Is violence justified in saving our planet? How far would you go or would allow someone else to go to protect our environment?
I had just finished watching a documentary titled ‘If a tree falls’. To summarise, this documentary looks at the earth liberation front, an environmental organisation that moved from more passive and non violent protest towards an approach of more direct and violent action. This doco follows a few of the former members of the ELF (earth liberation front) whilst they are being sentenced under what was eventually defined as eco-terroism. The ELF became involved in the destruction through arson of several business’s and organisations that they felt were damaging the environment , for example companies that were involved in logging of old growth forests. Now the documentary itself was good (however i have seen better) and it got me thinking if we can justify these acts of sabotage which caused millions of dollars worth of damage to these businesses which may or may not be acting legally. Can individuals or organisations take it upon themselves to engage in illegal activities for the sake of environmental conservation and which inevitably brings these issues to the forefront of the media and potentially politics. If you agree with these actions, do you have any limitations or rules that you feel need to be respected? I also feel i need to make it clear that no person was harmed during these acts of so called eco-terroism, and the damage was done to property.
For me there are two issues that are different and therefore require a slightly different answer:
If the organisation which was attacked was engaging in illegal activity such as illegal dumping of waste, or poaching of animals i feel that acts of sabotage against these groups (without harming anyone) would be justified. Unfortunately other way to deal with it i.e legally can take significant time, and have been known to impose minimal penalties to organisations that have done irreversible damage to the environment. For me thats a no brainer- the organisation deserves what it gets.
However the other issue is if an organisation are acting within the law, yet are having a negative impact on wild life, is it justifiable to engage in sabotage, direct action, eco-terroism, or whatever you like to call it. Unfortunately here i can not make a sweeping statement to agree or disagree. One of the problems is that change takes time, and time is not what a lot of critically endangered species have. While protests go on, and peaceful activism goes on, and don’t get me wrong it is positive, sometimes the change it brings about is far too slow. We are in a period of existence when the rate of species extinction is greater than in any previous point in our history- we are killing more things off in at a faster rate than ever before, and at a faster rate than laws can be made to protect them. It must also be noted that obviously different countries place different value on their eco-system, and may never put protective measures in place to protect their environment… for me it is justifiable if the normal process is not keeping them safe. In my view its a last resort but an effective one, although i also believe that there needs to be boundaries and rules. An example of a rule could be no human casualties, although this may be impossible to ensure with violent acts which then create the grey areas. I would need to feel that i could undertake this action without harming anyone, that the normal legal process or lobbying would not quick enough, and that the species is at immediate risk.
An example of a group that i admire, and have been effective in their direct action is the Sea Sheperd. This group seek to protect whales and cetaceans through direct actions which involve attempting to sabotage Japanese Whaling ships to make them ineffective, as well as generally getting in their way and hampering their ability to hunt. I agree with what they are doing even though they have been labelled as terroists by some countries. Sea Sheperds efforts have not only saved countless whales lives, the pressure and publicity they applied to their cause has contributed to the international courts ruling that the Japanese ‘research’ hunts were not legal- how many of these majestic creatures would have died whilst waiting for this ruling had Sea Shepard not become involved? Too many.
I think its important to also remember that just because its the law, it doesn’t make it right. I have a friend who has been involved in Animal Rights Activism, and has at times been involved in activities that result in breaking into farms and freeing caged animals such as chickens. These farmers are not breaking the law by keeping these animals under horrible conditions (the treatment of change animals is a whole other discussion but do some research and you will see), but that doesn’t make it acceptable for an animal to suffer like that. Was his actions justified- in my opinion yes (and hopefully that farmer will move away from caged farming towards free range)
Im currently reading Dian Fosseys book, Gorillas in the mist (which I’m finding fascinating by the way). If you don’t know her, she lived in Rwanda, and the Congo where she lived in the mountains amongst the mountain Gorillas whee she studied them and eventually interacted with them for. She became a passionate advocate for the Gorillas at a time when little was know, and even less was done to protect the national reserve they lived in and there was almost no protection for the Gorillas. Dian undertook her own forms of direct action to protect the mountain gorillas and other animals within her study range. She harassed the poachers and destroyed their traps and camps, she held cattle hostage from grazers, and established unit poacher patrols. She did those things because no one else was doing it. Could she have lobbied the Rwandan government to legally enforce the national park rules? yes she could.. but in the meantime the mountain Gorillas numbers would have likely become further decimated beyond recovery. She took action which i felt was justified.
What i do not agree with however is using fear of harm to acquire this change. Making threats against someone i ABSOLUTELY do not agree with. Yes there may be fear associated with all acts of violence, but it crosses the line when people fear that they are targeted. Can you protect and engage in potentially violent activism against an activity without people doing the activity living in fear, i hope so and i believe so.
For me the people engage in activism of all sorts are special, and those that engage in direct actions also. They often risk a lot for little personal gain, other than the knowledge that a whale, or gorilla, or an old growth first that is home to millions of species can survive another day. They defend the defenceless.
It must be noted that i support the idea that other avenues be explore prior to any violent direct action and it be used as a last resort after careful consideration, and that not all are appropriate and justifiable in my opinion.