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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: I've always had disdain for extremism and unlawful tactics. I still do! However, and unfortunately I believe such tactics can advance an environmental agenda by drawing attention to issues, and, when it comes time to negotiating a solution it makes more moderate and thoughtful people seem downright reasonable, and their ideas more palatable. Thusly is progress made.
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      Jun 6 2012: While extreme actions bring attention to the environmental agenda, they bring negative attention and seem to turn people off because they do not want to be associated with extreme behavior. In addition, I think that people who resort to extremism are not taken as seriously as those who seek peaceful action because the extreme actions are taken outside the accepted forums for solving problems.
      There may be isolated cases where extremism helped the movement, but I think that in general the actions detract from environmental credibility.

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