Nature article asserts "radical environmentalists turned against science"

In Volume 443, Issue no. 7111 of Nature, dated October 5th, 2006, there appears an article by Emma Marris called "Environmental Activism: In the name of nature" with the sub-caption under the opening photo: "What drives environmental activists to fire-bomb laboratories? Emma Marris investigates a radical fringe of the U.S. green movement."

This article seems to focus on the activities of two "fringe" groups — the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, but Earth First is mentioned and some early participants of that group were interviewed in this article. In particular, Mike Roselle and Dave Foreman, who were once allies but now are apparently competitors if not ideological enemies stated their versions of history and reality.

I will say for the record that I tend to agree with Dave Foreman and against Mike Roselle when Foreman characterized the violent, destructive generation who burns labs and destroys property as follows: "The current group of people I don’t consider conservationists, but part of the international anarchist animal-rights movement. It becomes sort of an inarticulate yowl against the establishment — revolution for the hell of it."

When I have attended the Public Interest Environmental Law Conferences a couple of times at the University of Oregon, I have noticed some impressive (to me) and not-so-immpressive characteristics of some of these people. One must compliment them on their devotion to doing good in the world, and their commitment to social and environmental change for the better (in the abstract). That is not to say that traditional agency personnel and members of the scientific community are lacking in the desire to do good. I believe that many agency biologists and ecologists know very well and are very distressed by the policies and politics engaged by their supervisors. These supervisors are often political appointees or were formerly biologists/ecologists who were forced to play the "game of politics" in the name of career advancement and thus had to alter priorities at the agency level that would not have been their personal priorities.

Unfortunately, young protesters who damage property in the name of trying to do good are battling forces that their strategies are no more capable at resolving than their counterparts in the traditional environmental or conservation movements, in my opinion.

For instance, animal rights people tend to damage public credibility and lose public support by their destructive actions, even when done in the name of "conscience". And other strategies are not likely to work in the grand scheme of things. For instance, the chicken farmer who mistreats his flock in order to maxmimize profits does not reduce the flock when a bunch of college kids go vegan and quit eating chicken. The farmer does not for a second think about changing his methods of farming — he just seeks new markets or sells his product at reduced prices and tries to figure out means of increasing his profits. Thus, the vegan who thinks he is enacting changes to benefit the animals he so professes to care about is probably delusional and playing a "feel good" game, although it can certainly be argued that there are health benefits in certain dietary patterns if one is thinking about human issues rather than animal issues. But it seems that if these people were truly concerned about the animals they claim to love, they would educate the public and force legislation that protected the animals rather than simply making personal decisions that hardly benefit those animals. And burning down a university labatory to stop testing of products on innocent animals tends to not benefit the animals in the long-term, but does tend to create loss of public sympathy for the arsonist-activists.

Is there a real solution to the conservation issues we face as a species? I would say that solutions to each and every problem we face as a species are available and not even difficult to figure out. But the solutions are completely out of sync with the cultural values and lifestyle choices that drive the larger society. The dropping out of mainstream society by insignificant numbers of activists does not provide the power to change the overall ecological impact of our species or most of its populations.

In my view, if we do not significantly change the overall consumptive and reproductive patterns of entire human societies at the national and international scales, we will ultimately fail — our civilization(s) will collapse. And I see no reason for deep hope that the needed changes will be made, even though they are conceptually fairly simple — live sustainably at the societal level.

As a comparison, I heard over the weekend radio reports from a meeting including activists from the women’s movement called Code Pink, which argues against war. I am against war, though I happen to be a male of the species.

I have never heard any arguments against war by women members of Code Pink or outside that group that enlightened me to any realizations I did not arrive at without female input. I also have noticed that for every woman opposed to war, there is approximately one who accepts war as a necessary means of treating enemy actions or engage in protection of economic interests (no matter how unsustainable). The Code Pink women believe they are making an important stand by rejecting war in the abstract, but I hear them say nothing about the causes of war, which often tend to be related to consumption, economic self-interest of nations, and at the individual level — consumption of resources. I am still waiting for Code Pink to shout — stop shopping, limit consuming, reduce child bearing, minimalize lifestyle choices, don’t buy redwood, etc. They address symptoms and not causes and thus seek feel-good solutions over more meaningful ones.

And we could go on and on scrutinizing activist solutions to problems that are at their root related to culturally accepted norms. If we don’t limit consuming as a society, the Earth Liberation Front can save a grove for a decade, but that grove will ultimately come down. They can burn a lab, but another one will be built. They can eat a peanut instead of a chicken, but the chicken will still be hatched and tortured while alive until it is finally butchered and eaten.

You cannot change a culture by antagonizing it, but it may be impossible to change our culture by any means. Human evolution is at play and our hard wiring may make it inevitable that we eventually crash before we de-evolve into a sustainable culture. And when we have national leadership that believes in the "rapture" and even in possibly instigating it, we may be in for the collapse sooner rather than later.

If Nature is still around for an October issue in 2050, I wonder what sort of environmental articles the reader may face.