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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: 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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