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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 5 2012: There is a difference between extremist actions and violence. If extreme actions are what are needed to draw attention to an issue and gain widespread support, then they are necessary. But we mustn't resort to violence or any sort of action that could backfire and actually cause more harm than good (i.e. the burning of buildings and bombing whaling ships).
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      Jun 6 2012: What would you give as an example of an "extreme" action that should be used?
      • Jun 6 2012: Good question that shows that the term "extreme" is subjective and relative. I remember during the blockades of the Walbran Valley (magnificent old-growth on Vancouver Island) there was this guy who smeared himself with his own excrement. No one would touch him or the bulldozer he was chained to! Poo-man they called him. In an interview he said that he ate organic foods so was pretty comfortable with using his own by-product, unlike everyone else.
        Extreme? What do you think? Effective? Moreso that the other protestors. It is an idea I like to have in my toolbox, just in case! Now it is an option for TED aficionados as well!
        You're welcome.
        • Jun 6 2012: Personally, it seems that the condition of our planet right now is "etreme" in any sense of the word. If people can be presented with the facts about what is ALREADY happening, and not feel moved to act, I find it unlikely that any act on our part, such as bombing boats or burning buildings, is going to rile these people to incite a change. Once again, the problem goes back to encouraging people to see what is already happening. This should be extreme enough for anybody.

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