Friday, April 10, 2009

Monkey Wrench Gang - Environmental Extremism

Depending on who you are and what your beliefs are, environmental activism can rapidly become ecoterrorism. Which of these would you think of as ecoterrorism?

  • Sending a letter to your congressman encouraging strengthening of air quality standards?
  • A peaceful demonstration against a new coal-fired power plant?
  • Tree-sitting to prevent the destruction of an old-growth forest?
  • Using a ship to harass and disrupt a whale hunt?
  • Spiking trees, then telling the lumber company generally what area you've spiked, to (a) prevent clear cutting timber while (b) preventing harm to loggers (if they pay attention to the warning)?
  • Burning down partially constructed condominiums built on a wetlands site?
  • Bombing a car dealer's lot which contains a large number of SUVs?

Any of these actions could earn you the label of "ecoterrorist" from some group or another.

Greenpeace was one of the best know early "ecoterrorism" groups. In the 1970s and 1980s, they used extreme amounts of activity to prevent whaling, sealing, nuclear testing, high-volume commercial fishing and climate change. While the organization now has a much more mainstream image, their actions are ongoing.

EarthFirst! was formed in the late 1970s, inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Aldo Leopold's writings, and Edward Abbey's book The Monkeywrench Gang (our title). Their symbol is a monkey wrench crossed with a stone hammer. EarthFirst! is more closely affiliated with actions we think of as "terrorist." Early on, they were infamous tree-sitters. Later, as the group became more radical, they were closely associated with tree-spiking, monkeywrenching and sabotage.

An off-shoot of EarthFirst! is ELF - the Earth Liberation Front. ELF claims credit for actions such as burning partially constructed condominiums, and car dealerships.

Environmental extremism is ongoing. Sea Shepherd is claiming responsibility for the massive decrease in the number of whales taken in the Japanese whaling season this year. One tactic Sea Shepherd employed was ramming a whaling ship. (Scroll down just a bit for the video.)

Reading The Monkeywrench Gang, do you think that Abbey had in mind when he was writing? Certainly, he never envisioned the most extreme type of environmental extremism - the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

What level of environmental activity are you comfortable with?

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