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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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    Jun 2 2012: After reading through some comments it seems that there is a consensus that extremist tactics are not the answer. Is there anyone who thinks that they are necessary? It seems that the phrasing of the question also is partial to saying extremist actions are negative as well as the structure of social norms.
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      Jun 2 2012: I don't agree with extremist tactics, however, they might be necessary in some instances. They certainly draw attention to themselves and the issue at hand. Their methods might be useful for creating awareness about a particular issue and inspire some people to take action in a similar or perhaps less extreme way. That being said, they can also draw attention in a negative way and turn people off to environmentalism all together.
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        Jun 3 2012: Although I do not agree with the extreme tactics, I do agree with the fact that they draw attentinon. For example with whale wars, if they had not used the tactics that they do, they probably would not have ever gotten a deal with a television network. If they had not gotten that deal, a lot of the United States would still be really naive about the subject of whaling.
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          Jun 4 2012: How much has that show helped the cause?
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          Jun 5 2012: Has whale wars made people of the United States more aware of the subject of whaling or has it has it made people more aware of the actions some people take against whaling ships? What I mean is, do you think that this show has made the general public more knowledgeable on the subject or when they see this show do they just remember the actions of the activists and not what they are actually fighting to stop?
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          Jun 5 2012: I was thinking the same thing Theresa, however, Matthew has a point. Awareness is only the beginning. Are these extremest tactics actually helping action take place for these environmental concerns?
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          Jun 5 2012: For me personally after I watched that show it never inspired me to do anything about it. I just thought they were crazy. The acts of extremists do make for a good TV show but does it actually make people want to take action?
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          Jun 6 2012: The Whale Wars program might also encourage some to find a new tactic to help the whales even if they do not necessarily agree with what they see on TV. There is no such thing as bad press, especially with topics that require immediate action.
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      Jun 2 2012: A possible argument for extremist action can be that --the targets for extreme action are themselves causing extreme destruction (not to mention that they are also at an advantage financially and politically) and therefore extreme action is therefore justifiable.

      I figure that these extremists have sought out the alternative strategies that are more peaceful and less radical and have been routinely met with failure.....that sort of consistent failure to generate real solutions and change while being emotionally invested in your cause can understandably push someone to entertain more provocative measures.

      It then becomes a question of whether or not going the extreme route is actually producing results as opposed to whether or not it is justifiable.
      -It could be considered successful because we are talking about it

      Still, I do believe that these sorts of extreme tactics sullies the positive message and reduces the power of their movement-- essentially giving the other side ammunition to discredit the cause.
      Keeping integrity is still very important!
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        Jun 5 2012: It is true that some targets of extreme activism are themselves causing extreme damage however what about the case of extremists poisoning POM juice to protest for animal rights. Were the consumers of this poisoned juice guilty of extreme destruction? In this case, is it possible there was a better way to try and stop the selling of the juice? Possibly by educating the public on POM's use of animals?
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      Jun 2 2012: I agree with Christina on this one. Many people hear the word 'extreme environmentalists' and they automatically think crazy and inefficient. But they are in fact a controversial subject. Because they do participate in extreme acts, they end up catching the attention of someone out there. However, they are almost hypocrites because on the way of trying to save our environment, they are harming the environment with their bombs , fires, etc. And many people question if this is the most efficient way to catch people's attention.
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        Jun 6 2012: I don't think that their actions really bring about much awareness at all. When eco-terrorists burn down housing developments I believe most people think "oh, wow that person is crazy" not "oh, wow housing developments suck". And in terms of non-terrorist extremists, organizations like Peta are super inflammatory. It's really hard to take a cause and organization seriously when they disregard social conventions. And yeah they are hypocrites.
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      Jun 4 2012: Perhaps the extremists have to result to these extravagant tactics because there isn't enough support for the issue. Using an extremist tactic can allow a small group of people to create an impact of similar magnitude as a larger group using a peaceful tactic. For example, if you saw a group of ten people marching with signs would you really pay attention? What if they were marching with fireworks, or roping themselves to trees? What if there was 100 people instead of ten? What does it take to bring attention to the issue?
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        Jun 5 2012: Kirsten

        Do you think their actions will bring attention to the issue or will it just bring attention to their actions? Is there a way to make sure that extreme actions that grab the world's attention are able to also inform the world of the issue at hand and not just have to focus be on the actions they just preformed?
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          Jun 5 2012: Interesting question. I think the only way that the attention can be brought to the issue rather than the action would be if the action somehow was capable of demonstrating some aspect of the issue. How this can be achieved, I really don't know. Given the state of modern technology, and the possibility of things spreading like wildfire through the internet, extremist tactics seem to be a thing of the past (depending on what is considered an extremist tactic).

          Since the probability of people reacting negatively towards extremist tactics and therefore not wanting to support the cause is so great I would think that advocates would choose to take a different route. The key to success in any kind of tactic would be the headlines of articles. Being labeled an extremist in the press probably won't garner support from majorities and negative public opinion would lead to the downfall of any advocate group.
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      Jun 5 2012: Although I don't think that extremist tactics are optimal, they do serve to do their job effectively: they increase public awareness. It doesn't seem to me that extremists have a tangible goal of public policy and legal parameter change in mind when they're doing their thing. Extremists rely on the shock factor to alert the public that something problematic is going on that they might not know about. I do not want to be an extremist or fire-bomb places that are being environmentally unfriendly and I do not condone this activity, but I can at least see the merit in their consequence even if I don't endorse their method.

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