Radical direct action may be the only way to prevent environmental catastrophe

Extinction Rebellion protesters in London last month. Image: Getty.

Climate change, deforestation, widespread pollution and the sixth mass extinction of biodiversity all define living in our world today – an era that has come to be known as “the Anthropocene”. These crises are underpinned by production and consumption which greatly exceeds global ecological limits, but blame is far from evenly shared.

The world’s 42 wealthiest people own as much as the poorest 3.7bn, and they generate far greater environmental impacts. Some have therefore proposed using the term “Capitalocene” to describe this era of ecological devastation and growing inequality, reflecting capitalism’s logic of endless growth and the accumulation of wealth in fewer pockets.

As social inequality and ecological breakdown escalate, steady change may no longer be enough to avoid civilisational collapse. Environmentalists cannot rely on timid appeals to power any longer.

Enter ‘radical’ greens

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know radical environmentalists from numerous groups throughout my doctoral research. I’m especially interested in uncovering their worldviews – how they diagnose the root causes of ecological decline and what motivates them to engage in often high-risk interventions on behalf of the natural world and other species.

They reject human superiority and separateness from other species. They blame such views, in addition to capitalism and endless economic growth, for the dire state of modern ecosystems. Many follow a burning desire for a more viable and inclusive future for all.

Notable radical green groups include Earth First!, Extinction Rebellion, the Hambacher forest occupation, and Sea Shepherd.

Early Earth First! activists in the US sat in trees and dismantled tractors to prevent old-growth forests from being felled. For years, Sea Shepherd vessels successfully intervened and protected countless whales from Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. However, last year they ended their anti-whaling campaign due to, among other things, advancements in military grade technology by the Japanese whaling industry.

Activists have occupied the ancient Hambach forest in Western Germany for a remarkable six years in an ongoing effort to keep coal giant RWE at bay. Many were violently evicted by police recently.

Traditional environmental organisations like the WWF tend to focus on making industrial capitalism more sustainable rather than questioning capitalism itself. The radical green movement was born in response to the perceived inability of these mainstream environmental organisations to curb ecological decline. They advocate direct action in the form of civil disobedience, blockades, tree-sits, and even the dismantling of machinery for halting ecological destruction.


The resurgence of the ‘Green Scare’

Criminalising and repressing non-violent activists could fatally delay an effective response to climate change. In the UK, anti-fracking activists were arrested recently after blocking a convoy delivering equipment to the Preston New Road fracking site in Lancashire. They were initially given excessive prison sentences but were eventually released.

Political theorist Steve Vanderheiden referred to such incidents in his 2005 article on the “Green Scare”. The “Green Scare” at its height in the mid-2000s saw the US government mount full-scale persecution of environmental activists. The FBI classed radical environmental groups such as the Earth Liberation Front as the nation’s lead domestic terrorist threat, even though it never targeted living beings.

Even the legal definition of “terrorism” was altered to include property destruction. This sought to target radical greens and their attacks against ecologically harmful infrastructure. Lengthy prison sentences and fines befell “eco-terrorists” caught engaging in direct action deemed threatening to economic interests.

These are desperate times. We’ve lost a staggering 60 per cent of monitored vertebrate life within just 40 years. Climate change will endanger millions through disease, extreme weather, starvation, and rising seas.

Occupying trees or blockading a road to a fracking site is clearly justified resistance during times of widespread injustice. These are the ideas that environmental protectors are attempting to bring to the forefront.

As George Monbiot noted, a “hopeless realism” in the form of piecemeal “tinkering around the edges” has led us to our present predicament. Similar approaches simply won’t fix the mess. Radical responses – direct action and mass political mobilising – might be our only hope for building the better world that is still within our reach.

The Conversation

Heather Alberro, Associate Lecturer/PhD Candidate in Political Ecology, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What’s behind the rise of the ornamental restaurant toilet?

Toilets at Sketch restaurant, London. Image: Nik Stanbridge/Flickr.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the toilets of a zeitgeisty new Italian restaurant in east London called Gloria. As with so many contemporary restaurant toilets, those in question were an aesthetic extension of the establishment’s soul. The inventive menu was matched by two-way mirrored toilet doors.

The setup was this: cubicle occupants could see out while the unisex crowd milling around the taps could check their outfits on the exterior mirrors. All fun and games, I thought. But then I found myself mid toilet with a guy peering into my door to change his contact lens. Either he had spectacularly bad manners or he was unaware of the two-way door thing. (Let’s hope it’s the latter.)

Gloria’s toilets aren’t unique in their attempt to be distinctive. The loos at nearby Mr Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery are adorned with specimen boards of dead spiders. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s The Sun Inn invites patrons to pee in buckets, and trumpets double as urinals in The Bell Inn in East Sussex. Men can wee into the vista if they’re dining in the Shard. And Sketch’s ovum shaped loos are the stuff of urban legend.

Further afield, transparent doors become frosted only after they’re locked at Brussels’ Belga Queen. In Otto’s Bierhalle in Toronto, diners can press a button to activate their own private rave. And the toilets in Robot Restaurant in Tokyo have gold-plated interiors and dancing robots.

What’s behind this trend? Are quirky toilets just a bit of fun – or an unnecessary complication to the simple act of going for a wee and checking you don’t have tomato sauce on your chin?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s London flagship restaurant Nopi crops up often in conversations about restaurant bathrooms. A hall of mirrors glitters enticingly ahead of loo-bound diners. “The bathroom needs to be the nicest part [of] the whole place because that’s where you’re on your own,” says Alex Meitlis, the designer behind the space.

But no one is truly alone in 2019. If surveys are to be believed, nearly 65 per cent of millennials take their phone to the bathroom with them. Mike Gibson, who edits the London food and drink magazine Foodism agrees that the bathroom selfie – searches for which, incidentally, yield over 1.5m results on Instagram – is part of the reason that contemporary lavatory design is so attention seeking.


“Any new venue that's opening will be super aware that there's probably not an inch of their restaurant that won't be photographed or filmed at some point”, he says. But bathrooms like Nopi’s predate this trend. Indeed, Meitlis believes he has created a haven from the smartphone obsession; Nopi’s mirrors are angled in such a way that means you have to seek out your reflection. “You can choose whether to look for yourself in the mirror or not.”

Another driving force is the increasingly competitive restaurant landscape. “It’s almost like there’s some sort of ever-escalating competition going on amongst new openings, which makes every visit a faintly terrifying experience”, says food writer and New Statesman contributor Felicity Cloake. Gibson agrees. “Restaurants want an edge wherever possible, and design definitely comes into that.”

So novelty bathrooms get you noticed, promote social media engagement and entertain diners who are momentarily without the distraction of company. (Although, it must be said, quirky bathrooms tend to make the loo trip a more sociable experience; a Gloria spokesperson described the restaurant’s toilets as somewhere you can “have a good laugh and meet people along the way.”)

Nevertheless, I’m not the only one who finds bathroom surprises disconcerting.  One TripAdvisor user thought the Belga Queen loos were “scary”. And a friend reports that her wonderment at the Nopi bathroom was laced with mirror maze induced nausea – and mild panic when she realised she didn’t know the way out. Should restaurants save the thrills for the food?

“I think it's important not to be too snarky about these things – restaurants are meant to playful,” says Gibson. Cloake agrees that novelty is fine, but adds: “my favourite are places like Zelman Meats in Soho that have somewhere in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands before sitting down and tucking in.”

So perhaps we should leave toilets unadorned and instead ramp up the ornamentation elsewhere. Until then, I’ll be erecting a makeshift curtain in all mirrored toilets I encounter in future. An extreme reaction, you might say. But, as I wish I could have told the rogue contact lens inserter, it’s not nice to pry into someone else’s business.