Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement…

The Rise of Eco-Extremism

Two profound events triggered the split between those advocating a pragmatic or “liberal” approach to ecology and the new “zero-tolerance” attitude of the extremists. The first event, mentioned previously, was the widespread adoption of the environmental agenda by the mainstream of business and government. This left environmentalists with the choice of either being drawn into collaboration with their former “enemies” or of taking ever more extreme positions. Many environmentalists chose the latter route. They rejected the concept of “sustainable development” and took a strong “anti-development” stance.
Surprisingly enough the second event that caused the environmental movement to veer to the left was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Suddenly the international peace movement had a lot less to do. Pro-Soviet groups in the West were discredited. Many of their members moved into the environmental movement bringing with them their eco-Marxism and pro-Sandinista sentiments.

These factors have contributed to a new variant of the environmental movement that is so extreme that many people, including myself, believe its agenda is a greater threat to the global environment than that posed by mainstream society. Some of the features of eco-extremism are:

It is anti-human. The human species is characterized as a “cancer” on the face of the earth. The extremists perpetuate the belief that all human activity is negative whereas the rest of nature is good. This results in alienation from nature and subverts the most important lesson of ecology; that we are all part of nature and interdependent with it. This aspect of environmental extremism leads to disdain and disrespect for fellow humans and the belief that it would be “good” if a disease such as AIDS were to wipe out most of the population.

· It is anti-technology and anti-science. Eco-extremists dream of returning to some kind of technologically primitive society. Horse-logging is the only kind of forestry they can fully support. All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and “unnatural’. The Sierra Club’s recent book, “Clearcut: the Tradgedy of Industrial Forestry”, is an excellent example of this perspective. “Western industrial society” is rejected in its entirety as is nearly every known forestry system including shelterwood, seed tree and small group selection. The word “Nature” is capitalized every time it is used and we are encouraged to “find our place” in the world through “shamanic journeying” and “swaying with the trees”. Science is invoked only as a means of justifying the adoption of beliefs that have no basis in science to begin with.

· It is anti-organization. Environmental extremists tend to expect the whole world to adopt anarchism as the model for individual behavior. This is expressed in their dislike of national governments, multinational corporations, and large institutions of all kinds. It would seem that this critique applies to all organizations except the environmental movement itself. Corporations are critisized for taking profits made in one country and investing them in other countries, this being proof that they have no “allegiance” to local communities. Where is the international environmental movements allegiance to local communities? How much of the money raised in the name of aboriginal peoples has been distributed to them? How much is dedicated to helping loggers thrown out of work by environmental campaigns? How much to research silvicultural systems that are environmentally and economically superior?

· It is anti-trade. Eco-extremists are not only opposed to “free trade” but to international trade in general. This is based on the belief that each “bioregion” should be self-sufficient in all its material needs. If it’s too cold to grow bananas – – too bad. Certainly anyone who studies ecology comes to realize the importance of natural geographic units such as watersheds, islands, and estuaries. As foolish as it is to ignore ecosystems it is adsurd to put fences around them as if they were independent of their neighbours. In its extreme version, bioregionalism is just another form of ultra-nationalism and gives rise to the same excesses of intolerance and xenophobia.

· It is anti-free enterprise. Despite the fact that communism and state socialism has failed, eco-extremists are basically anti-business. They dislike “competition” and are definitely opposed to profits. Anyone engaging in private business, particularly if they are sucessful, is characterized as greedy and lacking in morality. The extremists do not seem to find it necessary to put forward an alternative system of organization that would prove efficient at meeting the material needs of society. They are content to set themselves up as the critics of international free enterprise while offering nothing but idealistic platitudes in its place.

· It is anti-democratic. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of radical environmentalism. The very foundation of our society, liberal representative democracy, is rejected as being too “human-centered”. In the name of “speaking for the trees and other species” we are faced with a movement that would usher in an era of eco-fascism. The “planetary police” would “answer to no one but Mother Earth herself”.

· It is basically anti-civilization. In its essence, eco-extremism rejects virtually everything about modern life. We are told that nothing short of returning to primitive tribal society can save the earth from ecological collapse. No more cities, no more airplanes, no more polyester suits. It is a naive vision of a return to the Garden of Eden.

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