The Anarcho-Totalitarian Nature Of Radical Environmentalism
To most Americans, environmentalism is perceived as a benevolent cultural force charged with preserving the earth's endangered natural treasures and resources. After all, who could possibly oppose freshwater, clean air, and efforts to save fury creatures. Yet few realize there is also a dark underbelly to the growing body of thought that motivates this enthusiastic social movement, causing it to often stand in opposition to fundamental Christian assumptions regarding God, man, and the relation of each to the broader Creation. These faulty assumptions in turn end up posing a major threat to both the liberties we enjoy as Americans and the standard of living possessed by industrialized nations resulting from technological advancement.
There is more to radical brands of environmental ethics --- also know as "Deep Ecology" --- than the perennial dilemma between paper or plastic. To a number of the movement's followers, such rigorous devotion to nature serves the function of a comprehensive worldview. This perspective molds understandings of theology, anthropology, and forms of cultural engagement.
Fundamental, therefore, becomes this outlook's interpretation of ultimate reality. In one sense, Deep Ecology can be seen as an eclectic philosophical movement finding its well of inspiration from the confluence of several streams of thought.
Sociology Professor Bill Devall, who helped coin the movement's name, is quoted in "Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism & The Unmaking Of Civilization" by Christopher Manes as saying, "We are arguing that you can start from Buddhism, you can start from Darwinism, you can work your way from Native American tradition and work your way to a Deep Ecology position....(140)." What draws these disparate starting points together is the common assumption of interconnectedness where all components of the environment are dependent upon one another and comprise a totality greater than themselves known as the ecosphere.
The systemic interconnectedness promoted by Deep Ecology exhibits considerable similarity to the religious concept of pantheism, the idea that the sum of the universe constitutes God itself. This no doubt accounts for the considerable crossover between the ranks of the New Age and radical environmentalist movements.
Deep Ecology's affinity towards pantheistic spirituality bears much of the responsibility for the hostility that has developed between orthodox Christian belief and the more exacting brands of environmentalist thought. Though adherents are somewhat mistaken as to the philosophical justification for the ecological degradation found in the world, dedicated environmentalists are astute in recognizing the divergences between these competing conceptions of morality.
On the one hand, Deep Ecology perceives the world and its contents as a singular undifferentiated reality. Christianity, on the other hand, acknowledges the shared attributes of the created order while recognizing separate points and shades of ontological valuation along the continuum of being. In the essay "The Historical Roots Of Our Ecological Crisis", Lynn White, Jr. argues that Christianity's distinction between man and nature serves as the root excuse justifying the despoilment of the planet's ecology. While White's hypothesis may be a bit fanciful in its interpretation, his contention does highlight the stark contrast in the epistemological frameworks presented by each of these systems.
Deep Ecology descends from its pinnacle of philosophical monism to address the matters of existence in the world through the vehicle of ecocentrism, the ethical position that everything in nature possesses the same degree of intrinsic worth. Rik Scarce writes in Eco-Warriors: Understanding The Radical Environmental Movement, "Deep Ecologists argue that human-centered , or 'anthropocentric' worldviews grant people a privileged status... Ecology teaches that no individual or species warrants such a special status. For ethical purposes ecocentrism places humans on par with trees, blades of grass, mountain lions, and roaches (36)."
Such thinking ought to send chills down the spines of rational people everywhere. It also no doubt explains the reluctance of local governments to spray for burgeoning mosquito populations despite the increasing threat posed by the potentially deadly West Nile virus. We certainly wouldn't want to harm those darling mosquitoes.
It is through ecocentrism that the abstractions of environmental philosophy begin to take concrete shape in the form of policies and political positions. Deep Ecology's social outlook is centered around bioregionalism, a form of socio-political organization whereby boundaries of a territory are delineated according to an area's ecological characteristics (Scare, 38). This is done in the hopes of bringing about the advent of a new revolutionary society.
The purpose of bioregionalism is to establish sustainable communities integrated wholly into the ecosystem in an attempt to halt the expanse of industrial society. Christopher Manes points out in Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism & The Unmaking Of Civilization that thinkers such as Heidegger and Marcuse claim that attempts by technology to totalize all aspects of existence ultimately cut the individual off from the fabric of the universe (226).
While such rhetoric may make one want to belt out Coca-Cola jingles atop a lush mountain, these words mean much more than planting a garden or ordering cloths from the L.L. Bean catalogue. And even though there are slightly different paths to the same goal, all of them seek to drastically alter the cultural foundations upon which Western civilization rests.
The first trail to ecotopia winds its way through the dark grove of anarchism. A number of Deep Ecologists think of the ideal form of political organization in terms of Ghandi's adage that "The ideally nonviolent state will be ordered anarchy (Scarce, 38)." Movement leader Dave Foreman endeavors to downplay anarchism's shady connotations by clarifying, "I consider myself a tribalist, not an anarchist (Scare, 38)."
Foreman claims that such social arrangements provide considerable individual freedom within the context of an ethical and cultural framework. But as we shall see, neither Foreman nor those following in his path have done much to dispell the perception of anarchy as a justification for violence or done much to promote traditional conceptions of freedom.
The archetype upon which most subsequent activism has been modeled is no doubt Earth First!. Earth First! was established by a group of environmentally conscientious acquaintances led by Dave Foreman, a former staff member of the Washington, DC office of the Wilderness Society who grew disenchanted with the increasingly establishmentarian postures of the more prominent environmental groups. For whereas organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society were marked by their efforts to work within the American political system to achieve some degree of environmental compromise, organizations and activists following in the Earth First! mold would be characterized by a more confrontational and direct course of action.
The tactics pursued by groups such as Earth First! are known as environmental terrorism or ecotage. These acts are also referred to as "monkey wrenching" in honor of the inspiration for them drawn from the novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey published in 1975.
In the novel, the protagonists set out to save the environment from developers by engaging in acts of vandalism against the implements of ecological degradation. The characters accomplish their mission by burning billboards, driving bulldozers over cliffs, blowing up railroad tracks, and by pulling up survey stakes (Scarce, 240).
Such fiction would inspire more practical treatments of the subject that would translate these ideas from the realm of literature to the world of action. Foremost among such treatises ranks “Ecodefense: A Handbook On The Militant Defense Of The Earth” by none other than Earth First!’s own Dave Foreman.
Modeled after but perhaps a bit more subdued than the infamous terrorism manual “The Anarchist’s Cookbook“, “Ecodefense” provides the aspiring eco-saboteur with helpful hints on how to destroy construction equipment, how to pull up power and seismographic lines, how to make smoke bombs, and how to elude detection by authorities (Manes, 82). This manifesto would inspire numerous acts of defiance, the best known form being tree spiking which consisted of driving large nails into trees in the hopes of destroying any saw bent on defacing the woody masterpieces of the forest.
Earth First! was most active during the mid 1980's. Dave Foreman has since moved back to "mainstream" environmental activities as he now campaigns to reintroduce wolves into the wilds of the eastern United States. Apart from the serious danger of saw blades ricocheting off an implanted spike, most of the antics perpetrated by these groups promoting an anti-civilization/back to nature mentality at that time were more examples of silliness than actual security risks.
For instance, in December 1989 a faction of Earth First! calling itself the "Gross Action Group" staged a "puke-in" at a Seattle shopping mall in the hopes that self-induced acts of regurgitation would persuade Christmas shoppers as to the putrid nature of their consumerist ways (Scarce, 89). Despite the seeming silliness, the Heritage Foundation in its 1990 report "Eco-Terrorism: The Dangerous Fringe Of The Environmental Movement" warned, "...radical environmentalists' extremist philosophy is leading to a guerilla movement that is destroying property...and one day will kill innocent workers or park employees (Scarce, 265)."
In a sense, Earth First! was undone by its own success in promoting its rigorous environmental crusade as its own brand of radical activism would become overshadowed by an even more intensive form of interventionism. Capitalizing upon innovations in communications technology such as the Internet, Mother Nature's avant-garde enjoys a degree of technological sophistication and aptitude for mobilization that early Earth First! could have never hoped to possess. These advantages make such a network of like-minded fanatics an even greater threat to both the public's safety as well as the nation's way of life.
Walter Laqueur writes in The Age Of Terrorism, "If terrorism is propaganda by deed, the success of a terrorist campaign depends decisively on the amount of publicity it receives (121)." It is precisely this opportunity for increased visibility that has spurred radical environmentalism onwards to greater and greater levels of destructive mayhem.
One such group making the most of increasing levels of technological sophistication is the Earth Liberation Front. With the proliferation of the Internet, such groups have become increasingly difficult to track.
The Special Agent In Charge of the FBI's Seattle Field Office told that city's Post Intelligencer in an article titled "Elusive Radicals Escalate Attacks In Nature's Name" published 6/18/2001, "We don't have an organizational structure to attack --- no finances, no membership lists, no meetings." In other words, the leaders of these cells enjoy the anonymity provided by cyberspace while issuing directives and encouragement via webpages to decentralized vigilantes acting alone of their own accord as they carry out such deeds.
Such mischief has included the smashing of sports utility vehicles, the torching of houses under construction, and the theft of laboratory animals. Others preferring street theater to guerilla raids use the same technologies to disseminate their ideas via email, message boards, and webzines summoning unscrubbed revelers to mass demonstrations where the zealous besiege and destroy any symbol of global consumer culture befalling their path as evidenced at noted rallies in Seattle, Quebec, and Genoa.
Having abandoned a Biblical understanding as to the nature of the universe and man's relation to it in favor of a more pantheistic model, radical environmentalist policies are fraught with a number of inconsistencies harboring serious social implications. The first glaring hypocrisy that no doubt leaps out at even the most casual observer of current events is how a movement claiming to be dedicated to the integrity of all forms of life and the principles of nonviolence and so willfully engage in such blatant acts of sabotage.
Unencumbered by Biblical injunctions upholding the propriety of the individualized ownership of resources, covert ecoteurs and raucous protestors alike do not view their acts of mischief as violence but rather as minor acts of vandalism. This is because such deeds are directed at inanimate technological objects or structures of economic development rather than at manifestations of the natural world such as life forms and landscapes.
Yet that does not mean residents of the industrialized world can breathe a sigh of relief that these campaigns have reached the pinnacle of their destructive onslaught. One of the movement's operatives subdued by authorities warnedin the Seattle Post Intelligencer warned that, if the federal government were ever to carry through on plans to increase the role of nuclear power in America's energy policy, the stakes would be so high that it would not be out of the question for activists to target the homes of nuclear executives or even the executives themselves. The American people, however, should not think of themselves or their possessions as beyond the scope of this disruptive brand of political participation.
Many of the most radical environmentalists, and thus the most likely to act, long for a day when society will no longer be dependent upon modern technology. Such a goal seems at present unattainable as gadgets, gears, and gizmos seem to proliferate at every turn.
But according to the September 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics, there is a new device on the horizon called an “e-bomb” that could make these utopian aspirations a reality. The e-bomb would emit an electromagnetic pulse with the potential to destroy nearly every computer, electrical appliance, and motor in the civilized world without technically taking a single life in the attack itself. Casualties would no doubt mount afterwards, but environmental terrorists would dance around this by pinning that blame on the victims themselves for losing touch with the land and growing too dependent on mechanical conveniences.
Such a scenario is no doubt already being mulled over in the minds of those who craft the popular imagination. This very development served as part of the back story for the sci-fi drama “Dark Angel” set amidst an America struggling to rebuild after just such an ambush by ardent technophobes.
Chaos and mayhem are not the only dangers posed by those caught in Deep Ecology’s web. Despite the movement’s tendency seemingly towards anarchy, it also displays a frightening streak towards authoritarian elitism.
For example, while often claiming to represent the interests of the so-called “indigenous peoples” of the world, these activists would think nothing of preempting the rights of self-determination these natives should enjoy as human beings. Science correspondent Ronald Bailey points out in the July 2001 issue of Reason Magazine in the article “Rage Against The Machines: Witnessing The Birth Of The Neo-Luddite Movement” that certain green intellectuals propose that traditional tribal cultures be prevented from acquiring the technologies that would disrupt their established ways of life.
Often this complaint has little to do with the well-being of the rainforest; one author thought it was just terrible that one ethnic group in India no longer sat around the campfire singing songs but now instead listens to the radio. Bailey points out that one particular article on the website Primitivism.com questioned whether or not mass ownership of computers should even be permitted, the use of such devices no doubt restricted to those agreeing with the editorial slant of that particular website.
A number of Deep Ecologists --- despite all of their hemming and hawing against the inequities perpetrated by globalist institutuons --- do not themselves believe in inalienable rights or some form of constitutional representative democracy as given absolutes. Kirkpatrick Sale writes in Mother Of All, “Bioregional diversity....does not mean every region...will build upon the values of democracy, equality, liberty, freedom, justice or other suchlike desiderata.” Such a statement leaves the room for numerous human rights abuses perpetrated by a cadre of Platonic philosopher-kings operating on behalf of the environment.
Those taking solace in the fact that the rulers of such an ecotopia will suffer along with us in this Spartan existence devoid of automobiles, air conditioning, and microwave ovens are in for a rude awakening. For the leaders of such a regime will likely continue to enjoy a reasonably luxurious existence. Responding to comments made by Barbara Streisand on her webpage that Californians ought to turn off their lights and hang their laundry on a clothesline to conserve energy, columnist Dave Berry in a July 8, 2001 Miami Herald column titled "California Should Conserve On Car Chases" remarked how uplifting it is to be lectured to by someone whose residence consumes more electricity than many Third World countries and questioned if Streisand even did her own laundry.
These hypocritical conservation tips are not the only example of environmentalism run amok that the rich and famous would impose upon the remainder of society in earth's holy name. This threat is epitomized by a trend referred to as the "slow food movement".
The slow food movement seeks to replace agriculturally intensive but economic foods with higher-quality, less-efficient traditional varieties utilizing organic methods. While the elite whould be free to procure whatever delicacy titillates their palates or assuages their consciences, what are the rest of us going to eat when decreased food supplies and more labor-intensive production techniques result in astronomical prices?
Addressing the reluctance of Christians to tackle this delicate area of scientific and social inquiry, in Moral Dilemmas: Biblical Perspectives On Contemporary Ethical Issues, Kerby Anderson writes, “Christians fear the prevailing pantheistic influence on the environmental movement. But New Age influence ... may be due to the...withdrawal of Christians from this arena. When Christianity did not fill this void, pantheism and other wordlviews filled it instead (195).” The result has been absolute ethical confusion and the inversion of the moral pyramid.
Peter Huber notes in "Hard Green: Saving The Environment From The Environmentalists” that certain environmentalists consider Unabomber Ted Kacyznski a more pristine example of the moral ideal they are crusading for than even environmental theoretician Al Gore since, unlike the former Vice President, this homicidal hermit lived in a rundown shack and fathered no children. Never mind the fact that Kacyznski maimed and killed fellow human beings with makeshift pyrotechnics.
It would seem these warped sensibilities are gaining a more widespread acceptance throughout Western culture. Kacyznski's own rambling tractate, published by the Washington Post and New York Times under duress of further bombings, is now assigned at Harvard not as part of a course on criminal psychology or the ideological motivations behind acts of terrorism but as part of a literature course exploring more accomplished intellects. Amidst such bewilderment, Christians must step forward to provide a degree of balance acknowledging the need to preserve God's handiwork as well as our right to enjoy it now not as slaves but rather as its free stewards.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. He holds a BS in Political Science/History. Frederick earned a MA in Apologetics & Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary. Frederick holds a Doctor of Practical Theology through the Master's Graduate School Of Divinity in Evansville, Indiana. Dr. Meekins earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics through Newburgh Theological Seminary. His books are available in print and electronic formats through Amazon.com. His ministry site, Issachar Bible Church & Apologetics Research Institute, can be found at http://issacharbiblechurch.blogspot.com/. The Twitter page of Dr. Meekins can be found at