The Green Scare and What it Means For Activism
By Stephanie Pedersen
August 05, 2012
In April 2012, activists in Italy entered a Green Hill dog breeding
facility and removed 40 beagles from the premises, handing them over the
fence to other activists, who took them away in waiting cars. The beagles
were bred to be sold to laboratories where they would be used for testing.
These activists, and others, are a part of what has been termed the
Green Scare, a phrase referring to the growing prominence of radical
environmental activism. The Green Scare deems acts of radical
environmentalism "eco-terrorism" and is a reflection of increased political
and legal attention to these groups.
Jeff Luers writes in A Brief
Description of Environmental Activism about his perception that
environmental activists are, "motivated (in part) by a sense of deep
ecology. The belief that all life is interconnected from planet to animal to
forest to ocean to the world at large."
What makes an
environmentalist group radical are the actions taken in order to fulfill
their mandate. These groups may engage in sabotage, arson or destruction of
private property, all in the name of their cause.
well-known environmental activist Paul Watson, founder and captain of the
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, was arrested by German authorities at the
request of Costa Rica for violent confrontations with shark hunters off the
coast of Guatemala dating back to 2002. Watson has since skipped on his bail
and is now in hiding.
Watson�s arrest reflects a growing global trend
of crackdowns on radical activist groups, which includes new legislation,
tougher rhetoric and stiff penalties.
Origins and focus of radical
Radical environmentalism is an ideology that is based upon
ecocentrism, which is the belief system that holds nature as paramount,
above humans. It became prominent in the 1970s with groups like Greenpeace
and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) taking unprecedented measures in the
name of environmentalism. Greenpeace was responsible for ramming a number of
whaling ships, while the Environmental Life Force relied upon explosives and
incendiary devices as a form of protest against various government and
corporate policies. Other groups nailed metal into trees to prevent them
from being felled, and sabotaged heavy machinery.
The prevalence of
these radical environmental groups grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s to
see the formation of such groups as Earth First!, Earth Liberation Army,
Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA). The ALF fights for animal rights and is against the use of
animals in scientific experiments, including vivisection (a practice that
persists today at many of the world�s top universities) and testing, while
PETA attempts to raise awareness about the conditions faced by animals in
different animal enterprises. Many of these groups now have members
numbering in the thousands and regularly receive donations numbering in the
The most radical environmental activist groups, such as the
ALF, ELF and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, generally operate
under a leaderless resistance model and have no official membership. This
makes it difficult for authorities to specifically target the groups and
has, in some instances, resulted in the implementation of far-reaching laws.
Additionally, some groups, including PETA and Greenpeace, regularly
engage in non-violent forms of activism including lobbying, awareness
campaigns and protesting, and have provided a key forum for the discussion
of important environmental issues.
Legal barriers and
In response to the actions of these
radicalized groups, many countries have enacted new legislation to combat
what are known as direct-action tactics.
In 2006, the United States
Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in order to protect
those involved with animal enterprise against raids conducted by activist
groups. The Act stipulates that it is illegal to take any action that,
"intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real property (including
animals or records) used by an animal enterprise." The maximum penalty under
the Act is a prison sentence of up to no more than 20 years and a fine.
In 2005, CNN reported that the FBI regarded "eco-terrorism" or "ecotage"
as the number one domestic terrorism threat in the United States, far
greater than right-wing extremist groups.
In China, many
environmental activists are detained or disappear when certain environmental
issues are receiving a lot of attention by civil society groups. A recent
such example occurred in June 2012, when thousands of protestors in Shifang
County clashed violently with police in a protest over a proposed heavy
metal refinery in their town. The government vowed swift punishment for
those who participated.
A report published by Global Witness, an NGO
that works toward identifying the links between resource exploitation and
human rights abuses, found that environmental activists have been killed at
the rate of more than one per week over the last decade. The rate of these
deaths is increasing, with the highest number occurring in 2011. The report
also states that nearly half of the decade�s recorded deaths occurred in
Brazil, where the conservation of the country�s rainforests and rivers is a
priority for environmental activists. Other countries that were named in the
report as having some of the highest numbers of killings include Peru,
Columbia and The Philippines.
In 2001, the afore quoted Jeff Luers
was charged with the burning of three SUVs in Eugene, Oregon as part of a
protest about global warming and the contributing role played by SUVs. No
one was injured during the protest. Luers was later convicted and given a 22
year and 8 month sentence, a prison term that is more than what some
convicted murderers and rapists serve in the state of Oregon.
arrest of Paul Watson also demonstrates that countries are willing to work
together to stop radical environmentalists. While Watson was initially
arrested in connection with clashes between the Sea Shepherd and shark
hunters in Cost Rica, the Japanese embassy in Ottawa confirmed that Japan
requested his extradition on July 19 in connection to an illegal boarding of
a Japanese whaling vessel.
In a statement published on the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society�s website after he fled Germany Watson said,
"For me it is obvious that the German government conspired with Japan and
Costa Rica to detain me so that I could be handed over to the Japanese. For
me it is clear that they made the political decision to turn me over to the
Japanese even before a court decision was made."
approaches to environmentalism
There are hundreds of
non-radical environmental groups that engage the public in campaigns of
awareness. The Sierra Club is working to block coal burning power plants and
the World Wild Life fund is encouraging countries to invest in ecotourism to
help raise awareness for certain environmental issues and generate income
for local populations.
In contrast, in May of 2012, Greenpeace,
Katuah Earth First! and a number of other activist groups blocked a train
shipment of coal headed to a Duke Energy coal-burning power plant in North
Carolina. They locked themselves to the tracks to prevent the train from
passing and painted the cars with the Apple emblem, as some Apple products
rely on coal-fired power plants.
In 2011, AlterNet published a story
about a book written by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay called
Deep Green Resistance. In it, they advocate for a militant approach to
environmental crisis, claiming that at present, we likely don�t have enough
people interested in saving the planet and that ultimately time will run out
on us. The article identifies that Jensen, Keith and McBay claim that we can
no longer afford to be "grieved by polluted rivers or angered by
short-sighted politicians" and that we can no longer make basic lifestyle
changes such as, "bik[ing] more or eat[ing] local."
The book raises
critical points about the current state of environmentalism and where its
weaknesses lie. Basic efforts will likely not be enough to reverse the
effects of climate change, nor account for the negative effects of a growing
global population and increased industrialization. In this light, the
efforts of radical environmentalist groups appear desperate attempts to
enact positive environmental change in the world.
Is it truly
It is important to note that unlike political
terrorists, animal rights and environmental activists have not intentionally
tried to harm or kill anyone. The awareness website Green Is The New Red
rightly points out that activists have not flown planes into buildings or
sent anthrax in the mail. There is only one attempted murder case in the
history of animal rights activism in the United States and it is believed by
many to have been orchestrated by the U.S. government.
commercial players often the target of environmentalist grievances,
labelling these groups as "eco-terrorists" goes some way in delegitimizing
them so that business interests are protected. This then begs the question
of whether or not the hysteria surrounding the Green Scare is entirely
valid, particularly as punishment for "eco-terrorism" tends to be
disproportionate to the crime.