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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: If no-one listens to polite and peaceful protest about important issues such as environmental destruction, then unfortunately extremist tactics will be the ultimate resort. Extremist tactics are always seen at face value and in isolation - not least by the media, who do not always report the full story and the reasoning behind a protest movement

    Powerlessness is a significant cause of antagonism and rage. Extremist tactics give any movement a very bad name and ruins its credibility, but it does go some way to empower those who feel powerless, if moderate protest has not worked in the past - or is ever likely to work in the future.

    So who do we blame? The disempowered many who need to be listened to - or the dysfunctionally empowered few, who refuse to listen?
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      May 31 2012: I feel that using extreme tactics in environmentalism results in the movement becoming even more powerless because of the negativity attached to these actions. Most people would not want to support a cause that is associated with violence and such dramatizations.
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        May 31 2012: I agree Kadie. It's just that many people see violence as their only resort
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        Jun 2 2012: These extreme acts though do provide media coverage for their cause. The awareness it provides, not matter how detrimental, will make people look into the matter. The power is in the number of people with knowledge and pushing for change.
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        Jun 3 2012: I agree using extreme tactics make movements become more powerless and negatively thought of in society. Some people may see violence as their only resort but that doesn't usually get them anywhere. As seen with Greenpeace, peaceful movements can make huge differences, although it may take longer, more positive attention will be given to peaceful movements than violent attacks where the leaders may even be killed or thrown in jail. This makes no forward movement, but backwards because society will see these violent attacks and not support their cause. People are more likely to attend protests and want to help if they think they are safe doing it, which will help the cause.
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      May 31 2012: I agree with your comment, Allan. We cannot blame extremists entirely for their potentially harmful measures because the US (and foreign) political climate is often such that many people lack a significant voice in the decision making process. I think there are many extremists who recognize the intensity of their attacks and truly feel that they have no other way to make a point. However, they must be careful in who and what is harmed if they want to be heard rather than demonized. People like Edward Abbey (famous for The Monkey Wrench Gang) seem to have a clear image that severe actions often have to take place, but that mass human destruction and harm is not necessary or useful to make a political statement.
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      Jun 3 2012: I don't think that anyone is really to blame. I think that they are doing this because they feel like no one is controlling or enforcing law on the issue and so they have to step in and do something. I feel like there is an equal responsiblilty to be shared between the protesters, the ones committing the "crime", those who are suppose to enforce the "crime", and society for not creating specific laws about what is considered acceptable and what is not.

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