TED Conversations

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 4 2012: I don't have an opinion on this topic but I do have an observation. As a massive geek I've spent unreasonable amounts of time on forums and such discussing the morals of various fictional characters, and comparing those to conversations like this one, people are far more likely to support extremists in fiction, even if they're villains and clearly portrayed as such.

    Now the obvious answer as to why is that there's a big difference between fiction and real life and that undoubtedly does play a part, but these character discussions are serious discussions and people are at least trying to think of things from a real world perspective. So, what are the reasons for this discrepancy? Is it because in fiction we are given a chance to know the extremists, as opposed to in real life they are often little more than a name or a face? Does it have to do with the way writers tend to frame situations and issues, as opposed to how, say, the media does? Is it simply a difference in view between the type of people who usually talk about real world issues and people who usually discuss fiction? Going back to the difference between fiction and real life, does our detachment from friction prevent us from looking at it logically? Or conversely, does our investment in the real world prevent us from looking at /it/ logically? If so, is that a good or bad thing?

    Just some food for thought.

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