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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: Extremist tactics are the downfall of grassroots organizing. Instead of looking for the most direct solution to a problem eco-terrorist attack the symptoms of problems (like the whaling ships instead of the whaling industry). Often times these tactics also cause more environmental damage than just letting the process happen would, for instance when all of those ski lodges were being burnt down in Colorado, they still got built it just took three or four times as much equipment, timber, and carbon emissions. Non-violent protest and campaigning can cause a lot more change, and actually changes behaviors permanently instead of causing temporary rage or frustration. As long as we live in the society we do we must look for change within the market, and change behaviors and life styles that way.
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      Jun 4 2012: I agree that extremism can be counter productive, I especially like your example about burning down ski lodges. While I think who engage in environmental extremism may have the right motive, they also are an alienating factor and something the opposition can point to and make generalizations about the movement as a whole. That being said, I think they are also a necessary part of the movement because they do gain a lot of media attention and make people evaluate their own lives. I don't think that the "market" has the answers because that is just as irrational as extremism. Nonviolence is a good solution because makes those who use violence look bad, for example the civil rights movement, and then that in turn helps the movement gain sympathy. When you engage in violence it is sending the message that you think violence is okay and it makes it easier to justify violence as a response.
      • Jun 5 2012: I guess I was using the market as an example of nonviolent action. Changing people's behaviors changes their consumer habits changes the products that are made removes environmentally harmful products from the market. Though there are definitely other ways of having non-violent action I think we see most of their ramifications in market changes.
    • Jun 5 2012: In addition to the increase levels of environmental harm some extremist movements cause, they also negatively change the perception that the average citizen feels about the subject. When extremist groups do very drastic or harmful demonstrations it pushes the middle ground away further and further and ultimately it is the middle ground that will end up swaying legislation or popular favor in a particular direction. For example when PETA was throwing red paint on celebrities wearing fur, average people felt that supporters were extremists and alienated them. PETA's new "I'd rather be naked than wear fur" campaign is much more subtle and tends to be favored much more by the average citizen.
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      Jun 5 2012: I think Ellen presents a great point. I never really considered the negative impact that extremist could have, outside of negative publicity. The issue of fighting symptoms of problems reaches outside of Eco-terroists as well. If activists on either side are not well informed then they could be spending a great deal of resources fighting symptom with no great outcome.
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      Jun 5 2012: I agree with Ellen. For instance the ski resort example, I don't think a lot of people (including me) ever gave much consideration to all the resources that went in to building the resorts and the carbon emissions that resulted from it. Burning them down doesn't solve anything, but just exhausts resources and contributes unnecessary negative outcomes. I think that was a good point.

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