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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: Extreme tactics are examples of forward progression. I went to a conference about environmental activism, there when we spoke of extremists the conversation defined them as a group of people purposefully positioned to do extreme activities that seized the attention of the public. In this way extremists make actual activists, for example Greenpeace, and their demands seem less severe or extreme in comparison and in turn these demands are met with less opposition than if there were no extremists and nothing to compare activists demands to.
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      Jun 4 2012: While I agree that extremist actions get attention, how can you say for sure that they create any forward movement of a cause? Many people see extremists fighting for a cause and get turned off by it, further distancing themselves from what is occurring.
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        Jun 4 2012: The point I'm making is that non-extremists activists that are making demands for change seem less menacing when there is an extremist group to compare them to. In this way, the presence of an extremist group AND an activist group that make points about the same issue, together are progressions of a forward movement. The presence of an extremist group lessen the extremity surrounding the actual activist group seeking change and ultimately allow the activist group to seem less demanding in comparison to the extremists thus encouraging greater support. When talked about during the conference, an example was made of the Black Panther Party and the civil rights movement. In this example the Black Panther Party were the extremists, for instance their presence and high demands made the simple demands of the civil rights movement more acceptable to the public.
        • Jun 5 2012: I think this is a really good point. While I usually tend to think extremist groups are counter-productive, I never acknowledged their usefulness in drawing attention to a larger cause. The example of the Black Panther movement is interesting to me because it really carries over to current environmental problems. While some extremist groups are really "out there" in their approach, they are still bringing awareness to a larger cause, which I generally think is a good thing.
      • Jun 4 2012: Can you Trevor say for sure that they don't create forward movement on an issue? Many people are also inspired by people whose intellect, passion and commitment to a sustainable future do not allow them to be simply armchair activists. Personally I would look to a more creative form of protest, but in the big picture, or in a few decades it may turn out that extreme environmentalism is the only alternative to the juggernaut of our materialistic/consumer/industrial society. It is actually one of my biggest fears that I will one day look out on an environmentally fractured and impoverished world filled with suffering and will know that I could have done more when there was still time to step back from the precipice.
    • Jun 4 2012: This is a very legitimate point that I did not consider. Just as diversity is important on the species, and ecosystem level, diversity in culture and expression of protest also is important. Where one strategy may be most useful in some cases, there may be situations where extremism, or even the threat of extremism is the best strategy for causing real change.
      • Jun 4 2012: While I think that it is possible that extremist behavioral draw he public attention to an issue, I think that history has shown that the dangers of extremist activity is that it causes anger between the opposing parties that can foster actions based on the desire for revenge. Anger can inspire the desire for revenge and retaliation. This could steer decisions from being motivated by what is best for the environment and instead toward what would be the best retaliation. This should be kept in mind because not only would the focus on these actions be lost, but as many others have mentioned, more harm could result than good for these extremist actions.
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        Jun 5 2012: We want to move forward as a society and violence should no be supported in any way. Not in raising children, not in getting a point across, not for controlling someone or a situation, not because we disagree with the way others think. We are humans and are capable of communicating and thinking creatively in order to inform and persuade others. There is no reason for violence, it just leads to more violence. Yes, extremist's acts raise awareness, but such feelings of hatred cannot be good in leading any type of change.
        • Jun 5 2012: Stephanie, I think the best point that you made is that as humans we can communicate. I do not think these extremist acts work as effective methods of communication. You clarified my thinking. These acts of violence muddle the message that these people may actually be trying to get across. This is counter-productive. What is more, extremist actions are often considered unattributed and may drive people away from the problem in the first place so to avoid being associated with the negative connotations of those extremists involved.

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