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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.