Date: Wed, 17 Apr 1996 05:45:44 -0500
L-Soft list server at MIZZOU1 (1.8b) <LISTSERV@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
To: Haines Brown <BROWNH@CCSUA.CTSTATEU.EDU>
> S * IN ACTIV-L--> Database ACTIV-L, 6695 hits.
> print 06665
>>> Item number 6665, dated 96/04/16 17:33:51 -- ALL
Date: Tue, 16 Apr 1996 17:33:51 CDT
Reply-To: Dave Steele <ds21@post.QueensU.CA>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Dave Steele <ds21@post.QueensU.CA>
Subject: Unabomber & Radical Environmentalism
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 1996 20:00:29 -0500 (CDT)
To: weekend all things considered <WATCMAIL@npr.org>
Subject: Unabomber & Radical Environmentalism
Anyone who will read the anarchist and radical environmentalist
journals will see that opposition to the industrial-technological
system is widespread and growing. This statement in the
Unabomber’s manifesto suggests a possible link between terrorism
and radical environmental groups such as Earth First!. Some
commentators assert that the Unabomber is only the tip of an iceberg
of eco-terrorist cells planning to violently overthrow industrial
I am a professor of social and environmental ethics who has spent more than five years exploring the diverse subcultures of radical environmentalism. This research convinces me that applying the terrorist label to radical environmentalism is not only inaccurate, but dangerous. By fanning the flames of hatred against environmental activists, assertions like these only increase the likelihood that environmental conflicts will assume more a violent character than is already the case.
Though not all radical environmentalists think alike, most would agree on three broad claims. First, they believe that the natural world is inherently valuable, apart from its usefulness to human beings. Indeed, the earth and all life is sacred. This essentially religious perception provides a powerful restraint on violence because humans and non-humans alike are seen as as deserving of respect because all life participates in a sacral landscape.
Second, they claim like many scientists, that humans are causing an unprecedented extinction crisis. Radical environmentalists believe that industrialism, consumerism, and the domination of life by corporations intent on extending market capitalism into all planetary corners contribute to the global decline of biodiversity and the widespread desecration of land. These activists clearly deserve the label radical because they envision and hope for the destruction (or at least retreat) of industrial lifeways. They generally believe that overturning industrialism is a prerequisite to ecological sanity and to the reharmonization of life on earth. But few among them think this will occur as a result of their activism, and to my knowledge, none see terrorism as a solution. Rather, if we do not change our ways, they believe, nature will take its course, great suffering will follow, including more species extinctions (perhaps even our own), and eventually an ecological equilibrium will be restored.
Third, radical environmentalists do not see electoral politics as a
way to bridge the gap between what is (the present extinction crisis)
and what ought to be (the flourishing of all life forms). Democracy
is seen as broken (or as never having existed in the first place), and
elections as dominated by corporate elites. Consequently, many laws
are illegitimate and illegal tactics, both civil disobedience and
monkey-wrenching — movement parlance for destroying
equipment used to damage the environment — may be morally
permissible or even obligatory.
While we may find the above claims alarming, there is a logic woven
through them. If all life is inherently valuable or has sacred worth,
and if humans are causing widespread extinctions, and if political
institutions are unable to respond quickly enough to prevent such
extinctions, then direct-action and even illegal resistance may be
justifiable. After all, as the environmental slogan proclaims,
extinction is forever. It may indeed be immoral to work exclusively
through the system, waiting for political and legal reform,
while species disappear forever.
Of course, sick minds may take radical environmental ideas and transform them into horrific justifications for violence. Tortured and troubled souls are often drawn to radical political movements. But my experience has been those who advocate violence within radical environmental subcultures are met with forthright resistance and condemnation. Offending individuals are sanctioned and even shunned. They are also generally assumed to be agent provocateurs sent by corporate or government enemies to discredit the movement and bring violence upon it. But radical environmentalism has significant internal obstacles to violence, including non-violence training for participants in civil disobedience campaigns.
While no one wants to encourage terrorism, neither should we tolerate an anti-environmental McCarthyism that inaccurately tars diverse organizations and people as terrorists. The path away from the precipice of violent environmental conflict is to resist those who would demonize people on either side of these wrenching issues.