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Hard green

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A bunch of tree-huggers

Environmentalism

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Hard green refers to a branch of the environmentalism movement that considers humans solely as a polluting influence on the environment, and feels that whatever action is needed to repair human-generated damage to the environment should be undertaken no matter what its effect on humanity. These people typically oppose any industrial, agricultural, or resource extraction activity at all, as well as any aspects of consumerism and shopping.

These views fall under vaguely developed philosophies such as "biocentrism," which views all life as a whole as central to the planet, claiming "equal rights for all species," and oppose viewing human society as central. While it is hard to say how many people actually feel this way (probably quite a bit fewer than wingnuts claim exist) the existence of groups such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and ecoterrorism activities testify that there are at least a few who do.

This has virtually nothing to do with effective or sensible environmentalism and more to do with crazy people.

Click to embiggen.

At the bookstore[edit]

Between hard greens and anti-environmentalists, finding useful information in the ecology section of any bookstore may as well be a snipe hunt. Hard green beliefs acquired a certain radical chic mystique among hip intellectuals during the 1990s because of several writers,[note 1] and numerous celebrities adopting hard green philosophies and activism. This has caused a steady output of hard green philosophy hitting the bookshelves, and conversely, led to a rash of environmental denialism books in response; the two extremes seem to feed off each other and leave the sane, scientific center getting somewhat less attention than perhaps it should.

Peakniks and doomers[edit]

Books making drastic claims of impending doom and disaster unless humanity drastically reduces its activity or population are perennial favorites in the environmental section, and most of those predictions made in the past have turned out to be premature or inaccurate. A partial list of predictions that have not come to pass could begin with Thomas Malthus; in the modern era, The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich and The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome should be mentioned (although many scientists agree that human population growth is causing problems to the world's homeostasis). Dozens of recent books of the same sort can be found in the ecology section today. While often risible in their content, they do real harm by confusing public discourse on environmental issues. When a doomsday prophecy fails to materialize, deniers can seize the opportunity to slander authentic scientists.

The peak oil theory has become an apocalyptic fad at the present, spawning a cottage industry of scary books predicting the end of civilization as we know it. The terms "peaknik" and "doomer" refer to such believers who are in no way optimistic about the prospects for the future, and expect widespread starvation, ecological collapse, and economic collapse to sweep the earth shortly. Peak oil is often combined with an excessively pessimistic view of both overpopulation and global warming, and "peak-everything-else" theories like "peak coal" and "peak uranium." Some peakniks have turned to survivalism, others to radical hard green views that not only declare civilization irreversibly corrupted, but assert that this outcome is just. Notable doomer and peaknik authors include Albert Bartlett, James Howard Kunstler, Paul Roberts, Guy McPherson, Richard Heinberg, and Paul Kingsnorth. Support would also be likely in the comments section of any Guardian article about climate change. Pentti Linkola is an unusual doomer who goes one step further by actively hoping for the collapse of civilization.

Deep ecology[edit]

"Deep ecology" (DE) is one variant of hard green philosophy with the term DE being coined by Arne Næss,Wikipedia's W.svg a Norwegian environmental philosopher, in 1973 and further elaborated by George Sessions and Bill Devall in their 1985 book of the same name.

DE has itself branched out into more or less cranky versions with Næss' being a rather vague "we should care about nature"-approach unlikely to scare away even mainstream politicians, but coached in language that could easily be interpreted in far more radical way. Thus other, more extreme versions of DE incorporate a hodgepodge[1] of vaguely Oriental mysticism, spirituality, appeals to nature, hardcore Malthusianism, the Gaia hypothesis and, to put it bluntly, the belief that human beings are equal in value to the rest of Mother Earth's children, including rabid possums, spiders, slime molds, polio and the AIDS virus.[2] Making all species equal would do nothing but destroy any concepts of human rights that have been developed and fought for over the past few centuries, because killing a human would be morally equated to eating a peanut butter sandwich (Think of the poor peanuts!). However, even extreme DE advocates are not necessarily vegetarians or vegans and eat meat, seeing this as part of the "natural order", fetishizing biodiversity but not caring about the individual rights of humans or animals. As for their attitudes to technology, deep ecologists may or may not be out-and-out Luddites, but even the former can have more than a hint of Luddism, including just asking questions about the benefits of technology and expressing a patent distaste for "unnatural" technological solutions.[3]

Among the unsavoury aspects of the crankier subsets of DE are their adherents' support for misanthropic and racist ideas such as top-down enforced population control.[2][4] Though these DE adherents may be rather vague about how this would happen in practice, it still puts their ideas where the far left wraps around and meets the far right.[5] "Eco-nazi" is actually a fitting slur for such versions of DE when you consider that, despite the fact that First World countries use many times more resources per capita,[6] DE proponent Bill Devall said that a population decline needs to happen in Third World countries.[2] Similarly, David Foreman, founder of Earth First! suggested that we should "allow Ethiopians to starve"[2] in order to reduce human numbers for the good of Gaia.
By contrast, the Næss version of DE simply advocates family planning, which, while a laudable strategy for a host of reasons wholly unrelated to ecology (deep or otherwise), smacks more than a little of Sunday school environmentalism since family planning doesn't appear likely to bring about any substantial population decline in the foreseeable future, but merely a less steep increase in world population.

Among the DE proponents who take a more spiritual(ist) approach which shades into the Gaia hypothesis is the Australian rainforest activist John Seed who runs large group awareness training seminars incorporating rebirthing (he calls it "re-earthing") and similar New Age practices which are supposed to help attendees break through their human-centered attitudes and become one with the planet!

We'll mine and log the other planets later[edit]

"Earth First!" (with the obligatory exclamation point) was an early and vigorous proponent of deep ecology philosophy. It was founded in the early 1980s by five former lobbyists from mainstream environmental groups who felt those groups and the U.S. government had sold out wilderness preservation during the RARE II (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) process during the Carter administration as well as earlier during the Glen Canyon Dam debacle of the early 1960s.[7] The group cultivated a reputation that was, at least at first, more hard-line than they actually were,[note 2] said reputation attracted a bevy of supporters who were even harder green than the founders, with the result that the founding members had mostly left for more mainstream pastures by 1990.[note 3]

Earth First!'s influence probably peaked in 1990 with a large media/protest event called "Redwood Summer," protesting logging in northern California. After that the group largely fell apart in infighting, and attracted an even more radical fringe element, mostly anarchists, who caused the cycle to repeat itself again and drove out those who in 1990 had driven out the original founders. The group still exists today but is decidedly irrelevant.

A conspiracy theory popular on the right-wing is that Earth First! was founded by and secretly funded by mainstream environmental groups (e.g. the Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society) in order to make them look tame and reasonable by comparison.

The Earth Liberation Front is a group who feel Earth First! still isn't militant enough, and practice ecoterrorism, usually arson. Their most infamous action was the 1998 arson of the Vail, Colorado ski area, to prevent what they felt would be destruction of the lynx habitat.

Vigilantes on the high seas[edit]

Greenpeace may or may not qualify as hard green, depending on who you ask. However, Sea Shepherd, founded by a former Greenpeace co-founder who left or was expelled (depending on who you ask) in a dispute over Greenpeace's non-violence policy, definitely is one. Sea Shepherd fights whaling and seal hunting, not in the courts nor by appealing to international agencies, but by direct action, in this case ramming and scuttling the ships in question. These vigilante actions take place on the high seas and Sea Shepherd claims they are acting under the color of international law; Japan, the country of origin for most of the ships scuttled and rammed, vehemently disagrees.

Predictably, Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson proclaims a "biocentric" and "deep ecology" philosophy and that their actions are justified based on dangers to the world's fisheries. He also claims to have had telepathic communication from a whale he was saving back when he was still with Greenpeace, which imparted to him his life's mission of defending the oceans.[note 4] Watson and Sea Shepherd were, of course, parodied (or satirized, depending who you ask) by South Park[8]

Anarcho-primitivism[edit]

Another such hard green philosophy is a combination of anarchism with a belief that the industrial and agricultural revolutions must be undone, with society returning to a hunter-gatherer state of nature. This is most prevalent on the west coast of the United States, especially in places like Eugene, Oregon and Arcata, California. Some of them are just nutty kids who take silly butterfly pseudonyms and spend months sitting in trees protesting logging, or show their opposition to modern technology by adopting freeganism or some variation of the paleo diet,[note 5] hopping freight trains for their transportation and squatting in abandoned or foreclosed houses, all of which are modern technology.

As with every fringe tendency, anarcho-primitivism has its serious philosophers and academics. John Zerzan[9] is particularly influential here. Live Wild Or Die, an infrequently published newspaper started circa 1988-89 by some former Earth First! activists who felt Earth First! was too conservative and stifling anarchist participation in the movement, had an anarcho-primitivst orientation, and anarcho-primitivist ideas have gotten considerable space in such anarchist periodicals as Fifth Estate[10] and Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed,[11] influencing anarchism as a whole to some degree. Primitivist thought is part of the stew making up "insurrectionary anarchism," and the "post-left anarchism" of Bob Black. Its influence found its way into the vegan straight edge punk scene as well, with outfits like the "metalcore" band Earth Crisis espousing ecotage and the dismantling of civilization in their lyrics;[12] Vegan Reich and the Hardline movement[13] took this further into oblivion with religious asceticism and hyper-puritanical morality.[14] Curiously, many anarcho-primitivists don't seem to have a problem using digital technology or the Internet, while those anarchists who do make a point of refusing to use computers at all on ethical grounds, such as The Match publisher Fred Woodworth, seem to hold very little truck with anarcho-primitivism.[15]

Unabomber[edit]

The Unabomber (Theodore Kaczynski) was not really affiliated with anarcho-primitivism per se, but advocated a similar return to a primitive society without technology. His manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future[16] was based more on psychology than ecology, and had more in common with radical traditionalism and libertarianism of the "rugged individualist" variety than any sort of environmentalism. In fact, the first section of his manifesto is devoted to a discussion of what he considered the "psychopathology" of the modern left, among which he included "animal rights and environmental activists".

For some odd reason, he is often lumped in with hard greens due to tenuous similarities. Claims from conspiracy theorists that he was working hand-in-hand with Earth First! or ecoterrorist groups are not well-established, and there is little beyond circumstantial evidence to support this claim.[17] Ted had communicated with anarcho-primitivists such as John Zerzan in the past, but he disagreed with many tendencies and ideas of the anarcho-primitivist movement, and wrote some pretty good arguments dispelling a lot of their delusions (though again, wrapped up in his own mythmaking about primitive society being a land of freedom).[18]

Ecofascism[edit]

At the ludicrous extreme are those who advocate (as opposed to merely predicting, which is bad enough) a mass die-off of humans in the name of defending the planet. The most notorious and noxious of these is probably Finnish philosopher Pentti Linkola, who is sort of the Fred Phelps of the environmental movement, issuing statements celebrating people dying in mass disasters as progress toward lessening humanity's destructive influence on the planet.

U.S. environmentalist Garrett Hardin advocated a just-barely-toned-down version of the same thing, which he termed "lifeboat ethics." Believing the planet's resources were limited with not enough to go around, he advocated the rich countries (which he likened to "lifeboats") cut off all aid to poor countries and let "nature" (in this case, mass starvation) run its course. (The fact that the rich countries are, in fact, simultaneously playing a disproportionate role in environmental destruction and insulated from its worst effects seems to be lost on him.) Not affiliated at all with fascism per se, Hardin's chief influence on the mainstream ecology movement as a whole came with his 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons"[19], but his lifeboat ethics has been highly controversial and led to some rather extreme positions finding their way into the Cornucopian vs. Malthusian debate.

Ecofascism can also refer to those who mix radical environmentalism with otherwise hard-right politics. This seems to be more prevalent in Europe, where several political parties exist such as the Nouvelle Droite (or European New Right) of Alain de Benoist, "Third Way" in the United Kingdom (a "green" splinter from the neo-fascist National Front), the Ökologisch-Demokratische Partei (Ecological Democratic Party, a right-wing splinter from the German Green Party), and groups espousing third positionism. The closest example of this from the U.S. is probably Virginia Abernethy, a Vanderbilt University professor who is both a widely cited expert on population and ecology and a self-avowed white separatist.[20] Another American example would be the Wolves of Vinland, a group of Norse neopagans who have been described both as "eco-punks" and as white nationalist.

Other uses[edit]

The term "hard green" is used in a different sense by Peter Huber of the loopy think tank, the Manhattan Institute, who advocates in his 1999 book Hard Green that a distinction be made between what he terms "soft green" issues (such as global warming, organic food, and opposition to pesticides), and what he terms "hard green" issues (mainly, setting aside open space and wildlife habitat, and active management of public lands.) His distinction between the two seems to play on a bit of an appeal to masculinity. "Soft green," to Huber, is the wonky, wimpy environmentalism of those who obsess over such things as their carbon footprint, traces of PCBs in the environment, or whether their coffee is organic and shade grown. Huber's "hard green" is land conservation, period, and it is done because we can and because we want to for aesthetic reasons, not because of any ethical mandate to. Huber invokes Theodore Roosevelt throughout this "conservative manifesto" for the environment, as an ideal of "hard green," and Al Gore as the archetypal "soft green." His book was an apparent attempt to get political conservatives on board with at least some environmental protection (wilderness and wildlife habitat), while simultaneously slamming Gore and most of the mainstream environmental community for prioritizing what he thinks are non-issues. His book got some attention when published,[21] but in terms of actual influence proved to be a dud, as neoconservatives during the Bush era did not seem to be interested in any environmental protection whatsoever. Most environmentalists and scientists categorize Huber's book as a denialist book, due to his poo-pooing of just about every other environmental issue other than land conservation.[22]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Among them, Edward Abbey, whose writings during his lifetime should be distinguished from the personality cult of Abbey-as-hard-green-prophet that arose after his 1989 death and peaked in the mid 1990s (as any perusal of Abbey's writings will show, Abbey was a product of the National Park Service ranger culture of the 1950s-1970s more than anything else, hardly a hard green at all, The Monkey Wrench Gang notwithstanding).
  2. The early Earth First! literature, circa 1980-1986, was in fact rather science-oriented - they had actual biologists writing their wilderness proposals - and full of the same sort of lulz and snarky attitude that skeptic websites are known for, but this became increasingly rare after 1987 as direct action activities and increasingly ludicrous crank ideas came to dominate.
  3. Dozens of more moderate groups like the Rainforest Action Network, the Wildlands Project and Wild Earth magazine, the Fund for Wild Nature, and the Cascadia Ecosystem Alliance had their origins in early Earth First!; their founders decided they could better advance their expansive wilderness proposals without being saddled by association with ecotage, flag burnings, anarcho-freegans, and New Age woo.
  4. His books Sea Shepherd: My Fight for Whales and Seals (1981), Ocean Warrior (1994), and Seal Wars (2002) are actually good reads apart from the whale-telepathy woo; he loves to rag on Greenpeace for their cynical media houndery and fundraising. Not so with Earthforce! An Earth Warrior's Guide to Strategy (1993), which is a Sun Tzu-inspired piece of New Age paramilitary-mystic woo and is just plain full of the stupid.
  5. Although the paleo diet is more usually associated with anarcho-libertarians on the right, it has its supporters among left-anarchists as well, typically anarcho-primitivists who view a hunter-gatherer diet as the only sustainable one, and oppose agriculture. See e.g. The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.

References[edit]

  1. http://www.thegreenfuse.org/johnstone.htm
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Deep Ecology Critique from the green fuse
  3. http://www.ecotecture.com/library_eco/appropriate_tech/Lomba-Ortiz_questioningEco.html
  4. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/arne-naess-and-george-sessions-basic-principles-of-deep-ecology
  5. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/george-bradford-how-deep-is-deep-ecology
  6. http://planetarities.web.unc.edu/files/2015/01/Guha-Radical-American-Environmentalism-and-Wilderness-Preservation.pdf
  7. See Manes, Christopher: Green Rage (1990); Scarce, Rik: Eco-Warriors (1990/2005); Foreman, Dave: Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (1991); and Zakin, Susan: Coyotes and Town Dogs (1993) for sympathetic popular histories of the early movement. See Lee, Martha: Earth First!: Environmental Apocalypse (1995) for a dry academic history.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_Whores
  9. As with many primitivists he has, of course, a website
  10. No, this isn't Invisible Children.
  11. http://www.anarchymag.org/
  12. Lyrics
  13. See the Hardline Manifesto
  14. John Eden, "Punk Comics 3," uncarved.org
  15. See the article on ZineWiki on Fred Woodworth and The Match
  16. Industrial Society and Its Future, by "F.C."
  17. The source of these allegations was Barry Clausen, who had been retained by the Washington Contract Loggers Association to investigate radical environmentalists. Not exactly a neutral source. ("Bob Ortega: Clausen's 'Eco-Probes' Draw Suspicion, But He Still Turns Up on TV.", Wall Street Journal, March 2, 1999)
  18. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ted-kaczynski-the-truth-about-primitive-life-a-critique-of-anarchoprimitivism
  19. "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin
  20. Really. She's even on the board of the American Third Position party and everything. Even the Federation for American Immigration Reform, no stranger to accusations of racism itself, has denounced her.
  21. See the cautiously positive reviews from libertarians Ronald Bailey in Reason and Brian Doherty in The American Spectator
  22. See the review in Mother Jones, Bill McKibben's review in the New York Review of Books, and Jim Norton's review, where he called the book "Hardly Green"