Radical environmentalism and ecoterrorism.

According to an article on USA Today, radical environmentalism is on its way out. It also seems to paint those who are radical environmentalists as misguided, unstable and violent – basically ecoterrorists – is this deserved?

What is ecoterrorism?

According to the FBI, ecoterrorism is “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”

Hmmm… the “innocent” bit. Is a company that pollutes the environment or kills people through poisonous products innocent? And what constitutes violence? Let’s put those issues to one side though; although they are major points of contention in the definition.

What is radical environmentalism?

Many associate this term with ecoterrorism. The essay “Religion, Violence, and Radical Environmentalism” by Bron Taylor of the University of Wisconsin defines radical environmentalism “as a new religious movement that views environmental degradation as an assault on a sacred, natural world.” In his essay, he concludes: “Upon examining the record and characteristics of radical environmental groups, I here conclude that claims that these are violence-prone subcultures are inaccurate.”

Wikipedia includes bioregionalists, ecopsychologists and Wiccans as radical environmentalists. I’ve known a few of these people and they are far from what I’d call ecoterrorists or domestic terrorists.

A bioregionalist is someone who simply seeks to understand their local ecology, resists a highly consumptive lifestyle and tries to live in a sustainable way by eating local foods and using locally, sustainably made products.

Ecopsychology involves the principles of people not only being influenced by social and human-constructed surroundings, but also the wider natural world.

A Wiccan is a practioner of Wicca, a nature-based religion with a pagan/magical element. It’s my understanding that Wicca does not promote violence.

There’s a big difference between ecoterrorism and radical environmentalism in my mind; particularly in a post 9/11 era where the term “terrorist” stirs up images of physical violence directed towards people and slaughter for many.

Ecoterrorists may evolve out of radical environmentalism, but violence evolves out of Catholicsm, the NRA, the Spongebob Squarepants club and all sorts of other religions and organizations where there is fervency about ideals and causes. That doesn’t make all the members hell-bent on violence. The two terms should be kept quite separate.

In my opinion, radical environmentalism is certainly not dead either – in fact, it’s gaining traction. One of the first major radical environmentalist groups was Greenpeace; and they seem to be going strong. Perhaps our definition of radical in relation to the environment is finally changing.

What’s your view on “ecoterrorism” in regards to the FBI definition of the term – should it apply if the property of a company known to destroy the environment is interfered with; for example – the painting of environmental slogans on coal freighters? Does that make us all fair game to ecoterrorism as we knowingly consume the products we know wreak havoc? Where do you feel the line between passionate activism and ecoterrorism is?