated by an ideal. But they kill and destroy to reach a desired effect which is fear and submission.

    If you want to make a difference use common sense and statistics. Use Love and Understanding. Don't add more violence to the world. We have enough as it is.
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      May 31 2012: First of all, every group you referred to wanted another group of individuals killed. Of course their method was detrimental to the world because their goal was detrimental to the world. Eco-terrorism uses small acts of violence to mitigate the damages to the world. The ideal is still that the ends justify the means which is a discussion I'll let consequentialist and deontologicalists hash out.

      As per the topid on hand, I wouldn't say it never works. Extremist acts at least raise awareness which can then further power the movement through the media. I personally didn't know much about whaling until "Whale Wars" came out. I didn't know about chicken farms until PETA started protesting KFC. I didn't know about animal testing until Rodney Coronado fire-bombed a laboratory at Michigan State University. In the short term they are a fantastic method for at least informing the greater public of the issue at hand, but in the long run, I agree it does more harm than good.
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        May 31 2012: I am glad that you see that in the long run extremist acts are detrimental but I must point out that each group which I named started as a small organization.

        "Eco-terrorism uses small acts of violence to mitigate the damages to the world." I would guess that a small act of violence which affected you would not be so small?

        Extremist acts have hurt the cause to a point in which ordinary people (potential activists/advocates) become disgusted by the violent acts and dissociate themselves from the cause.

        To suggest an alternative I would recommend documentaries to inform the public as they are quite effective, one documentary on Netflix which outlines problems, solutions, and travesties will reach millions.
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          Jun 1 2012: Documentaries would help, but that means I have to have access to the documentary, be informed of the issue, and have the time to watch it. I watch the news, and it is brought to me. Extremist acts bring my attention to the issue, and even if I believe what they are doing is wrong, it persuades me to investigate the issue. Right now there is an issue with shark finning, but I'm more inclined to go view MIB 3 than a documentary on it, purely because shark finning and the thousand other environmental tragedies is a back burner issue for me. If some extremist goes and blows up some shark finning vessels and the media brings that to my attention, I will be more inclined to explore that issue because someone is crazy enough to commit a violent act to stop it. If someone is that passionate about stopping shark finning, then it must be a huge issue. From there I can assess the situation and then make a difference. Extremist acts give us that glimpse of the issue and draw our attention, from there we can handle it ourselves. Extremism gives us that jump start.
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        May 31 2012: I agree that certain extremist acts can bring more awareness to an issue. However, do you think that sometimes extremist acts are glorified by the publicity they receive? Is there a better way to bring about awareness without highlighting the acts of eco-terrorist groups?
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          May 31 2012: I would take the route that the Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation has taken. They use the pink ribbon as a symbol and they spread it using events, TV ads, and even football. Gallup revealed in a wide study of Americans that everyone cares about the environment, Republicans and Democrats. We all live on Earth and we all love animals. I am doing my best to raise awareness through my newspaper but I have found in my interaction that PETA is a bit of a joke due to their paint and makeup activism; especially since the lipstick covered rabbits photo was revealed as a fake.

          Statistics with photos change the world but they must be devoid of emotion upon delivery. I have found that a "matter of fact" approach w/o anger is the most effective.
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          May 31 2012: I agree with Adam's previous idea for documentary film as a device for spreading awareness. In my experience, film is a powerful tool, and one which can captivate and motivate millions of people if done effectively.

          I would aso suggest that there needs to be more public forums for environmental discussion. It would be great is more scientists held public seminars where they could share their knowledge and research with the general public. Not only would this spread awareness, but I believe it could inspire new generations to seek careers in the environmental sciences.
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        Jun 5 2012: I agree, Rishi. Extremism ultimately is more harmful than beneficial, but it is a very clear way to make an unaware public notice a problem. Although I don't advocate for fire bombing animal facilities or laboratories that use animals in their research (as I'm sure you don't, either), this genre of techniques tend to get a lot of publicity and media attention. Without providing a spotlight to a problem, it is difficult to make people take a stance on something.

        Documentaries would be a good tool to get around extremism, but the people who usually watch documentaries tend to be people who decide for themselves that something seems interesting to learn about and then they dive into the subject matter. Since this small group of self-selected individuals does not even approach the majority of society, relying on documentaries to provide public awareness is simply not effective enough. Additionally, for documentaries to be an effective mode of delivering information, a majority of people who need knowledge of and access to the film, which is no simple feat.

        Ultimately, extremism is dangerous and destructive, but sends a message and heightens awareness, which is something that other mediums have a difficulty accomplishing.

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