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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 4 2012: -Extremism almost by definition implies lack of balance and perspective. Any activity extreme enough to be characterized as "terrorism" is probably going too far for its own ultimate good.
    -There is as much extremism on the right as there is on the left and not many of a more moderate or liberal bent tend to see that as a good thing.
    -As some have noted, there may be a good cop-bad cop aspect to extremism, clearing a path for more moderately stated views, but it is pretty hard to show cause and effect. We had demonstrators at my university who wanted it to stop burning coal, but I am pretty sure it was the cost of Hg remediation of flue gas and falling natural gas prices that were the real drivers for the eventual decision to switch fuels.
    -I've heard it said that extremists are usually right about the problem and usually wrong about the solution. I haven't had a lot of experience to contradict that viewpoint.
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      Jun 4 2012: "Usually right about the problem but wrong about the solution." Love that saying. And it fits in perfectly my thoughts on the subject. Yet I would suggest that there are far more instances of extremism on the right than on the left, just as a result of the nature of the worldviews. Its interesting to think though, given this, that we see more extremism on the left in the world of "eco-terrorism". This might be reflective of the way that conservation has typically not been a subject critically close to the conservative heart, traditionally.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree with Bill but have to slightly disagree with Mitchell. Extremist are right about their problem, be it the left or the right, it is just a matter of their view. There is as much extremism on the left as the right. This discussion points out the fact that extremism is only extreme to people that appose the view taken. On the left would be an Eco-terrorist that bombs whalers, on the right would be a Eco-terrorist fisherman that fishes an endangered species or a keystone species from a fragile ecosystem. We mostly see left extremists because we are given media from conservative outlets.

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