Radical environmentalism is a grass-roots branch of the larger environmental movement that emerged from an ecocentrism-based frustration with the co-option of mainstream environmentalism.[1]

As a movement


The radical environmental movement aspires to what scholar Christopher Manes calls "a new kind of environmental activism: iconoclastic, uncompromising, discontented with traditional conservation policy, at times illegal". Radical environmentalism presupposes a need to reconsider Western ideas of religion and philosophy, including capitalism, patriarchy,[2][page needed] and globalization,[3] sometimes through "resacralising" and reconnecting with nature.[2][page needed]

The movement is typified by leaderless resistance organizations such as Earth First!, which subscribe to the idea of taking direct action in defense of Mother Nature including civil disobedience, ecotage and monkeywrenching.[2][page needed] Movements such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Earth Liberation Army (ELA) also take this form of action, although focusing on economic sabotage, rather than civil disobedience.[4] Radical environmentalists can include earth liberationists, as well as anarcho-primitivists, animal liberationists, bioregionalists, deep ecologists, eco-nationalism, ecopsychologists, green anarchists, and less often anti-globalization and anti-capitalist protesters, ecofeminists, neo-Pagans, Third Positionists, and Wiccans.[2][page needed][5] This does not mean that everyone subscribing to those beliefs and values should be considered a radical environmentalist.[1]


Main articles: Environmental direct action in the United Kingdom, Timeline of Earth Liberation Front actions, Green Scare, Street of Dreams arson fires, and M11 link road protest

Further information: Environmental Life Force, Earth First!, Earth Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Army, Plane Stupid, and Camp for Climate Action

See also: Ecotage, Monkeywrenching, and Earth liberation

The symbol of Earth First! is a monkey wrench and stone hammer.

While many people believe that the first significant radical environmentalist group was Greenpeace, which made use of direct action beginning in the 1970s to confront whaling ships and nuclear weapons testers,[6] others within the movement, argues as Earth Liberation Front (ELF) prisoner Jeff "Free" Luers, suggests that the movement was established centuries ago. He often writes that the concept of "eco-defence" was born shortly after the existence of the human race, claiming it is only recently that within the modern development of human society, and individuals losing touch with the earth and its wild roots, that more radical tactics and political theories have emerged.[3][7]

The alternative tactic of using explosive and incendiary devices was then established in 1976, by John Hanna and others as the Environmental Life Force (ELF), also now known as the original ELF. The group conducted a campaign of armed actions in northern California and Oregon, later disbanding in 1978 following Hanna's arrest for placing incendiary devices on seven crop-dusters at the Salinas, California airport on May Day, 1977.[8] It wasn't until over a decade and a half later that this form of guerrilla warfare resurfaced as the Earth Liberation Front[9] using the same ELF acronym.

In 1980 Earth First! was founded by Dave Foreman and others to confront environmental destruction, primarily of the American West. Inspired by the Edward Abbey novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, Earth First! made use of such techniques as treesitting[10] and treespiking[11] to stop logging companies, as well as other activities targeted towards mining, road construction,[12] suburban development and energy companies. The organization were committed to nonviolent ecotage techniques from the group's inception, with those that split from the movement in the 1990s including the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) in 1992, naming themselves after the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) who formed in the 1970s.[13] Three years later in Canada, inspired by the ELF in Europe the first Earth Liberation direct action occurred, but this time as the Earth Liberation Army (ELA), a similar movement who use ecotage and monkeywrenching as a tool, although no guidelines had been published.[citation needed]

The ELF gained national attention for a series of actions which earned them the label of eco-terrorists,[14][15] including the burning of a ski resort in Vail, Colorado in 1998, and the burning of an SUV dealership in Oregon in 1999. In the same year the ELA had made headlines by setting fire to the Vail Resorts in Washington, D.C., causing $12 million in damages.[16] The defendants in the case were later charged in the FBI's "Operation Backfire", along with other arsons and cases, which were later named by environmentalists as the Green Scare; alluding to the Red Scare, periods of fear over communist infiltration of U.S.[17][18] Following the September 11, 2001 attacks several laws were passed increasing the penalty for ecoterrorism, and hearings were held in Congress discussing the activity of groups such as the ELF. To date no one has been killed as a result of an ELF or ALF action since both groups forbid harming human or non-human life.[19]: 1–42  It was then announced in 2003 that "eco-terrorist" attacks, known as "ecotage", had increased from the ELF, ELA and the "Environmental Rangers", another name used by activists when engaging in similar activity.[20]

In 2005 the FBI announced that the ELF was America's greatest domestic terrorist threat, responsible for over 1,200 "criminal incidents" amounting to tens of millions of dollars in damage to property,[21] with the United States Department of Homeland Security confirming this regarding the ALF and ELF.[22]

Plane Stupid then was launched in 2005, in an attempt to combat the growing airport expansions in the UK using direct action with a year later the first Camp for Climate Action being held with 600 people attending a protest called Reclaim Power converging on Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire and attempted to shut it down. There were thirty-eight arrests, with four breaching the fence and the railway line being blocked.[23][24]

Radical environmentalism has been called a new religious movement by Bron Taylor (1998). Taylor contends that "Radical environmentalism is best understood as a new religious movement that views environmental degradation as an assault on a sacred, natural world."[19][25]: 1326–1335 

Some writers have used it to refer to the hypothetical danger of future dystopian governments, which might resort to fascist radical environmentalist policies in order to deal with environmental issues.[26] Themes of eco-fascism and radical environmentalism can be found in movies and literature like Soylent Green, Hunger Games,[27] Z.P.G., and My Diary from 2091.[28]


Several philosophies have arisen from ideas in radical environmentalism that include deep ecology, ecofeminism, social ecology and bioregionalism.[29]

Deep Ecology is attributed to Arne Naess and is defined as "a normative, ecophilosophical movement that is inspired and fortified in part by our experience as humans in nature and in part by ecological knowledge."[30]

A rising Deep Ecologist among radical environmentalist circles is Pentti Linkola, regarded as the founder of ecofascism, and author of the book Can Life Prevail? A Radical Approach to the Environmental Crisis.[31]

Ecofeminism originated in the 1970s and draws a parallel between the oppression of women in patriarchal societies and the oppression of the environment.[32][33][34]

Social Ecology is an idea attributed to Murray Bookchin, who argued that in order to save the environment, human society needed to copy the structure of nature and decentralize both socially and economically.[32]

Bioregionalism is a philosophy that focuses on the practical application of Social Ecology, and theorizes on "building and living in human social communities that are compatible with ecological systems".[32]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b Alberro, Heather. "Radical environmentalists are fighting climate change – so why are they persecuted?". The Conversation. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Manes, Christopher (1990). Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization, Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
  3. ^ a b "A Brief Description of Radical Environmentalism". 25 May 2006. Archived from the original on 25 May 2006. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  4. ^ SUV Armageddon Approaching? Archived 3 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Car Keys, 29 August 2003.
  5. ^ Matković, Aleksandar (2020). "The Relation Between Political Ideologyand Radical Environmentalism" (PDF). Serbian Political Thought. 70 (4). Institute for Political Studies: 171–187. doi:10.22182/spm.7042020.9. S2CID 234069333. Retrieved 19 July 2022. However, actions of those movements mostly stay in the domain of classical environmentalism, without going into its more radical form. However, there are statements in literature that among radical environmentalists can be seen the whole spectrum of those who could not be described as admirers of political left-wing among others: Neopagans, Wiccans, anti-globalization protesters, Third Positionists, bioregionalists etc. (Manes 1990).
  6. ^ Weyler, Rex (2004). Greenpeace: How a Group of Journalists, Ecologists and Visionaries Changed the World. Rodale.
  7. ^ Writings from Jeff Luers Archived 17 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Free Jeff Luers.
  8. ^ "Original ELF". Archived from the original on 15 April 2012. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  9. ^ Earth Liberation Front
  10. ^ Earth First's first treesitting civil disobedience action Archived 16 October 2005 at the Wayback Machine, Earth First! 1985, Oregon, June 1985.
  11. ^ Tree Spiking Memo Archived 24 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Earth First!, April 1990.
  12. ^ Wall, Derek (1999). Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement: Radical Environmentalism and Comparative Social Movements. Routledge.
  13. ^ ELF Burns Down Vail Archived 11 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine, FIRE, December 1999.
  14. ^ Earth Liberation Front is now FBI's No. 1 Domestic Terrorist Threat Archived 12 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Property Rights of America Foundation Inc, March 2001.
  15. ^ ELF News Archived 11 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Earth Liberation Front
  16. ^ waste & abuse - controversy over a temporary dirt road built by Vail Resortsand its effect on wetlands, BNet, 27 September 1999.
  17. ^ Eco-Terror Indictments: "Operation Backfire" Nets 11 Archived 17 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, FBI, 20 January 2006.
  18. ^ Resentencing date set for Jeff Luers, Freedom4um, 29 December 2007.
  19. ^ a b Bron Taylor. Religion, Violence and Radical Environmentalism: From Earth First! to the Unabomber to the Earth Liberation Front, 1998. 10(4)
  20. ^ The eco-terrorist anthrax connection, ESR, 21 October 2001.
  21. ^ Best, Steven and Best & Nocella (2006). Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth, Lantern Books. p. 47.
  22. ^ FBI, ATF address domestic terrorism, CNN, 19 May 2005.
  23. ^ Brown, Jonathan (1 September 2006). "The Battle of Drax: 38 held as protest fails to close plant". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 1 March 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  24. ^ Wainwright, Martin (1 September 2006). "In the shadow of Drax, not so much a fight as a festival". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  25. ^ Taylor, Bron, 2005. "Radical Environmentalism," The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. ISBN 1-84371-138-9
  26. ^ Zimmerman, Michael E. (2008). "Ecofascism". In Taylor, Bron R. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Volume 1. London, UK: Continuum. pp. 531–532. ISBN 978-1-44-112278-0.
  27. ^ "Amazon.com: The Hunger Games: Special Edition (Audible Audio Edition): Suzanne Collins, Tatiana Maslany, Scholastic Audio: Audible Books & Originals". www.amazon.com. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  28. ^ Petiška, Eduard (2021). My Diary from 2091.
  29. ^ "How Lake Chad fuelled the ecofeminist movement". Green World. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  30. ^ Dunlap, Riley E. (1992). "Deep Ecology and Radical Environmentalism". In Dunlap, Riley E.; Mertig, Angela G. (eds.). American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970-1990. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis. p. 52. ISBN 9780844817309.
  31. ^ "Eco-fascism is undergoing a revival in the fetid culture of the extreme right | Jason Wilson". The Guardian. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  32. ^ a b c Long, Douglas (2004). Ecoterrorism (Library in a Book). New York: Facts on File. pp. 21-23.
  33. ^ Vakoch, Douglas A.; Mickey, Sam, eds. (2017). Ecofeminism in Dialogue. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. ISBN 9781498569279.
  34. ^ Vakoch, Douglas A.; Mickey, Sam, eds. (2017). Women and Nature?: Beyond Dualism in Gender, Body, and Environment. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781138053427.