TED Conversations

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 3 2012: What is it in history that people remember? The revolutions, the wars, the guy that lit the torch. I'm not saying that extremists are doing what they do to be immortalised but the people who sit outside Wall Street everyday protesting aren't the ones who are going to be accredited for a social reform after somebody blows up the bank. Extremism can lead to immediate change whereas peaceful change can take years and while peaceful change is always more preferable - especially when talking about environmental issues - sometimes it takes a wake-up call rather than nagging to get something done.
    These aren't necessarily my views just something for you guys to think about.
    • Jun 4 2012: The change caused be extremists is most often short term and surface change. They attack the symptoms of problems not the root of the problem. If you wanted to stop this country's dependence on oil, you would not drive to Texas and tear down oil wells one at a time. A) that's a symptom and B) it only incurs a short term change. Real change that is meaningful and permanent happens through the changing behavior of the American public. "Peaceful" campaigns can be extremely public and aggressive, like if Occupy had a mission statement with tangible actions.
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      Jun 6 2012: This view is very different from many of the others here. I do agree that the extremist get most of the attention and shed light on the actual event; this is why you can watch "whale wars" on TV and not some peaceful group of activists. It does help in getting the attention of the general public, and may lead them to act upon the issues as well in their own way. There is no such thing as bad press.

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