I don’t live in the US, but perhaps I should have a disclaimer on the off chance any 3 or 4 letter agencies come snooping for keywords: I have written previously about my anarchic approach to violence as a pacifist, and that piece was even cited by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism as a point of opposition to violence. Leave me alone.
So, with that noted, bouncing off a conversation that took place in a university seminar I was at today, let’s talk about ecoterrorism.
There was quite the amusing ripple of tension in the room when some people, myself included, touched on some more “extreme” measures with regards to climate action. My contribution to the discussion was more a critique of the media focus on groups like Extinction Rebellion or Stop Oil – groups, granted, whose purpose is to generate controversy and agitate for action through keeping issues in the public eye. But while these acts of, as the power point slides put it, “benign lawbreaking” certainly achieve that, it was clear many in the room disagreed with those tactics as inconvenient.
Putting aside the inconvenience of catastrophic global climate change now and in the future, this did raise the poignant question of who should be disrupted. And there I agree – there are a number of ways direct action can be more beneficial. Unfortunately, such action does not generate as much national or international discussion. Protests against trees sacred to First Nations’ women in Victoria being bulldozed for a highway expansion was a relative blip in the news. There was rather little mainstream coverage that I saw of the pipeline protests in the US that were brutally suppressed by militarised police in the final year of the Obama administration. I recall a few cases of coal trains being stopped by protestors, and in fact there was one bound for Newcastle a few days ago that resulted in about 50 people being charged, which I only found out as I write because I went to find older examples.
Cops in defence of capital, who’d have thought?
Clearly there is a major disparity in coverage of occurrences of direct action and protest movements versus publicity stunts involving glue or soup. It’s easy to be enraged about the green lefties blocking traffic or causing a scene in a museum, but where’s the similar outrage against the climate vandalism of corporate capital and the enforcement arm of the state acting as their protectors?
It was then I sent the first ripple, noting that while ensuring the safety of others – even those active in cancerous industries, particularly working people on the ground – is absolutely a priority, direct action up to and including industrial sabotage is a viable and arguably necessary tactic. Civil disobedience can get results, but when the stakes are the future of human civilisation as we know it, further action can be justified. Again, my caveat is the safety of others, and obviously explicit terrorist acts that involve intentional or reckless killing or endangerment is something to be condemned. There is a difference between causing disruption, or even property damage, and violence against individuals.
That may have stirred some murmurs, but another member in the class – while almost tongue in cheek noting they would never endorse such things – argued from the perspective of such an ecoterrorist and suggested, beyond direct action, that the murder of fossil fuel executives would be justifiable as a means of dissuading the industry’s continued existence. This received a rather stunned silence, a few awkward laughs, then some hesitant disagreement from those brave enough to dive into the discussion at that point. My own stance would obviously be in opposition to murder, but I am not afraid to say I’d sympathise with those who feel the desperation to reach that conclusion, and that I’d not weep for the downfall of the industry were such a fate to befall them. Not that I think it would work either.
So I’ll leave that open for your thoughts, readers. My views should be clear. As we face down the greatest existential threat of our young species, how far would you be willing to go to save it? I am too pessimistic for this – I think humanity is set for destruction and has missed its chance to redeem itself, resigning myself to the dark spiral of despair. But with such a bleak outlook, are increasingly drastic means justifiable?
In the coming decades, we are likely to find out.