Revolutionary Environmentalism: An Emerging
New Struggle for Total Liberation
Steve Best and Anthony J. Nocella, II
I. The Current Crisis
George W. Bush’s feel-good talk of progress and democracy, given an endless and uncritical airing by mainstream corporate media, masks the fact that we live in an unprecedented era of social and ecological crisis. Predatory transnational corporations such as ExxonMobil and Maxxam are pillaging the planet, destroying ecosystems, pushing species into extinction, and annihilating indigenous peoples and traditional ways of life. War, globalization, and destruction of peoples, species, and ecosystems march in lockstep: militarization supports the worldwide imposition of the "free market" system, and its growth and profit imperatives thrive though the exploitation of humans, animals, and the earth (see Kovel 2002; Tokar 1997; Bannon and Collier 2003).
Against the mindless optimism of technophiles, the denials of skeptics, and complacency of the general public, we depart from the premise that there is a global environmental crisis which is the most urgent issue facing us today. If humanity does not address ecological problems immediately and with radical measures that target causes not symptoms, severe, world-altering consequences will play out over a long-term period and will plague future generations. Signs of major stress of the world’s eco-systems are everywhere, from shrinking forests and depleted fisheries to vanishing wilderness and global climate change.
Ours is an era of global warming, rainforest destruction, species extinction, and chronic resource shortages that provoke wars and conflicts such as in Iraq. While five great extinction crises have already transpired on this planet, the last one occurring 65 million years ago in the age of the dinosaurs, we are now living amidst the sixth extinction crisis, this time caused by human not natural causes. Human populations have always devastated their environment and thereby their societies, but they have never intervened in the planet’s ecosystem to the extent they have altered climate.
We now confront the “end of nature” where no natural force, no breeze or ripple of water, has not been affected by the human presence (McKribben 2006). This is especially true with nanotechnology and biotechnology. Rather than confronting this crisis and scaling back human presence and aggravating actions, humans are making it worse. Human population rates continue to swell, as awakening giants such as India and China move toward western consumer lifestyles, exchanging rice bowls for burgers and bicycles for SUVs. The human presence on this planet is like a meteor plummeting to the earth, but it has already struck and the reverberations are rippling everywhere.
Despite the proliferating amount of solid, internationally assembled
scientific data supporting the reality of global climate change
and ecological crisis, there are still so-called environmental
“skeptics,” “realists,” and “optimists”
who deny the problems, often compiling or citing data paid for
by ExxonMobil. Senator James Inhofe has declared global warming
to be a “myth” that is damaging to the US economy.
He and others revile environmentalists as “alarmists,”
“extremists,” and “eco-terrorists” who
threaten the American way of life.
There is a direct and profound relationship between global capitalism and ecological destruction. The capitalist economy lives or dies on constant growth, accumulation, and consumption of resources. The environmental crisis is inseparable from the social crisis, whereby centuries ago a market economy disengaged from society and ruled over it with its alien and destructive imperatives. The crisis in ecology is ultimately a crisis in democracy, as transnational corporations arise and thrive through the destruction of popular sovereignty.
The western environment movement has advanced its cause for over three decades now, but we are nonetheless losing ground in the battle to preserve species, ecosystems, and wilderness (Dowie 1995; Speth 2004). Increasingly, calls for moderation, compromise, and the slow march through institutions can be seen as treacherous and grotesquely inadequate. In the midst of predatory global capitalism and biological meltdown, “reasonableness” and “moderation” seem to be entirely unreasonable and immoderate, as “extreme” and “radical” actions appear simply as necessary and appropriate. As eco-primitivist Derrick Jensen observes, “We must eliminate false hopes, which blind us to real possibilities.”
The current world system is inherently destructive and unsustainable; if it cannot be reformed, it must be transcended through revolution at all levels—economic, political, legal, cultural, technological, and, most fundamentally, conceptual. The struggles and changes must be as deep, varied, and far-reaching as the root of the problems.
II. A Critical History Approach
To understand where the environmental movement must go, it is necessary to understand where it has been. To avoid serious mistakes in organizing future struggles, one must know what problems existed in the past and persist in the present. It is increasingly understood that environmental history must be a social history, one that works with a broad definition of “environment” that encompasses both wilderness and urban settings, as it examines how various groups fought environmental battles.
One can chart 3 main stages in the evolution of the u.s. environmental movement: its beginnings in the 19th century, the rise of mainstream environmentalism in the 1970s, and the reaction against it and move toward more radical, democratic, and diverse positions and struggles. We’ll quickly lay these out and then suggest what a revolutionary environmentalism might look like. As one can see, the u.s. environmental movement has been based on economic privilege, whiteness, and male-domination, but these limitations are being overcome in dynamic ways with the emergence of revolutionary environmentalism.
First Wave: 19th Century Origins
One must look to the 19th century roots of modern environmentalism to understand why, in the US and elsewhere, the environmental movement is still comprised predominantly of middle or upper class white people.
The modern environmental movement emerged in england and the u.s. in the mid-19th century, growing out of the concerns of the Romantics and conservationists. As industrialization and capitalist markets reshaped landscapes and societies, figures such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau grew alarmed at the destruction of forests and countryside and degradation of human spirit in market relations and mechanistic worldviews. Following the lead of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who declared everything natural to be free and good (before corrupted by society, they praised nature as the antithesis to all that was rotten in modern life, and extolled the beauty and divinity of the wild.
Overall, the founders and pioneers of American environmentalism were white, male, elites; they advanced important new sensibilities within the mechanistic and anthropocentric frameworks of the time, and sparked the creation of environmental protection laws and national parks. Yet many were classist, racist, and sexist, and misanthropic. Their emphasis on rugged individualism and solitary journeys into wilderness hardly encouraged social awareness or activism. They sought to preserve nature for their enjoyment, not the working classes and poor. Their understanding of “environment” was that of a pristine wilderness, such as could be enjoyed exclusively by people of privilege and leisure.
Unfortunately, this elitist and myopic definition discounted the urban environment that plagued working classes. If one’s definition of “environment” focuses on “wilderness” apart from cities, communities, and health issues, then it will exclude the plight and struggles of women, people of color, workers, children, and other victims of oppression who work, live, play and attend school in toxic surroundings that sicken, deform, and kill. It fails to see and draw connections between environmental and social problems, and thus ignores crucial issues of race, class, and gender, all of which must be integrated into an effective environmental movement of the future.
Environmental historians also have often reproduced these biases and blind spots in one dimensional narratives. The standard environmental history moves from the Romantics and conservationists to Aldo Leopold (1949) and Rachel Carson, and climaxes with a sea of more white faces in the streets of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Long before Rachel Carson, however, African-American abolitionists opposed the use of chemicals such as arsenic being used to grow crops. Women played a significant role in furthering the aesthetic appreciation of nature; Alice Hamilton was a pioneer of occupational health and safety; and Jane Addams’ activism on oppressed people was inseparable from her push for better housing, working, and sanitation conditions.
Only recently did environmentalists themselves address the race, gender, and class biases of the movement. The elitist white biases of the 19th century movement resurfaced in problematic form in the 20th century, whether in Paul Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb (1968), which demonizes people of color as mindless breeders, calls for forced sterilization, and invokes eugenic themes, or the anti-immigration and misanthropic attitudes of Edward Abbey and Dave Foremen of Earth First!, or the often asocial perspective of deep ecology.
Second Wave: The Modern Mainstream
Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (1963), is often credited with sparking the modern environmental movement. It captured the attention of the nation with its vivid prose and dire warning of the systemic poisoning effects of newly invented pesticides, especially DDT.
But the modern environmental movement did not arise because of Rachel Carson, or other key individuals such as Murray Bookchin and Barry Commoner. It emerged and sustained itself in the larger social context of the 1960s, as shaped by the struggles of the “new social movements” (radical students, countercultural youth, Black liberation, feminism, Chicano/Mexican-American, peace, anti-nuclear, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual). These movements, in turn, arose amidst the turmoil spawned by the civil rights struggles of the 1950s.
Significantly, in the early stages of a social learning process, environmentalism was not initially embraced by new social movements and radicals. Blacks and a number of white radicals rejected environmentalism as a bourgeois concern, elitist and racist cause, and a dangerous diversion from the hard-won focus on civil rights and the Vietnam War. The political mindset was dominated by humanist and anthropocentric concerns, and even “progressive” figures and groups were unprepared to embrace an emerging new ethic that challenged human species identity as Lord and Master of the wild. As they began to take shape in the 1960s, environmental concerns were—and mostly remain—“enlightened anthropocentric” worries that if people do not better protect “their” environment, human existence will be gravely threatened.
As the new social movements began to wane, however, and various types of pollution became concrete and crucial issues for communities, environmentalism became a mass concern and new political movement. At the turn of the decade in 1970 the future of the environmental movement seemed bright. Riding the crest of 1960s turmoil and protests that were beginning to wane, environmentalism became a mass concern and new political movement. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 drew 20 million people to the streets, lectures, and teach-ins throughout the nation, making it the largest expression of public support for any cause in amerikan history. In this “decade of environmentalism,” the u.s. Congress passed new laws such as the Clean Air Act, and in 1970 President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. Some environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club (founded by John Muir in 1892) existed before the new movement, but grew in members, influence, and wealth like never before. The larger groups—known as the “Gang of Ten”—planted roots in Washington, DC, where they clamored for respectability and influence with politicians and polluters.
The movement’s insider/growth-oriented recipe for success, however, quickly turned into a formula for disaster. Many battles were won in treating the symptoms of a worsening ecological crisis, but the war against its causes was lost, or rather never fought in the first place. Potentially a radical force and check on capitalist profit, accumulation, and growth dynamics, the u.s. environmental movement was largely a white, male, middle-class affair, cut off from the populist forces and the street energy that helped spawn it. Co-opted and institutionalized, in bed with government and industry, mindful of the “taboo against social intervention in the production system” (Commoner), defense of Mother Earth became just another bland, reformist, compromised-based, single-interest lobbying effort.
Increasingly, the Gang of Ten resembled the corporations they criticized and, in fact, evolved into corporations and self-interested money making machines. Within behemoths such as the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Sierra Club, decision-making originated from professionals at the top who neither had, nor sought, citizen input from the grassroots level. The Gang of Ten hired accountants and MBAs over activists, they spent more time on mass mailing campaigns than actual advocacy, and their riches were squandered largely on sustaining bloated budgets and six-figure salaries rather than protecting the environment. They brokered compromise deals to win votes for legislation that was watered-down, constantly revised to strengthen corporate interests, and poorly enforced. They not only did not fund grassroots groups, they even worked against them at times, forming alliances instead with corporate exploiters. Perversely, Gang of Ten organizations often legitimated and profited from greenwashing campaigns that presented corporate enemies of the environment as benevolent stewards and beacons of progress. Like their 19th century predecessors, they too were largely white, male, middle-class, promoting environmentalism as a single-issue cause, aloof from problems related to race and class. They became a part of the problem rather than the solution. New forms of struggle evolved from necessity.
Third Wave: Direct Action, Grass Roots, and Alliance Politics
The emerging groups of the third wave of u.s. environmentalism were profoundly dissatisfied with a mainstream environmental movement that was corporate, careerist, compromising, and divorced from the complex of social-environmental issues affecting women, the poor, workers, and people of color.
Some groups worked through legal channels at the grass roots level, attacking corporations and effecting change in ways that the mainstream organizations could or would not do. Others viewed the state as irredeemably corrupted by the influence of money and corporate interests, with some turning to sabotage and direct action tactics. These include Paul Watson and the Sea Shepard Conservation Society (Watson 2002), the Animal Liberation Front (Best and Nocella 2004), Earth First! (Foreman 1991; Manes 1990; List 1993; Scarce 1990; Foreman and Haywood 2002; Taylor 1995), and the Earth Liberation Front (Rosebraugh 2004; Best and Nocella 2006; Akerman 2003; Pickering 2002; Taylor 2006). Still others sought to build new kinds of alliances and link environmentalism to social justice movement. These tendencies include ecofeminism, the environmental justice movement, the international Green movement, Native Americans in the u.s. (Churchill 1993), southern groups such as the Zapatistas (Leon 2001), Black liberation groups such as MOVE, and the alter-globalization movements building alliances against global capitalism, such as were dramatically visible in the Battle of Seattle in 1999 (Danaher and Burbach 2000; Welton and Wolf 2001; Solnit 2004; Yuen, Burton-Rose, and Katsiaficas 2004).
One of the most significant forms of environmentalism took the form of a broad social movement that promoted alliances, inclusiveness, and diversity. A critical part of the grassroots revolution was the “environmental justice” movement that engaged environment, race, and social justice issues as one complex. Building on a long and sordid u.s. tradition of racism and discrimination, corporations and polluters targeted the poor, disenfranchised, and people of color to produce and discard their lethal substances. To protect their communities from real “eco- terrorism,” Native Americans, Asian Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics organized and fought back, proving that marginalized did not mean powerless and that environmentalism did not only have a white face. Acknowledging the importance of defending the wilderness, the environmental justice movement sought to build a multi-issue, multiracial environmental movement.
Similarly, the alter-globalization movement recognizes global capitalism as the common enemy of world peoples. As dramatically evident in the 1999 “Battle of Seattle,” “anti-“ or “alter-globalization” groups throughout the world recognized their common interests and fates, and formed unprecedented kinds of alliances (Brecher, Costello, Smith 2000; Kahn and Kellner 2006). The interests of workers, animals, and the environment alike were gravely threatened in a new world order where the WTO could override the laws of any nation state as “barriers to free trade.” Global capitalism was the common enemy recognized by world groups and peoples. Bridging national boundaries, North-South divisions, different political causes, and borders between activists of privileged and non-privileged communities, alter-globalization movements prefigured the future of revolutionary environmentalism as a global, anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist alliance politics, diverse in class, race, and gender composition.
In the last three decades, there has been growing awareness that environmentalism cannot succeed without social justice and social justice cannot be realized without environmentalism. To be sure, defending forests and protecting whales are crucial actions to take, for they protect evolutionary processes and ecological systems vital to the planet and all species and peoples within it. Yet at the same time, it is also critical to fight side-by-side with oppressed peoples in order to address all forms of environmental destruction and build a movement far greater in numbers and strength than possible with a single-issue focus. Such a holistic orientation can be seen in the international Green network, the u.s. environmental justice movement, Earth First! efforts (as initiated by Judi Bari) to join with timber workers, alter-globalization channels, Zapatista coalition building, and often in the communiqués and actions of ALF and ELF activists. Examples of broad alliance politics are visible also in recent efforts to build bridges among animal, Earth, and Black liberationists and anti-imperialists (Best and Nocella 2006). These various dynamics are part and parcel of the emergence of global revolutionary environmentalism.
There are key similarities between what has been called “radical environmentalism”—which includes social ecology (Bookchin 1986), deep ecology (Tobias 1984; Sessions and Devall 1985), ecofeminism (Diamond and Orenstein 1990), Earth First!, and primitivism (Zerzan 2002)—and what we term “revolutionary environmentalism.” Among other things, both approaches reject mainstream environmentalism, attack core ideologies and/or institutions that have caused the ecological crisis, often adopt spiritual outlooks and see nature as sacred, reject the binary opposition separating humans from nature, and in many cases defend or adopt illegal tactics such as civil disobedience or monkeywrenching (Abbey 2000). However, a key distinguishing trait of revolutionary environmentalism is that it supports and/or employs illegal tactics ranging from property destruction for the purpose of economic sabotage to guerilla warfare and armed struggle, recognizing that violent methods of resistance are often appropriate against fascist regimes and right-wing dictatorships. Revolutionary environmentalism seeks to counter forces of oppression with equally potent forms of resistance, and uses militant tactics when they are justified, necessary, and effective. With the advance of the global capitalist juggernaut and increasing deterioration of the Earth’s ecological systems, ever more people may realize that no viable future will arise without militant actions and large-scale social transformation, a process that requires abolishing global capitalism and imperialism, and would thereby embrace revolutionary environmentalism.
As evident in the communiqués of the ALF and ELF, as well as in the views of Black liberationists, Native Americans, anarchists, and anti-imperialists, many activists are explicitly revolutionary in their rhetoric, analysis, vision, actions, and political identities. Revolutionary environmentalists renounce reformist approaches that aim only to manage the symptoms of the global ecological crisis and never dare or think to probe its underlying dynamics and causes. Revolutionary environmentalists seek to end the destruction of nature and peoples, not merely to slow its pace, temper its effects, or plug holes in a dam set to burst. They don’t act to “manage” the catastrophic consequences of the project to dominate nature; they work to abolish the very hierarchy whereby humans live as if they were separate from nature and pursue the deluded goal of mastery and control. The objectives thought necessary by revolutionary environmentalists cannot be realized within the present world system, and require a rupture with it.
Revolutionary environmentalists recognize the need for fundamental changes on many levels, such as with human psychologies (informed by anthropocentric worldviews, values, and identities), interpersonal relations (mediated by racism, sexism, speciesism, ageism, classism, homophobia, and elitism), social institutions (governed by authoritarian, plutocratic, and corrupt or pseudo-democratic forms), technologies (enforcing labor and exploitation imperatives and driven by fossil-fuels that cause pollution and global warming), and the prevailing economic system (an inherently destructive and unsustainable global capitalism driven by profit, production, and consumption imperatives). Revolutionary environmentalists see “separate” problems as related to the larger system of global capitalism and reject the reformist notion of “green capitalism” as a naïve oxymoron. They repudiate the logics of marketization, economic growth, and industrialization as inherently violent, exploitative, and destructive, and seek ecological, democratic, and egalitarian alternatives.
As the dynamics that brought about global warming, rainforest destruction, species extinction, and poisoning of communities are not reducible to any single factor or cause—be it agricultural society, the rise of states, anthropocentrism, speciesism, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, industrialism, technocracy, or capitalism—all radical groups and orientations that can effectively challenge the ideologies and institutions implicated in domination and ecological destruction have a relevant role to play in the global social-environmental struggle. While standpoints such as deep ecology, social ecology, ecofeminism, animal liberation, Black liberation, Native American autonomy and liberation, and the ELF are all important, none can accomplish systemic social transformation by itself. Working together, however, through a diversity of critiques and tactics that mobilize different communities, a flank of militant groups and positions can drive a battering ram into the structures of power and domination and open the door to a new future.
Thus, revolutionary environmentalism is not a single group, but rather a collective movement rooted in specific tactics and goals (such as just discussed), and organized as multi-issue, multiracial alliances that can mount effective opposition to capitalism and other modes of domination. We do not have in mind here a super-movement that embraces all struggles, but rather numerous alliance networks that may form larger collectives with other groups in fluid and dynamic ways, and are as global in vision and reach as is transnational capitalism. Although there is diversity in unity, there must also be unity in diversity. Solidarity can emerge in recognition of the fact that all forms of oppression are directly or indirectly related to the values, institutions, and system of global capitalism and related hierarchical structures. To be unified and effective, however, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist alliances require mutual sharing, respectful learning, and psychological growth, such that, for instance, black liberationists, ecofeminists, and animal liberationists can help one another overcome racism, sexism, and speciesism.
New social movements and Greens have failed to realize their radical potential. They have abandoned their original demands for radical social change and become integrated into capitalist structures that have eliminated “existing socialist countries” as well as social democracies in a global triumph of neoliberalism. A new revolutionary force must therefore emerge, one that will build on the achievements of classical democratic, libertarian socialist, and anarchist traditions; incorporate radical green, feminist, and indigenous struggles; synthesize animal, Earth, and human liberation standpoints; and build a global social-ecological revolution capable of abolishing transnational capitalism so that just and ecological societies can be constructed in its place.
Windows of opportunity are closing. The actions that human beings now collectively take or fail to take will determine whether the future is hopeful or bleak. The revolution that this planet desperately needs at this crucial juncture will involve, among other things, a movement to abolish anthropocentrism, speciesism, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and prejudices and hierarchies of all kinds. In a revolutionary process, people throughout the world will reconstitute social institutions in a form that promotes autonomy, self-determination of nations and peoples, decentralization and democratization of political life, non-market relations, guaranteed rights for humans and animals, an ethics of respect for nature and all life, and the harmonization of the social and natural worlds.
To conclude, we want to raise the question: Is there a direction or coherence iin the history of environmentalism? We believe there is, along 3 main lines:
1) Broadening of the scope and meaning of environmentalism: whereas the first two waves of u.s. environmentalism were predominantly white, male, and middle class in composition and outlook, and were rooted in a dualistic concept of the “environment” defined in terms of physical wilderness divorced from urban and social environments, the environmental movement since the 1970s has become increasingly diversified and broadened. “Environmentalism” today is defined and shaped by a host of groups and perspectives, and is inseparably linked to social issues and struggles.
2) Connecting the various branches of a social-environmental movement: the last few decades show a deepening awareness that all liberation struggles are interconnected, such that no one is possible without the others, thereby leading to the concept of “total revolution” that unites in one struggle human, animal, and Earth liberation. Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (Best and Nocella, 2006) shows the diversity of the new politics and tendencies toward making new connections and alliances.
3) Radicalizing political struggle: analysis of modern environmentalism in the u.s. and elsewhere reveals a dialectic whereby increasingly radical forms of struggle emerge when necessary, when a prior strategy proves inadequate and effective for protecting the Earth. Thus, the legal-based tactics of mainstream environmentalism, which turned ecology into just another bureaucratic interest movement, ultimately gave rise to more militant tactics involving direct action, sabotage, arson, and armed struggle. The future of environmental politics is unpredictable, but in this accelerated and desperate stage of ecological crisis and biological meltdown, radicals will defend the Earth “by any means necessary.”
Revolutionary environmentalism is based on the realization that politics as usual just won’t cut it anymore. We will always lose if we play by their rules rather than invent new forms of struggle, new social movements, and new sensibilities. The defense of the earth requires immediate and decisive: logging roads need to be blocked, driftnets need to be cut, and cages need to be emptied. But these are defensive actions, and in addition to these tactics, radical movements and alliances must be built from the perspective total liberation.
A new revolutionary politics will build on the achievements of democratic, libertarian socialist, and anarchist traditions. It will incorporate radical green, feminist, and indigenous struggles. It will merge animal, earth, and human standpoints in a total liberation struggle against global capitalism and its omnicidal grow-or-die logic.
Radical politics must reverse the growing power of the state, mass media, and corporations to promote egalitarianism and participatory democratization at all levels of society – political, cultural, and economic. It must dismantle all asymmetrical power relations and structures of hierarchy, including that of humans over animals and the earth. Radical politics is impossible without the revitalization of citizenship and the re-politicization of life, which begins with forms of education, communication, culture, and art that anger, awaken, inspire, and empower people toward action and change.
This is a pivotal time in history, a crossroads for the future of life. Windows of opportunity are closing. The actions that human beings now collectively take or fail to take will determine whether the future is hopeful or bleak. While the result is horrible to contemplate, our species may not meet this challenge and drive itself into the same oblivion as it drove countless other species. There is no economic or technological fix for the crises we confront, the only solution lies in radical change at all levels.
Clearly, there is no guarantee that Homo sapiens will survive in the near future, as the dystopian visions of films such as Mad Max or Waterworld may actually be realized. But nor is there is any promise that revolutionary environmentalism can or will arise, given problems such as the factionalism and egoism that typically tears political groups apart and/or the fierce political repression always directed against resistance movements.
Amidst so many doubts and uncertainties, there is nonetheless no question whatsoever that the quality of the future—if humanity and other imperiled species have one—depends on the strength of global resistance movements and the possibilities for revolutionary change.
Part of this article has been published in the Introduction to Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (Best and Nocella 2006). In solidarity with the language of resistance used by Black liberationists and anti-imperialists, throughout this article we substitute “u.s.,” “amerika,” “england,” “and “u.k.,” for “US,” “America,” “England,” and “UK.” We graffiti the names only of these two main imperialist powers.
The claim that we currently are witnessing an advanced ecological “crisis,” upon which the argument for revolutionary struggle rests, means that there is an emergency situation in the ecology of the Earth as a whole that needs urgent attention. If we do not address ecological problems immediately and with radical measures that target causes not symptoms, severe, world-altering consequences will play out over a long-term period. Signs of major stress of the world’s eco-systems are everywhere, from denuded forests and depleted fisheries to vanishing wilderness and global climate change. As one indicator of massive disruption, the proportion of species human beings are driving to extinction “might easily reach 20 percent by 2022 and rise as high as 50 percent or more thereafter” (Wilson 2002) ). Given the proliferating amount of solid, internationally assembled scientific data supporting the ecological crisis claim, it can no longer be dismissed as “alarmist;” the burden of proof, rather has shifted to those “skeptics,” “realists,” and “optimists” in radical denial of the growing catastrophe to prove why complacency is not blindness and insanity. For reliable data on the crisis, see the various reports, papers, and annual Vital Signs and State of the World publications by the Worldwatch Institute. On the impact of Homo sapiens over time, see “The Pleistocene-Holocene Event,” http://rewilding.org/thesixthgreatextinction.htm. On the serious environmental effects of agribusiness and global meat and dairy production/consumption systems (which include deforestation, desertification, water pollution, species extinction, resource waste, and global warming), (Robbins 2001).
For elaboration of the position of corporate interst, u.s. law enforcement, and others that spawn the propaganda that the ELF and Earth First! are “ecoterrorists,” seeLong (2004), Arnold (1997), and Lewis (2005).
For an example of a standard, single-focus narrative on the history of u.s. environmentalism (Nash 1967). To read an alternative, far broader account that links environmental and social history by including the fight for safe working and living conditions and the struggles of women, labor, and others (Gottlieb 1993). Marcy Darnovsky (1992)notes that “Too sharp a focus on wilderness blurs the environmental significance of everyday life...In limiting their scope as they do, the standard [environmental] histories contribute to still-widespread associations of the environment as a place separate from daily life and innocent of social relations” (p. 28).
By far and away, the harshest critic of deep ecology, Earth First!, and primitivism—all reviled as being racist, misanthropic, mystical, irrational, and atavistic—is social ecologist Murray Bookchin (Bookchin 1995)). Although Bookchin makes a number of important points against these movements, he often takes statements out of context and fails to account for the diversity and competing divisions within groups, such as existed in Earth First! between the “wilders” (e.g., Dave Foreman and Christopher Manes) and the social-oriented “holies” (e.g., Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney). For critiques of Bookchin’s one-dimensional readings of deep ecology and Earth First!, see Taylor’s article “Earth First! and Global Narratives of Popular Ecological Resistance”in Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism (Taylor 1995) also see Taylor’s essay, “The Religion and Politics of Earth First!” (1991).
For a historical and critical analysis of new social movements Boggs (1987).
For examples of greenwashing and “environmental” groups serving the cause of corporate propaganda (Dowie 1995; Rampton and Stauber 1999).
It is critical to point out that contributors to this volume use different terms to talk about similar or the same things; thus, in addition to “revolutionary environmentalism,” one will also see references to “radical environmentalism,” “radical ecology,” or “revolutionary ecology.” It is natural that different people discussing new ecological resistance movements will use different terminology, and we did not attempt to impose our own discourse of “revolutionary environmentalism” on any of the authors, although some do use the term “revolutionary environmentalism.” While there is general consensus on the need for a militant resistance movement and revolutionary social transformation, we leave it to the reader to interpret and compare the different philosophical and political perspectives.
In 1996, for instance, the Zapatistas organized a global “encuentro”
during which over 3,000 grassroots activists and intellectuals
from 42 countries assembled to discuss strategies for a worldwide
struggle against neoliberalism. In response to the Zapatista’s
call for an “intercontinental network of resistance, recognizing
differences and acknowledging similarities,” the People’s
Global Action Network was formed, a group explicitly committed
to anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and ecological positions
(see http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/en/index.htm). For
more examples of global politics and networks that report on news,
actions, and campaigns from around the world, covering human rights,
animal rights, and environmental struggles, see One World (http://www.oneworld.net/),
(http://www.protest.net/), and Indymedia (http://www.indymedia.org/en/index.shtml).
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