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James Apichart JarvisCritique the tactics used by one American environmentalgroup.  Radical environmental groups reached p...
human interference” is excessive while currently “rapidly worsening”.2 Whatseems to be referenced here is an Eco-Wall that...
industry. Environmental concerns were far from the political agenda inWashington due to the “Reagan recession” of the deca...
Liddick described the model of “leaderless resistance” as an effective meansin providing direction, dissemination of infor...
it.19 In Ecodefense an outline, almost sermon in style, advocatedmonkeywrenching as “non-violent”, “not organised”, “simpl...
tree spiking. Judi Bari, worked towards improving public relations betweenthe radical group and mill workers. Motivated by...
environmental politics. Jim Norton, the Wilderness Society‟s southwestregional director, appreciates the contribution of r...
not found in direct consequences but through the successes of the nowmoderate mainstream organisations in passing through ...
BIBLIOGRAPHYEdward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (London: Penguin Books, 2004).Edited by Steve Chase, Defending the Earth:...
Word Count: 2895
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Earth first! critique by James Apichart Jarvis

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Earth First! a radical, political, environmental group yes. But an effective cause for social change? Debatable. This essay discusses the various tactics and attitudes within the group, namely the controversial influence of the Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) and their activism of ecotage.

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Earth first! critique by James Apichart Jarvis

  1. 1. James Apichart JarvisCritique the tactics used by one American environmentalgroup. Radical environmental groups reached prominence in the Americandiscourse, through the latter decades of the twentieth century, by focusingon the movement of direct action to defend the environment. The most well-known of such groups is Earth First!, a grassroots organisation consisting ofindividuals that are best characterised as “eco-warriors”. Founded by fivemen including Dave Foreman, Earth First!ers used tactics that went beyondconventional direct action and instead focused on civil disobedience andecotage as a means to embody their brand of radical ecology. This thesis will analyse and critique the tactics used by the Earth First!environmental group. In order to understand the motives of these “eco-warriors” an assessment of the ideals of deep ecology as well as thecircumstantial genesis of Earth First! will be displayed as a counter measureto the moderate mainstream views. Infrastructure is a key component in analysing organisations, and EarthFirst! is fundamentally a grassroots system, keen to distance themselvesfrom the tidy bureaucracy of the mainstream. The significance of thegroup‟s identity at grassroots level will be assessed, notably the apparentfactions, when compared to other established environmental groups. Themodel of factions creates its own problems as well as disadvantages. Earth First!‟s own brand of direct action with then be scrutinised, mostnotably the controversial use of tree spiking among their flagship “monkey-wrenching” devices in order to draw publicity towards an environmentalissue. The issue of eco-terrorism will be addressed. To finish, a relevant critique of Earth First! shall be established in relationto its context among the environmental movement; whether or not it hasmade any substantial improvements while also looking at its present statetoday. The term “deep ecology” first appeared in Arne Naess‟ article „The Shallowand The Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements‟.1 More of a philosophicalidea, deep ecology retains the premise that the environment a biocentricequality to exist through preservation, while at the same time downplayingthe importance of humans on this world. There are two prominent pointsamong Naess‟ and George Sessions outlined principles of deep ecology thatarguably forms the basis of radical ecology. First, humans “have no right toreduce” the richness and diversity of the environment, and second, “present1 Arne Naess, ‘The Shallow and The Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary’, Inquiry 16 (Osolo:1973), pp 95-100
  2. 2. human interference” is excessive while currently “rapidly worsening”.2 Whatseems to be referenced here is an Eco-Wall that Rik Scarce has indicated asa psychological barrier that has prevented people from recognizing theirperceived environmental responsibilities, usually born out of the lack ofcaring or ignorance.3 Deep ecology, a popular school of thought among allenvironmentalists, recognizes this fact and advocates that people shouldshift their interests towards the environment rather than self-attainment. Deep ecology, however, has its critics which in turn may invalidate themotives of Earth First!. Critics have pointed to the fact that there is noevidence of an impending environmental crisis that deep ecology suggests,the philosophy also ignores the part that advanced technologies may play inhelping to preserve the environment. Henry Skolimowski and GeorgeLukacs perceived the theory of deep ecology as a pretentious form ofideology: environmental concerns will always be a “societal category” and isabout ourselves rather than about nature exclusively.4 These statementscontradict the foundation of radical ecology, but as Foreman points out thatis not important. To Earth First! ideology is not what is important, neitheris the method that people chose to defend the Earth, it is more importantthat people do something and take responsibility.5 Environmental philosophy is not what separates Earth First! frommainstream environmental groups, it is radicalism. Disturbed by the failureof the Forest Service to provide adequate environmental protection towilderness lands in the RARE II program, dedicated employer of theWilderness Society environmental group, Dave Foreman had becomedishearten by mainstream environmentalism that has moved away from itsroots and become an industry just like any other6. Foreman was not alone.Co-founders of Earth First! included; a former Wyoming representatives ofthe Friends of the Earth and Wilderness Society, Howie Wolke and BartKoelier respectively; former educational director for the Wilderness Society,Susan Morgan; and Mike Roselle who was a “veteran” among radical groups.These founding members of Earth First! viewed the American governmentand corporations as the enemy; representations of human greed.7 An interesting context to the emergence of Earth First! was the politicalclimate of a Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s that was pro2 Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology (Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1985) pp 67, 703 Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement (Chicago: The Noble Press,Inc., 1990) p 84 Christopher Manes, Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilzation (Boston: Little,Brown & Company, 1990) pp 152, 1565 Edited by Steve Chase, Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman(Boston: South End Press, 1991) p 666 Hal k. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945 (New York:Harcourt Brace & Company, 1988) p 1837 Donald R. Liddick, Eco-Terrorism: Radical Environmental and Animal Liberation Movements (Connecticut:Praeger Publishers, 2006) p 56-7
  3. 3. industry. Environmental concerns were far from the political agenda inWashington due to the “Reagan recession” of the decade. In his inauguraladdress, Reagan a Republican, declared “to rekindle traditional Americanvalues” by scrapping general revenue sharing. In 1981 the BudgetReconciliation Act reduced federal expenditure by $39 billion, whicheliminated some existing intergovernmental programs.8 With governmentalinterest focused more on recovering an economic recession it therefore couldbe argued that radical organisations such as Earth First! is needed to bringlight to the environmental issues that concerns environmentalists. Dave Foreman explained, in his Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, that EarthFirst! aimed to be radical in positions, philosophy, style and organisation toavoid the pitfalls of the moderation and co-option that the founders alreadyexperienced. Noted goals of Earth First! was to re-establish enthusiasm andvigour into a stale and unimaginative environmental movement; to providesupport for “hard-line” conservationists and inspire others to become strongactivists; and more importantly, to “fight with uncompromising passion” forEarth.9 Earth First! announced itself onto the national scene with the Cracking ofGlen Canyon event in March 31, 1981. A three-hundred foot ersatz crackpainted on a black plastic tarpaulin was draped on the face of the dam thatobstructed the Colorado River.10 In an act of both the theatrical and theshowcase of humour, this particular tactic proved to be extremelysuccessful, by instigating a media accomplishment while avoiding anycontroversies that is usually associated with radicalism. Inspired by Edward Abbey‟s The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) whichfollowed the sabotaging activities of a „band of four idealists‟ who targetedinnate objects such as bulldozers and crawler-tractors. The presentation ofthe difference between sophisticated tactics and mindless vandalism createda grand sense of justification that eco-warriors would have no doubt foundromantic.11 Hence Earth First!, formed in the early 1980s, would becharacterised by the movement of ecotage, the destruction of property thatwould harm the environment, while also exclaiming the slogan: “nocompromise in defence of Mother Earth”.12 In distancing themselves fromthe now moderate mainstream, Earth First! focused its intention onradicalism, throwing a „monkey-wrench‟ in to the works, so to speak. Along with radicalism, another key aspect characterises Earth First!namely its grassroots infrastructure without a nominated leader orpresident, inspired by “high profile elites” such as Foreman. Donald R.8 D. Mckay, American Politics and Society: Seventh Edition (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) p 769 Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (New York: Harmony Books, 1991) p 1810 Hal k. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since, p 182-311 Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (London: Penguin Books, 2004) pp 74, 79-80, 8612 Hal K. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945, p 182
  4. 4. Liddick described the model of “leaderless resistance” as an effective meansin providing direction, dissemination of information, provision of financialsupport for direct action, and to inspire underground activists.13 Withnumerous groups at grassroots level, including Bay Area Earth First! andPhoenix Earth First! among others, it becomes clear that Earth First! is nota unified group but a collection of factions each with their own ideas andcode. Anyone can become a member of the Earth First! clan. The onlybranching ideal is that Earth comes first before humans, regardless of themethods of its protection. This is what makes Earth First! unique, amovement for the people that anyone can contribute to, but it also in itselfcreates its own problems as the rest of this thesis will show. Furthermore, Earth First! success in attracting activists could beattributed to the tactic in relating the group to the western „cowboy‟ rhetoric.The cowboy image appears in the mythology that the founders created thegroup while in a desert or in a whorehouse, an image that is far removedfrom the reality of a discussion in a VW bus on the road to Albuquerque.14The cowboy relation could also be seen in the attachment to Buffalo Bill’sWild West Show with Earth First!‟s own version: the Earth First! Roadshowwhich promotes their ideals. Then there is the Round River Rendezvous thatincludes drinking and singing around campfires.15 It should also bementioned that Earth First! was male dominated, a view that is not far fromthe frontier myth, as Jeffrey Shantz analysed in the article Judi Bari and ‘thefeminization of Earth First!’.16 That is part of the apparent appeal for radicalactivists to join Earth First! the chance to live in a western rhetoric that isdeemed to be lost in today‟s mainstream society. The radical stance of Earth First! includes a spectrum of various civildisobedience tactics. The list accommodates: blockades, demonstrations,treesits, sit-ins, self-imposed entrapment by locking themselves tobulldozers and cranes. The movement of radical ecology calls for individualsand small groups to partake in such acts in order to defend the wild.17 All ofthese direct action tactics has been described as “guerrilla theatre” by HalRothman in order to successfully increase media and public attention.18However, monkeywrenching is no doubt the distinctive attribute of EarthFirst! as an environmental group. Dave Foreman attempted to defend monkeywrenching as a “proudAmerican tradition” despite the criticism and controversy that surrounds13 Donald R. Liddick, Eco-Terrorism: Radical Environmental and Animal Liberation Movements, pp 69-7014 Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement, p 6115 Donald R. Liddick, Eco-Terrorism: Radical Environmental and Animal Liberation Movements, pp 57-816 Jeffrey Shantz, ‘Judi Bari and “the feminization of Earth First!”: the convergence of class, gender and radicalenvironmentalism, Feminist Review, No. 70, (2002) pp. 105-12217 Carolyn Merchant, Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (New York: Routledge, 1992) p174-518 Hal K. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945, p 184-5
  5. 5. it.19 In Ecodefense an outline, almost sermon in style, advocatedmonkeywrenching as “non-violent”, “not organised”, “simple” and “fun”.Organised into a brochure format, „Strategic Monkeywrenching‟ seemsalmost desperate in its attempt to validate the motives of ecotage, despite itswell written approach.20 It is also interesting to note the title of the book,Ecodefense, a product of the „moral‟ stance taken by radicalenvironmentalists, because it could so easily be called Ecoterrorism instead. Earth First!ers accept that monkeywrencing is an illegal act and is notsuited to everyone in the environmental rhetoric. The act of ecotage israther viewed as an effective campaign to target the “rape-the-land”corpotations bank roll, in order to halt, at least momentarily, the act ofwilderness destruction.21 For Earth First!ers monkeywrenching is seen asan operation that should be taken as a last resort, to act in the event of anunresponsive government.22 However, it could be argued that radical EarthFirst!ers would always proceed to monkeywrenching without taking anyprior initiatives. Radicals are just that, radical, and it is arguable as towhether all Earth First!ers would initiate in alternatives to ecotage. A very controversial and potentially dangerous method of ecotage, and atopic of high interest, is tree splikeing that has become affiliated stronglywith Earth First!. In what has been turned into some form of a cult, treespiking prevents trees from being cut down by driving nails in to the trunk.The nails do not harm trees but can cause ruin to lumber mill saw bladeswhich at $3000 repairs lumber companies take heed of any warnings ofspiked trees.23 Not as easily defendable as monkey wrenching, Dave Foreman‟s attemptsfinds him fielding three criteria of justification; “is tree spiking safe”; “is treespiking ethical”; and “is tree spiking effective” in saving trees. It is nosurprise that Foreman concludes that tree spiking does fulfil each of thesequestions, by helping to prevent the genocide of ecosystems, finding relativesuccess in the states of Washington, Oregon, Virginia, Colorado, NewMexico, and Montana.24 Although Earth First! have always prided themselves on not enactingharm to humans, tree spiking have resulted in one case of bodily harmwhere a George Alexander, a Californian timber mill worker, was injuredseverely. What proved to be further irresponsible was the fact that the millwas never warned, a procedure that is usually carried out by Earth First!ers.Within Earth First! there is also a sense of uncertainty over the values of19 Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, pp 117-820 Dave Foreman, ‘Strategic Monkeywrenching’, Various authors, Ecodefense: A Field Guide toMonekeywrenching, Third Edition (Azburg Print, 1992) pp 9-1121 Edited by Steve Chase, Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman, p 7022 Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, pp 144-523 Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement, pp 74-624 Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, pp 153-8
  6. 6. tree spiking. Judi Bari, worked towards improving public relations betweenthe radical group and mill workers. Motivated by the improved dialogue,Bari and a few of her followers in Earth First! renounced tree spiking as adangerous undertaking. 25 These two cases illustrates two problems that face Earth First! as a validenvironmental institution that has strong ties to tree spiking. First,ecoterrorist allegation. Critics have accused radical ecologists of being nobetter than terrorists, who engage in violent action. The estimated total costof ecotage each year is thought to be within the region of $20-25 million.26There is validity in the „terrorist‟ point, mill workers lives are at risk whenworking in a woodland area that is „spiked‟. Although, Earth First!ers pointout that human harm is not the motive, acts of ecotage does, however, effectthe economic well being of hard working lower class citizens. The cost ofrepairs could directly correlate to a reduction in pay and even redundancies.The second problem is the grassroots infrastructure. Above are twoexamples of misdirection, the irresponsible Earth First!ers that failed towarn the mill company in the Alexander case and the opposing ideas of JudiBari‟s faction. The model of “leaderless resistance” presents a case wheredifferent Earth First! groups would naturally have varying ideologies andphilosophies. It also presents an environment where there is no supervisionor no-one to administrate correct management of ecotage that DaveForeman tried in earnest to allocate. The environmental movement is still dominated by a handful of the largestnatural organisations, all of which are centred in stance, and headquarteredin Washington D.C.27 Although Earth First! is founded on the idea of directaction, that is not to mean that they have abandoned the lobbyist intentionsof mainstream environmentalism. Nevertheless, and in keeping with theirstyle, Earth First! promotes a radical position. Their leading proposition isthe „Wilderness Preserve System‟, announced in June 1983. Earth First!required that fifty reserves, 716 million acres in total, be declared “off-limits”to human industrial civilization to preserve the natural processes.Wilderness should be preserved for its own sake.28 This is an extrememeasure which was inevitably turned down, it would seem that Earth First!as an environmental organisation lacks the realism and nous in politics toget favourable results. But this is where Earth First! has found its niche and its uses; in beingovertly extreme and radical in their proposals it has turned mainstreamenvironmental groups in to the moderate and reasonable voice in25 Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement, pp 76-7, 8326 Christopher Manes, Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilzation, pp 9, 15127 Mark Dowie, Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century(Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996) p 528 Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement, p 66
  7. 7. environmental politics. Jim Norton, the Wilderness Society‟s southwestregional director, appreciates the contribution of radical groups in helpingthe „moderate‟ mainstream in gaining results in politics. Dave Foremanhimself concedes that Earth First!‟s real purpose is to make groups like theSierra Club more effective, Earth First!‟s radical position has helped to“redefine the parameters of the debate”. The mainstream collective wasalways more important than an isolated radical environmental group.29 The lack of direct success eventually muted Earth First! as a radical voice,coupled by the death of author Edward Abbey in 1989 and the stingoperation by the FBI the group separated in to two groups of fundamentaldifferences. Dave Foreman and his followers departed from Earth First!because the hard line view a postapocalyptic biocentric society as a validreason for radical action had lost relevance over the years, the FBIintervention proving to much of a strain. The second group, headed by MikeRoselle, also eventually departed from Earth First! to form EMETIC due tothe criticism that former had not lived up to its radical intentions.30 This isa direct result of the model of “leaderless resistance”, a model that isassembled by varying and apparently contrasting grassroot factions. Since then, Earth First! never really recovered and lost its edginess byturning into a large, international ecologic movement. Far removed from thegrassroots radical cowboys of the 1980s. In addition, an important shift intone emerged by placing significance and concerns to human interestsrather than the deep ecology philosophy that has lasted so long. Donald R.Liddick views this shift as an implication that Earth‟s necessities no longercomes first.31 The best example of this lack of radicalism in thecontemporary scene can clearly be seen on the pages of the Earth First!website.32 No more slogans of “no compromise”, neither a fist for a logo,what we have instead is a format that is similar to numerous websites thatbelongs to corporations. The conception of Earth First! and the radical tactics used ultimatelymakes it hard to administer praise if looking at direct results. DaveForeman and the founders viewed Earth First! as a movement to enactchange through direct action in order to draw media attention to anenvironmental plight. At best ecotage only slowed down the inevitable on atemporary basis while at worst caused serious harm to humans through thecontroversial act of tree spiking. In the political domain the extremiststance were unrealistic and were never going to be approved by aneconomical conscious Reagan administration. The success of Earth First! is29 Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement, p 2530 Donald R. Liddick, Eco-Terrorism: Radical Environmental and Animal Liberation Movements, pp 59-6131 Ibid, pp 61-332 Earth First website, www.earthfirst.com
  8. 8. not found in direct consequences but through the successes of the nowmoderate mainstream organisations in passing through seemingly„reasonable‟ policies. Without such radical groups, environmentalism wouldhave little to be proud about. In the end it can be viewed that Earth First!, as a movement that is basedon an infrastructure of “leaderless resistance” and radical direct action,became an uncontrollable entity that in the end proved too much for itsfounder Dave Foreman and too little for radical ecologists who wanted amore results based on their actions.
  9. 9. BIBLIOGRAPHYEdward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (London: Penguin Books, 2004).Edited by Steve Chase, Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman (Boston: South End Press, 1991).Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology (Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1985).Mark Dowie, Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996).Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (New York: Harmony Books, 1991).Dave Foreman, „Strategic Monkeywrenching‟, Various authors, Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monekeywrenching, Third Edition (Azburg Print, 1992) pp 3-11Donald R. Liddick, Eco-Terrorism: Radical Environmental and Animal Liberation Movements (Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2006).Christopher Manes, Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilzation (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1990).D. Mckay, American Politics and Society: Seventh Edition (Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell, 2009).Carolyn Merchant, Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (New York: Routledge, 1992).Arne Naess, „The Shallow and The Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary‟, Inquiry 16 (Osolo: 1973).Hal k. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945 (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1988).Rik Scarce, Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement (Chicago: The Noble Press, Inc., 1990)Jeffrey Shantz, „Judi Bari and “the feminization of Earth First!”: the convergence of class, gender and radical environmentalism, Feminist Review, No. 70, (2002) pp. 105-122Earth First website, www.earthfirst.com
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