Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means?

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by Bron Taylor
21 April 2015

Between 30 November and 11 December 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France. Commonly known as COP 21, the goal is a legally binding agreement by all the nations of the world to reduce and adapt to anthropogenic (human-caused) climate disruption. Given decades of inaction and mounting scientific evidence that global warming is threatening human societies and promising massive species extinctions, the stakes could not be higher. Time for effective action is fast running out.

Since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, there is little reason for optimism. Every major meeting that was supposed to produce concrete results has failed. The politicians, oligarchs and corporate elites who are the key decision makers at these meetings pursue economic and national interests antithetical to the well being of most earthlings, human and not. Unfortunately, environmental and social justice activists, who have sought to pressure these elites, have been ineffectual. What may already be too little, too late, will certainly be too little, too late, if the tide does not turn quickly.

But how?

Has the time come for a massive wave of direct action resistance, one similar but more widespread than that sparked by Earth First!, the first avowedly “radical” environmental group?

The radical environmental movement, which first emerged in the United States in 1980, controversially transformed environmental politics by engaging in and promoting civil disobedience and sabotage as environmentalist tactics. By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, when the most militant radical environmentalists adopted the Earth Liberation Front name, arson was increasingly deployed. The targets included gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, U.S. Forest Service and timber company offices, resorts and commercial developments expanding into wildlife habitat and universities and corporations engaged in research creating genetically modified organisms. Examples of such militant environmentalism can be found throughout the world, and they are increasingly fused with anarchist ideologies, which grow wherever there is a perception that governments, even supposedly democratic ones, do not work for everyone’s well being but for a select few. Increasingly, activists consider whether direct action resistance is necessary, and some even contend that the time has come for insurrection.

Many of those attending the Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet conference in Berkeley, California in November 2011, apparently thought so. Some 500 people attended this conference, which called for a new “deep green resistance” movement in response to intensifying environmental decline and increasing social inequality. The format of the conference was a scripted dialogue, or what might be called political performance art, with the writer and activist Derrick Jensen posing questions to a series of environmental activists and writers, including, most prominently, the activist and award-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy.

The tone of the meeting was sober and its messages radical. Succinctly put, the speakers issued the following diagnoses: Electoral politics and lobbying, as well as educational and other reformist conversion strategies that give priority to increasing awareness and changing consciousness, have been ineffective. Such strategies do not work because for 10,000 years agricultures have been established and maintained by violence. This violence has foremost targeted foraging societies (and later indigenous and poor people), nonhuman organisms, and nature itself. Fossil-fueled industrial-agricultural civilizations are especially destructive and unsustainable. Democratic movements have been overwhelmed by the increasingly sophisticated ways that elites justify and enforce their rule, promote materialism and the domination of nature.

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