The Flip Side of Radical Environmentalism
May 18, 2001 8:57 AM   Subscribe

The Flip Side of Radical Environmentalism Embracing extremely dangerous forms of "protest" such as tree spiking and holding attitudes like "Property is not human, it is not violent to destroy property." as a justification for arson, self-proclaimed eco-terrorists such as the Earth Liberation Front act with blatant disregard to the rights of anyone who disagrees with their radical agenda. Like the anti-SUV stickerflingers and the kids who get out of control at WTO protests, why can't these folks understand that their unreasonable actions dilute their message to the point of meaninglessness?
posted by Dreama (51 comments total)

 
The Earth Liberation Front now has it's own website including a Diary of Actions (D.O.A.!)

Thought it was funny that they chose a dotcom...
posted by xiffix at 9:14 AM on May 18, 2001


well, it's apples and oranges, almost... when you talk about the WTO riots, you're talking about mob rule. almost anything goes there. but for the violent environmentalists, all i can say is that everything exists on a spectrum. or so i think. clearcutting rainforests is no less violent than tree spiking; in fact, it's far, far worse. not to justify it.

from an individual standpoint, i agree, setting fire to SUVs or whatever is not the most productive form of protest. but from a statistical standpoint, there will always be a left and a right, i think. there's always going to be an extreme.
posted by moz at 9:17 AM on May 18, 2001


i think people who are violent and radical towards any single belief are all more the same than different...and would react the same if just pointed in a different direction....that small point aside, i'm much more inclined to worry about human rights issues. Fix the people and the planet will be treated better.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:20 AM on May 18, 2001


Condoning tree-spiking can lead to quite a slippery-slope. For example, if tree-spiking is OK, then how about putting sugar in the gas tank of your neighbor's SUV? The rationale behind tree-spiking is that if it is not done, the tree will be cut down, and another piece of our planet's self-cleansing framework will be destroyed. The same rationale could be applied to the "sugar" argument; that being if you don't immobilize your neighbor's SUV, they will obviously drive it, and spew noxious and destructive chemicals into our atmosphere.
I want to protect our forests as much as the next Sierra Club member, but I think that there are more productive ways of going about it. Environmental arguments always seem to bring me back to the thought: The best way to defeat the System, is to work within the System. Going head-on against it will get you nowhere.
posted by aprilwinter at 9:27 AM on May 18, 2001


When an individual feels so strongly about their personal beliefs as to advocate indiscriminate violence against others, I lose all sympathy for their plight. I will note the irony, however, is this typically anti-environmentalist screed appearing compliments of the 'unbiased' Fox news; I can only assume they'll follow up this piece with an article on anti-abortion violence perpetrated against not only the women nervy enough to want a legal abortion, but the health-service providers who provide this legal procedure.

MN
posted by MikeN at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2001


The anarchists who engage in the symbolic and strategic destruction of private property at protests are not diluting anything. Their message is sent quite clearly to those who write the checks to repair the damage.

Now, equating benign and amusing culture-jamming like stickering with truly dangerous and controversial practices like tree-spiking certainly dilutes the point you're trying to make, Dreama.
posted by sudama at 9:36 AM on May 18, 2001


from the ELF web site:

To reveal and educate the public on the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it.

Now, call me crazy, but how is burning 30 SUVs on a dealer's lot educational. All that has been revealed to me is that these ELF people are f'n morons. What is the environmental damage done by burning an entire car?
posted by jbelshaw at 9:45 AM on May 18, 2001


Why is personal, commercial and civic property destroyed in the name of the environment?

Why are trees, nature's land, and the environment destroyed in the name of urban sprawl and money?

I'm not condoning the ELF's actions, but I see the logic in it. And equating it with putting a sticker on an SUV? That's just a red herring.
posted by hijinx at 9:52 AM on May 18, 2001


i agree with hijinx. non-violent tactics such as putting a sticker on a car is nowhere near the same as setting something on fire. and anyone who does so is just trying to justify the whole 'you touch my car, i break your face mentality'.

as long as no one gets hurt, do whatever it takes to get the message across.
posted by jcterminal at 10:02 AM on May 18, 2001


the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it.

Except, you know, the trees they kill in protest.

Well, Fox News presents another brilliant magic trick by pulling a rabbit out of a pet store. This is like Mother Jones printing an article pointing out how stupid and moronic certain right-wing groups like the John Birch Society are. Think we can hit that slow-moving zeppelin with this howitzer?

These people don't understand that they're diluting their "message" because they're fucking zealots. Zealots are by definition unreasonable and single-minded. The kids who got "out of control" at WTO were largely the anarchist dumbasses out of Eugene and a bunch of random thugs. The fomer had a marvelously stupid "message," and the latter had none at all.
posted by Skot at 10:12 AM on May 18, 2001


jcterminal: and whats the message? an idiot thinks its ok to vandalize my property? frankly I don't think a sticker is going to change anyone's outlook on their vehicle or the environment.
posted by jbelshaw at 10:15 AM on May 18, 2001


as long as no one gets hurt, do whatever it takes to get the message across.

Spray-painting the rearview window? Letting the air out of the tires? Childishness. How many miles per gallon do I have to get before I don't have to worry that someone's going to key my door on behalf of Gaia?
posted by lileks at 10:16 AM on May 18, 2001


there's anger in the act of burning SUVs, but there really isn't much of a message. wrecking someone's car is not likely, in my mind, to cause them to realize the damage they've done to the environment; rather, it'll make them think oh my god, you fucking asshole, you just wrecked my car. it's kind of like the situation where an advertisement might consist of a hot girl in a bikini holding a pepsi. which are you more likely to focus on?

i think that the best form of environmentalist protest is one that makes the environment really the star of the show. which is difficult to do. i'm having a tough time of thinking of anything more serious than sticking a bunch of plants inside of SUVs as opposed to lighting them on fire. but advocacy isn't much different from advertising, if you think about it: to do your job, you need the object of your advocacy to be the lasting impression you leave on others. the environment, not property damage.
posted by moz at 10:22 AM on May 18, 2001


Control of the U.S. Congress is balanced on a razor blade of votes. Surely the last election contest in Florida demonstrated how the slightest amount of extra effort at the polls can do far more to change things than screwing around in trees or vandalizing somebody's car.

YOU can change our mileage guidelines for SUVs acting in concert with other like-minded people through voter registration and action during the 2002 elections.

Vicious dictatorships have been brought down by a tiny roomful friends who vowed to do something. OUR government makes it easy for determined people to make change.

Read Ten Things You Can Do Right Now
posted by steve_high at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2001


The anarchists who engage in the symbolic and strategic destruction of private property at protests are not diluting anything. Their message is sent quite clearly to those who write the checks to repair the damage.

But what good does it really do to target your message at an insurance company like that?
posted by kindall at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2001


kindall: Maybe the message isn't "Don't do this because it's bad" but "Don't do this because pretty soon it won't be worth it."
posted by claxton6 at 11:16 AM on May 18, 2001


moz: i think that the best form of environmentalist protest is one that makes the environment really the star of the show. which is difficult to do.

Given the rest of your statement, then, I can't help but wonder if this is the precise motivation for the ELF to do what it does. They'd probably reason that putting plants in an SUV probably won't do much, although it would indeed focus on the environmental aspect of the message and probably do a lot more good than burning 30 SUVs or what have you.

But then again, would finding a few trees in your SUV make news? Not unless it was very widespread. 30 SUVs set ablaze? Oh, yeah, that's almost ready-made for the media. I think the ELF is smart on this level: they know what the media love to see, and do it.

Skot: Zealots are by definition unreasonable and single-minded.

Careful. Zealots aren't by definition unreasonable and single-minded, but can be, by connotation.
posted by hijinx at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2001


Hijinx: Pedant! ;)

No, point taken. "By definition" wasn't the most proper phrase to use, but I was grumpy.
posted by Skot at 11:22 AM on May 18, 2001


Skot, I'd like definition #3 just because it's obsolete. ;) I just didn't want to see your argument get pooh-poohed because of semantics...
posted by hijinx at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2001


" jcterminal: and whats the message? an idiot thinks its ok to vandalize my property? frankly I don't think a sticker is going to change anyone's outlook on their vehicle or the environment."

what's the message? i dunno. depends on the protestor.

"as long as no one gets hurt, do whatever it takes to get the message across.

Spray-painting the rearview window? Letting the air out of the tires? Childishness. How many miles per gallon do I have to get before I don't have to worry that someone's going to key my door on behalf of Gaia?"

childish? yes. but sometimes you need to sink down a level to get someone's attention.

any news is good news right? no wait. that's not for us, that's for big business. i forgot. my bad.
posted by jcterminal at 11:27 AM on May 18, 2001


Okay, I'm standing in the parking lot with six bags of groceries; the ice cream is melting, and the baby's screaming. I have no air in my tires. You have my attention. What would you like to say, exactly?
posted by lileks at 11:32 AM on May 18, 2001


as long as no one gets hurt, do whatever it takes to get the message across.

Interesting. So you don't believe in freedom? You believe it is everyone else's right to decide whether or not it's ok to spray paint on my car?

Freedom of speech = good

Breaking other people's shit to make your point != good



If we all did this then everything would be destroyed. There are zealouts out there for every cause you can imagine.
posted by glenwood at 11:51 AM on May 18, 2001


hijinx, you make it seem as though the ELF intends to make the news rather than promote the environment. they could be doing both, theoretically, but they aren't when they burn 30 SUVs.

if their goal simply is to make the news, then mission accomplished. but to the end of environmentalism, they have fallen short of the mark. perhaps the ELF does know what the media wants to see; they just haven't found a way to produce what the media wants to see in a way that agrees with what they want to say.

which assumes they are not simply anarchists masquerading as environmentalists. which may be.
posted by moz at 11:55 AM on May 18, 2001


Yes, moz, you may be right on target with that. Whether they are masquerading or not is an exercise best left up to the reader.
posted by hijinx at 11:59 AM on May 18, 2001


Disclaimer: I don't endorse the ELF, not speaking for them, just giving the whole thing a closer reading.

Some of you may have missed the message in the news article: "Anyone, potentially, who is making a profit off the destruction of the natural environment could be a target," he said. "One of the goals is to put the corporation or target out of business immediately."

That's the message. The underlying message is: make money of destruction of the environment, and we'll save the environment by destroying your business.

Note that in the 5 instances cited here and in the article(burning a ski resort, trampling a corn field, tree spiking, house burning and SUV burning) were (presumably) not instances of the ELF targeting individual property -- although not explicitly stated, each of the targets was owned by a corporation at the time of the acts.

I wouldn't be surprised to see ELF try to shut down an engine assembly plant for SUVs. I would be surprised to see them letting the air out of tires. On the otherhand, I have a very limited understanding of them... Their guidelines include: "To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human."
posted by daver at 12:32 PM on May 18, 2001


Okay, I'm standing in the parking lot with six bags of groceries; the ice cream is melting, and the baby's screaming. I have no air in my tires. You have my attention. What would you like to say, exactly? I would like to say that it doesn't matter to me if you bought an SUV because you have 3 kids, two dogs, and a spouse, that you use it to run errands for shut-ins, that you deliver meals on wheels every day, and to deliver supplies for Habitat for Humanity, and that you barely had enough time to go grocery shopping today. It matters that YOU give what *I* think is relevant and dire some of YOUR attention, which is obviously only going towards concern for what others think about what you drive. I mean, is it more important to focus on service to others who need help or fixing the earth, dammit?

Example exaggerated to make a point. What point? That when you assume a lot about what other people are doing and why (whether its the SUV drivers OR ELF, etc.) it usually ends up HAVING no point. When you're focusing on the problem, you're focusing on the problem. If you're going to 'advertise' your 'issues', the most effective means to an end (if that's REALLY what you want instead of an outlet for personal issues projected outward) would be to put your energy into workable win-win solutions. (And if you don't believe there ARE win-win solutions, that is also part of the problem.) And besides, putting heads together to come up with cool new ideas is FUN, and certainly beats the hell out of destroying things... Destroying things just SEEMS easier than really creating something new. {/soap box mode}

See how well (???) I focused on the solution to this thread instead of the problem? *grin* {boot to the head}
posted by thunder at 12:41 PM on May 18, 2001


Addendum... and if you believe that the only workable solution is to get everyone to agree with you and do everything the same way, that is ALSO part of the problem.
posted by thunder at 12:43 PM on May 18, 2001


Note that in the 5 instances cited here and in the article(burning a ski resort, trampling a corn field, tree spiking, house burning and SUV burning) were (presumably) not instances of the ELF targeting individual property -- although not explicitly stated, each of the targets was owned by a corporation at the time of the acts.

Which brings up an interesting point that I saw referenced yesterday in Time or Newsweek letter to the editor...some anti-WTO writer complained that 500 or so "corporate CEO" types were signatories to a WTO document being discussed, but that no politicians were able to see the document. The writer went on to say that "no private citizens" had any input to the document. MY POINT: those 500 "CEO types," and some (don't know how many, or all) of those targets in the item above, are PRIVATE CITIZENS TOO. Many people seem to think that businesspeople are "different" from private citizens, and that politicians are also "different" from private citizens, when in fact (in USA, at least) they also have Constitutional rights & freedoms. Perhaps a small point, but this discussion of the ELFs and other extreme organizations highlights what appears to be a common belief among such groups: that businesspeople are, somehow, less than human and not deserving of the same rights that all citizens enjoy. (hope that made sense - I'm pretty burned up (no pun intended) by this thread).
posted by davidmsc at 12:49 PM on May 18, 2001


The best way to defeat the System, is to work within the System. Going head-on against it will get you nowhere.

The best way to get co-opted by the system is to work within it. How can you hope to make things better if you reduce yourself to incremental tweaks on the way things are?

The planet is not being destroyed because bad people hate the environment and are trying to ruin it; the planet is being destroyed because that's the inevitable consequence of "the system" of government & commerce that dominates it. Working within the system may possibly slow down the inevitable, but the best we can hope for is to buy enough time to replace "the system" with a sustainable one.

We need the radicals.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2001


Thunder, I think I missed the part where you were talking about the "solution." You basically ranted about argumentative principals in a rather smug and condescending tone for a bit, and then ... nothing. If you were, as you say, focusing on the solution, then where is your solution to environmental protests? Is it sit-ins in busy intersections, demolition of SUV assembly lines, or what? I'm not going to provide any solutions myself, because I'm focusing on the "problem" -- against your better advice -- but before you go patting yourself on the back, try and make sure that you've actually lived up to your own standards first.
posted by aprilwinter at 1:03 PM on May 18, 2001


Mars, I agree that we need the radicals in some cases ... look at the US Revolution for example. However, in the situations where an old system is already heavily entrenched, radical approaches will generally get you nowhere. Look how the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was accomplished (MLK). Look at how Glasnost was brought about in the former USSR. Yes there was a coup to finish it off, but first the system was weakened from the inside out by someone who worked within the system and not against it: Gorbachev. Can you see my point?
posted by aprilwinter at 1:10 PM on May 18, 2001


Thunder, I think I missed the part where you were talking about the "solution." You basically ranted about argumentative principals in a rather smug and condescending tone for a bit, and then ... nothing. heh heh - that was my whole point. (I guess the question marks after "see how well" created a less obvious effect than I was going for.) Isn't it much easier to rant than to come up with workable solutions? *grin* Having said that, I DO believe they exist, but often it seems there's some angst or emotional releasing to get through first before we're really willing to let go of having an 'issue' in the first place.

Peace.
posted by thunder at 1:36 PM on May 18, 2001


Thunder ... Apologies for my inability to detect the sublime. *grin* Yes, you're right, ranting is quite enjoyable ... Thank God for these forums.
posted by aprilwinter at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2001


mars, i disagree with you.

i don't blame capitalism, or "the system," for the ails of the environment. capitalism, on the face of it, is simply an abstract philosophy. i blame ignorance. i blame the pesticide makers who continue to pump out pesticides for others to use in the face of growing resistances among pest populations. over 50 species of insects are now resistant to (nearly?) all known pesticides; though DDT is banned in the US for its destructive consequences on the bald eagle population, it continues to be exported from the US to other countries.

why? because of capitalism? no--because it's the easy way out. i look at companies that employ IPM--integrated pest management--and i see a form of capitalism that AGREES with environmentalism. and the best is that it works. a school, i believe in indiana, once had a roach infestation, and IPM was utilized: two other species, a parasite to roaches and a predator of roaches, were introduced to the school. both were quite tiny and non-harmful to humans. and both, in concert, controlled the roach population in the school. it can work.

don't blame "the system." blame the idiots who refuse to look seriously beyond what has been "proven" to alternatives.
posted by moz at 1:54 PM on May 18, 2001


I am curious as to how many of you would be trying to rationalize and defend the "logic" of ELF's actions if ELF were acting in support of unborn fetuses instead of the environment. Self-appointed righteousness is self-appointed righteousness.
posted by aaron at 2:03 PM on May 18, 2001


aaron - Trying to make the leap from environmentalism to abortion-issues is extremely unwise and unfounded. The differences are too much to comprehend ... plus there's the fact that liberal environmentalists are ususally pro-choice, and would not be defending them at all you ninny. Just because you've run out of rational ways to defend your arguments in this forum, you are trying to shift the discussion. Nice try.
posted by aprilwinter at 2:08 PM on May 18, 2001


[since you have no email in your profile... i love you, aprilwinter.]
posted by palegirl at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2001


My, you are quite the pompous little imbecile, aren't you, aprilwinter? That's an especially cute troll coming from someone that's been a member of MeFi for all of a few hours.

And thank you for proving my point in the process, although I'm certain you did so completely unwittingly.
posted by aaron at 2:49 PM on May 18, 2001


Civil rights = MLK? I don't think so. The civil rights movement was as radical as they come, ask anyone who was opposed to it at the time. Civil rights was thousands of people risking their jobs, property and lives to demand that their rights be respected in the face of white riots, police dogs, fire hoses, laws, courts, bombs, and the opinion of the good ol' centrist white democratic majority.

The system radically reconfigured itself to handle a superficially integrated society because it had no other choice. I shudder to think what our world would look like had Rosa Parks been content to write polite letters to the bus company and vote for -- oh that's right. Nevermind.
posted by sudama at 3:00 PM on May 18, 2001


Hey DavidMCS -- the difference between CEOs, Politicians and the youses and meses (please pronounce /mezez/) is that those two classes of people have interests different than ours. Politicians job is to have the interests of youses and meses in mind. (Whether they do or not... well). CEOs are, as you pointed out, citizens just like the rest of us. Citizens who's professional interests are keeping their corporation alive and profitable. Corporations are generally set up so that the CEO (and a few others) are also personally motivated towards this end, usually very strongly.

Because of this, it's practically correct to say that they do not have the interests of youses and meses at heart. This is why it's not as relevant to consider their personal rights in this matter. If a CEO wants to exercise their constitutional free speech -- go to it. If a CEO acting as the agent of a corporation wants to export my job overseas to an underpaid worker simply for a profit motive... well, I might choose to oppose that.
posted by daver at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2001


"Property is not human, it is not violent to destroy property." ??

If that's the case, then the oil and gas under the ground isn't human either, so it doesn't hurt to take it and use it for ourselves. The environment isn't human either, so it should be okay to pollute it? Cool!
posted by wackybrit at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2001


Violence describes the action, not the effect on the target. Property can have violence inflicted on it.

I have similar feelings about the environment as the loopiest of you, but good luck to the dumbass who I catch hurting my seldom used car... I'll expose your heart to sunlight without a second thought.
posted by thirteen at 4:30 PM on May 18, 2001


strong words, john! some people sure are attached to their cars!
posted by palegirl at 7:26 PM on May 18, 2001


One could argue that the environment is, in many senses, living and in a symbiotic relationship with us. Hence, you destroy it and you destroy yourselves.

The advantage and disadvantage of a group like ELF [and its precursor, Earth First!] is that its decentralized organizational structure means that any kid with a match and a typewriter can "be a member" of ELF. Anyone who wants to go spike trees can be an environmental activist [and a small note on tree spiking, when done right it does NOT kill the tree. when done right, loggers are notified and NOT injured. if you want to argue collateral damage, let's bring up the Chinese embassy].

CEO's may or may not behave like private citizens when they are at home, but you can bet that if they're signatories on a document sucking up to the WTO, they're more likely to be representing their businesses than their families. Politicians, in our pseudo-democracy, need to at least appear to be answerable to their constituency, the CEO of Lockheed does not. And if I disagree with him, what am I going to do [it is a free market after all]... stop buying missles to show my dissent?

No one wants to sticker my crappy-ass car. Just as well.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 PM on May 18, 2001


The reasonable man adapts to society.

The unreasonable man expects society to adapt to him.

Therefore all progress is made by unreasonable men.


George Bernard Shaw
posted by dr. zoidberg at 8:49 PM on May 18, 2001


ELF guidelines include: "To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human."

Smoking seven buildings on Vail Mountain with incendiary chemicals seemed rather counter-productive to a professed goal of protecting wildlife habitat. Let's get real here. The people who perpetrated this act are plain and simply low-life criminals who are nothing more than dangerous vandals. There was a group of campers in very close proximity to the attacked area, including one who had sought shelter from the cold in a nearby rest room, who easily could have become a human statistic. Thoughtless, senseless acts executed in the name of environmental protection become akin to abortion clinic bombings.

Vail Associates spent millions of dollars over the years working with government agencies like the U.S. Forest Service doing environmental impact studies before undertaking any expansion activities and has been, for the most part, a responsible business citizen. Confirmation of that was evidenced by the general outrage of the local Vail community at the contemptuous act perpetrated by the cowardly torch-bearing extremists.
posted by netbros at 10:05 PM on May 18, 2001


An interesting story: I live in Eugene, "anarachist capital of the world". The organization my mother runs is a non-profit dedicated to helping rural towns recover from the unemployment that devastated the Northwest after the Spotted Owl debacle. Anyway, because they had the word "development" in the name and an "Inc." at the end, they've had bricks thrown through their windows.

Another funny story: Isn't it ironic that the anarchists here have meetings?

Kevs
posted by Kevs at 11:31 PM on May 18, 2001


How do they pick a time and place?! :-)

You know, for the most part, I've stopped reading these threads, because it's all so useless. You have, for the most part two groups talking to a wall with only a few people listening hard enough to hear the voices on the other side.

I still don't have much to say about the whole thing except for this: I consider my personal liberty to stop where yours begins. In the case of bumperstickering people's cars, that division occurs an infinitely small distance away from the bumper.

I definitely am swayed by radicals on either side of an argument--directly to the other side. I think that's a fairly common reaction, not unlike moving much further back on the bus when the boisterous homeless guy sporting a wonderful aroma steps on board. (Not to compare the two, but instead the feelings evoked by both).

In this case, one person will not stop the pollution. You can sticker every SUV you see for the rest of your life, and the difference you make will be negligible. If you want to make a difference, start big, not small.

You target should not be the soccer mom who's driving her kids to work and has spent a great deal of time, money and effort putting together a life (which she likes, BTW) made up of things which are freely and legally available in this world. Your target should be the car manufacturers and the governments.

And while some may say that every little bit helps, I would counter that every little bit also hurts.
posted by fooljay at 2:10 AM on May 19, 2001


Another funny story: Isn't it ironic that the anarchists here have meetings?

No, not really, but it's a common misconception. Anarchism is not about rejecting all rules, order, systems; it's about rejecting rulers, governments, bosses. Anarchism is not about turning society into chaos, it's about creating a society whose organization is based on consensus, not force.

There's nothing strange about anarchists having meetings. There's nothing strange about anarchists making rules for themselves about the way those meetings are to be conducted. What would be strange is if anarchists elected themselves a captain and let him call a meeting.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:30 AM on May 19, 2001


Mars, let's do lunch when I'm back in Seattle. Anarchism is also about creating small autonomous communities that assist one another voluntarily, live low on the food chain [often but not always], and resist government from without. Self-governance is appropriate and frequently encouraged.

jessamyn

[who's had to sing this refrain over and over again for people who say "isn't an anarchist librarian an oxymoron?"]
posted by jessamyn at 6:42 PM on May 19, 2001


I'm popular.
posted by thirteen at 11:11 PM on May 19, 2001


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