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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 31 2012: In my book, any extremist act that throws life into question is immoral. Wars are fought because one side feels it has the righteous cause. It doesn't matter what the end result is: even if one side is successful, and the end result is a better nation or world, the fact remains that there are better ways around it. "Eco-sabotage" (rather than all-out violence) is fine if all it does is throw a wrench in the works--like destroying a crop of strawberries in a huge industrial corporation--but not OK if it completely destroys someone's livelihood (like an act, say, committed against one farmer who has no recompense against this action). Of course, in my qualification system of whether something is OK or not OK, it turns out that acceptable acts are those that barely scratch the evil-doer.

    The media should be a target of environmental education. They are the ones informing the opinions of the public. To continue the analogy of war, every time that I see a headline in the paper saying "US to insert/remove 2,000 troops from Afghanistan, I can't help but think, why on Earth are we telling the "enemy" this? In the case of the recent economic Depression, the way to get out of a Depression is by consumers spending as they used to do, and not getting paralyzed by the fear of other people NOT spending. But how are people supposed to feel confident when every day they hear on TV, read from the newspaper, "DOW Continues to Plummet"? (I am absolutely not advocating the war and increased consumerism. I am only using these as examples.)

    I'm not asking for the media to only publish feel-good beatifically happy stories. All I'm asking is for a little more rose-colored glasses. Environmental organizations and individuals should start increasing their focus on the media because they are the power players of public perception. When reporters become more concerned about the environment, they will be less amenable to producing stories that threaten it.
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      May 31 2012: I agree that extreme tactics that threaten human and non-human life are not warranted no matter the importance of the situation. These kinds of activities will only anger opponents of environmental movements and make it harder for different sides to come to terms. That being said, I think it is critical for extremist movements to be maintained. When the extreme opinion is pushed to the limits, it provides a broader range of "moderate" opinions. We need someone to be pushing strong attitudes so that the moderate views actually make a difference. Though extreme measures do not take place all at once, it is important to have them as a guide for slow change that will eventually reach a radical end.
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      Jun 1 2012: You make a great point about the media's impact on our views. They have a great opportunity to change a large majority of peoples thoughts and opinions on a multitude of matters simply because the media is so prevalent. If they were to focus on educating the public on the issues and what they can do to help, in a peaceful way, I think this could have a profound effect on eco-extremist tactics.

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