TED Conversations

Amanda Hooper

TEDCRED 50+

This conversation is closed.

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?

Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 4 2012: Interesting topic of debate. Seems like most people don't agree in extremism. I have issues with it too. I have a friend who is part of the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee and has been for many many years. He says that the extreme actions of groups like Sea Shepherd don't always have positive outcomes. Quite often the stuff they do irritates the Japanese so much that it closes their minds to moving forward through negotiations. The thing is, the issue with the whaling is a more complicated problem and going out there and bombing ships doesn't get rid of the root problems.
    We definitely need a world with a variety of thinkers using various tactics to save what little is left. I just wish there was an alternate way. So perhaps we need a few who step outside the box and are willing to throw themselves out there?
    • Jun 5 2012: It is interesting to me that extremist actions can actually turn people away from a cause. Maybe this should be acknowledged by more of these sorts of groups because ideally they really are trying to turn public perception but in reality they can be doing just the opposite. Unfortunately, the less aggressive groups never get as much attention as the extremists so, like you said, both types of activists are vital to any cause.
    • thumb
      Jun 6 2012: I really like how you brought up how the actions of people similar to the Sea Shepherd end up cutting off or hurting negotiations because it is true. When a truce is called during war, peace is supposed to reign but if one side breaks that truce then all out war resumes. While countless groups are undoubtedly working very hard to stop the bigger issue of over harvesting whales, these members are causing damage to all sides of the argument. Undoubtedly they bring attention to their issue through the media but it seems highly unlikely that any nation will ever be able to completely stop whaling as it is. Native American tribes have hunted whales for thousands of years and so have people across the world. So maybe it is best to come to a conclusion where the greater whale population is protected from decimation but maybe a few could be retained annually as a means to come to a solution? I have no idea whether or not this will work but it is important to think of both cultures included in this argument and see that there has to be a compromise to meet both side's goals.
      • thumb
        Jun 6 2012: Hey Trevor...valid points and actually, the IWC does allow for aboriginal whaling. Communities that have a culture of whaling are allowed to continue to do so and have quotas. These are usually small scale and very localised. The problem really arises when whaling occurs in other territorial waters and at a factory scale. Again, like I said the reasons why Japan continue whaling are really contentious and complicated and while actions of extremist groups do bring attention to the problem they do little else. They just get alot of people's backs up and perhaps even put a spoke in the hard work of peaceful negotiators just like you pointed out. There must be other ways but we need to think about them and perhaps think way outside the box.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.