TED Conversations

Amanda Hooper


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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 3 2012: What is our alternative to extremist acts? Although Amanda related extremist tactics to eco-terrorists, I don't believe the two are mutually binding. Eco-terrorists employ extremist tactics but not all environmental extremists are eco-terrorists. Do we consider the group of individuals that chain themselves to a tree to keep the old-growth forest from being torn down as terrorists? I hope not, but the government may deem them as so because they are hampering our corporations.

    Reading through the comments on this post, I see a lot of focus on education. Austin Diamond, in particular, wrote about targeting the media because they have such a profound influence on the public. What if education isn't fast enough? Climate change and environmental degradation are happening at an excruciating pace and our method of affecting how corporations conduct business by consumer demand is slow. It is especially slow when you're implying to the consumer that they can't buy or do certain things.

    Extremist tactics tend to turn people off because most people are moderate. And consumer education could be too slow to adequately address the issue of climate change. How do we deal with the issues of climate change, then? In the end, the different tactics towards change are based on opinion. Congratulations, we started a Ted Talk where most people, who are largely unaffected by the negative impacts of environmental degradation, can talk about how extremist tactics hurt humans. I would argue the opposite and say that many extremists are very humanitarian and see the negative effects that these practices have on marginalized communities. But rather than sitting on their computer and signing an online petition to a senator who probably won't care, they are out in the field trying to change it. I'm just bringing perspective. It's easier for many of use to support the slow route, but many people, and ecosystems, can't wait that long. Neither side is absolutely right nor wrong.
    • thumb
      Jun 4 2012: I suppose I feel that we are treading very delicate waters here in regard to extremist action. I do agree that we may come to a point where it becomes obvious, to the majority, that nothing on Earth that we try is working, and an act of extremism is the only thing that can knock people to their senses.

      The problem is that many of the small-scale extremist acts just tick people off. And of course the problem with this catastrophic extremist act I'm talking about is the fact that it's catastrophic.
      • thumb
        Jun 4 2012: But even when we come to that point where we realize that nothing is working, will we make any changes for the better? I've already encountered numerous people who, after discussing it with me, became convinced that nothing we are doing is drastic enough. Nevertheless, when I asked them if they would make "x" change, they resoundingly responded with a "no" because a lot of the necessary individual, and even systemic, changes may require shifts in our way of living that reduce our already gratuitous comfort. The small scale extremist tactics, not necessarily the violent ones, tick people off because it highlights the things in their life that they are doing to support the environmental degradation. Many people, myself included, get defensive when told that they are passively harming the environment. But I think these extremist tactics make people think but when the mainstream media gets a hold of it, it just becomes a one-sided story about which corporation lost X amount of money. At that point, the only thing people are thinking about is how evil these people are. And I've seen that sentiment throughout this conversation. There is little appreciation for the work they do.
        • Jun 4 2012: Oh Matt, co-directing the CJL with you is going to be a blast! We took completely different stances on this issue (though neither of us is strongly for or against extremist tactics). Maybe we should discuss this issue in terms of the change we as students want to see... like a carbon neutral campus by 2020. It's not going to happen because of our administrators, but attacking the administrators (I mean that in the most figurative way) wouldn't change the situation except to get us new admin who are still just as slow and bureaucratic. Ignoring the education component, a public campaign that is media heavy and attacks the institution where it hurts would be much more effective than egging Steve Mital's car. LTEs in the Oregonian this summer?
        • thumb
          Jun 5 2012: Matthew
          I agree with you that not all extremist tactics can nor should they be considered terrorism. In regards to your last comment about how once the media gets ahold of the actions extremist preform they get turned into a one-sided argument about how corporations were hurt, do you think this is always the case no matter what the extremist act? Is there anyway for extremists to somehow communicate with the media so that their tactics were portrayed in a positive way that can inform the public of the issue at hand?
    • Jun 4 2012: I disagree that sitting on your computer and signing a petition is not an effective way to cause change. I'm not saying it is a great way, and I am certainly not saying our system is set up well to encourage senators to care what we sign, but it is something that is easy for people to do. A petition takes nothing more than a signature or a click, and I personally have attached my name to plenty of things I feel our senators should know I care about. petitions are an easy way for people to attach their support to something without requiring them to take too much out of their normal day.

      Now of course, peaceful or extremist active participation is a more effective way of bringing attention to an issue. These people are needed, including in my opinion the extremists. But this form of activism is for the dedicated believers in a cause. The majority of people may want more environmental protection, but they also want a multitude of other things. Activism to bring the issues to light, petitions for the majority to get behind numerous different issues. You probably don't have enough time to be active on multiple different issues, but you do have time to sign multiple different petitions.

      Now all that said, actively seeking signatures on petitions on campus is freaking annoying. This should be done by having to get permission from the EMU to set up a booth, and then letting people come to you on their time if they find your issue to be important. If you try to stop me when I've got to get from one side of campus to the other in 10 minutes you're going to have a bad time. And I think posting petitions online on popular message boards like Reddit for people to see and sign there is a much more effective way of getting signatures than standing outside looking for them.
      • thumb
        Jun 4 2012: Valid points. I do disagree with the petition-gathering aspect. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time as a petitioner, simply setting up a booth and waiting for people to sign is not effective, at all! There are deadlines to gathering these signatures and if these deadlines aren't met, the entire cause is wasted until the next term. I understand the sentiment that people are oftentimes too busy to stop and sign a petition. But I have talked to many people who thank me for stopping and informing them about the issue because they wouldn't have actively sought it on their own.

        Also, your annoyance by these petitioners is an opinion. I'm glad they are there. I may be asked 3 times in a day whether I've signed a petition that I signed last week. But if they weren't there, I would be saddened by their absence. A lot of people are annoyed by petitioners, but I, and many others I know, are not.

        Online petitions are an interesting topic. They are worth much less to a decision-making body than a written petition in the same way that an email is worth more than a signature. Point-and-click signatures are looked down upon because it takes very little effort to sign one. But that is the point. Many people find face-to-face interaction with petitioners to be annoying so they opt for the online signature. Online signatures are also easily distributed to the people. Each form of petition has its pros and cons. That is fine but I would rather see written signatures where there is an opportunity for discussion between the signer and the petitioner.
        • Jun 4 2012: Well yeah, I guess nothing is ever perfect. I have signed a few petitions when I'm stopped on campus, but I've blown off many more that I would've supported if I hadn't been stopped while trying to get to class. It isn't exactly a petition, but I have seen Reddit have tremendous success with gathering people's attention on an issue Congress is about to vote on, and getting those people to send an e-mail or make a phone call to their senators. The best example was the push to stop SOPA. Of course Reddit would be all over that, but they had a top post on the front page that listed the names, states and phone numbers of every senator. It made it so easy for people from all over the country to call in and get their opinions heard.
    • thumb
      Jun 4 2012: I agree with you Matt in that our measures to ensure the stability and restoration of our ecosystems and climate are not drastic enough. However, at what point do these drastic measures become too drastic? Do we draw the line at the popular TV show that destroys property and potentially endangers human lives, or do we draw it somewhere more towards the moderate end? I think it's important for us to have extremists simply because they do what no one else wants to do, but what do we do when they go too far?
      • thumb
        Jun 5 2012: And I guess that is the big question. First, what do we call too far? You and I may have a different definition of that. But there is really no way to define it. We could use our legal system to define it but if this is our basis for rules, then corporations should be subject to this the same way extremist environmental groups are. But I can guarantee that they are held to much lower standards of "acceptable" behavior. Unfortunately, this issue will not be resolved anytime soon and I will continue to give my solidarity to those working on the front-lines, getting their hands dirty. I do NOT support the harming of human life, however.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.