TED Conversations

Amanda Hooper

TEDCRED 50+

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

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?

+3
Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 4 2012: Although I don't always agree with extremist acts I believe they are sometimes necessary for change. When the extremist's acts are founded with good judgement and performed in a correct manner, they can be very effective. These acts need to state the problem clearly and give the citizens a mode or idea to fix it. If a extremist group poses a very good argument without a solution, the group will have very little following. Most extremists act in ways that harm without helping the citizens to care or solve the issue. However, our history, as said before, is defined by extremist acts. Though mediation groups like Greenpeace are often useful and productive in solving the issue, we need "extremist groups" in order to get the issue into the media. So, although most extremist groups are destructive, I would argue that we need them to focus on the issues that plague the world today.
    • Jun 4 2012: I do not agree that we need extremist groups in order to get issues into the media, although their tactics certainly ensure that an issue is more likely to get public notice. Unfortunately, when a group uses violence to get across an opinion about an environmental problem, it seems that rather than focusing on the reason why extremist tactics were employed, the public focuses on the fact that people were hurt and damages were incurred. The story becomes "environmental terrorists attack innocents," and viewed through that lens, the environmental issue at hand is ignored; instead of effecting change, all that happens is a demand for the punishment of the perpetrators. Both the general public and the victims of the violence are, in my opinion, far more likely to respond to the actions of an extremist environmental group with an attack of their own and an attempt to imprison the group members than they are to take action to fix the environmental issue for which the violence was allegedly warranted.
      • Jun 4 2012: It is important to distinguish between acts of violence and "extremist" acts. Is an act of vandalism an act of violence? Not in my lexicon. Is harpooning of whales an act of violence. I say, yes. Is a clear-cut an act of resource extraction, environmental vandalism or an act of violence? Depends who you ask, or what species you allow to be part of the answer. The tree and the bird say yes. The shareholder doesn't seem to care one way or the other. Is pouring sugar in the gas tank of a feller/buncher an act of violence? Only to the media and corporate spin doctors. It is illegal for sure, but violent, no. But people who do this get labelled and prosecuted as eco-terrorists.
        You are right in how stories are spun, but that is simply perspective and/or propaganda and doesn't make the action invalid. History is full of examples where people break laws to change the stays quo. Gandhi was a criminal. Mandela was a criminal until attitudes changed and they became heroes. In a few decades Paul Watson may be the viewed as a principled hero with the courage to stand up to an industry that threatens the existence of a sentient species. I wish I had the same courage.
      • thumb
        Jun 5 2012: Helen, I agree with you that most of the time the acts by extremist groups are more harmful than helpful. However, a select few of these acts can change the views of a population. These extremists need to shed light on an issue without alienating the population. Violence and chaos is not the method to create a positive uprising. Instead, as you said, it often brings about negative feelings towards the issue at hand. Therefore, like Gandhi or MLK, these groups need to use nonviolent methods to "mainstream" the issue.

        The real argument between you and I arises from our definitions of extremist groups. With all the negative media coverage, I understand why you associate extremists with violent acts. I would encourage you to broaden your definition. An extremist group, in my mind, is any group that uses unconventional methods to make the public aware of an issue that needs to be addressed. Though this does include acts of violence, it is not restricted to these acts.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.