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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    May 31 2012: In a 2005 article in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, Brendon Larson addresses militaristic language in the context of invasive species. He argues that militaristic metaphors about invasive species are detrimental to conservation efforts for three reasons: they inaccurately portray invasive species, they create public misunderstanding and diminish scientific credibility, and they promote a militaristic mindset which contradicts the goals of conversation.

    I would definitely agree with all three points. The first two points are the most significant, in my opinion, because they outline how much extremists can jeopardize conservation efforts by misconstruing them. It reminds me of how “green washing” of so many consumer goods has somewhat taken credibility away from those who try to live as sustainably as possible. I wonder what other people's thoughts are on Larson's ideas.

    I believe the article can be openly accesses at the following address if anyone is interested.

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      May 31 2012: Drew
      This is a great connection! I agree with you that the last two points are significant in regards to the topic of eco-terrorism. I think that the first point can also be applied to eco-terrorism, in the way that these extreme acts have the potential to inaccurately portray environmental activism efforts
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      Jun 1 2012: I read that article a while back for another class, and I remember thinking how similar the invasive species "war" is with the war on drugs, at least as far as the language component. People come into the situation believing that the "battle" can be won, when in reality it is an ongoing and constantly shifting problem that will probably always exist in some capacity or another.

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