The Next Wave of Extremists Will Be Green Militant environmentalism is coming. And we aren’t ready for it.

28.11.2017 |  Jamie Bartlett

If military strategists are always fighting the last war, the same is true of those who work on countering radicalization. In 2001, Western intelligence services, mostly focused on localized terrorist groups like the Irish Republican Army and ETA, were stunned by al Qaeda. Come 2011, they were then blindsided by Anders Behring Breivik and the growth in far-right extremism. By the mid-2010s, the Islamist threat had evolved into the Islamic State — and they were slow to spot that, too.

Today, we are about to make the same mistake. We will not easily forgive ourselves if our attention is exclusively occupied by the Islamic State or the far-right when the coming wave of environmental radicalization hits.

Foto source:

There’s nothing new about radical environmentalism. In 2001, the Earth Liberation Front — a militant, violent environmentalist group — was described by the FBI as one of the top domestic terrorist threats. Academics have estimated that “REAR” (Radical Environmentalist and Animal Rights) cells can be found in at least 25 countries and were responsible for more than 1,000 criminal acts between 1970 and 2007 in the United States alone — mostly vandalism and attacks on animal testing facilities. Over the last 30 years, there have been periodic fears about new waves of “eco-terrorism,” which have never quite materialized.

But, until recently, radical environmentalism had been a victim of its own success. Green ideas went mainstream years ago. Most major political parties in Western democracies (Donald Trump and the Republican Party notwithstanding) now accept the facts of climate change and have promised to respond. Environmentalism has also become part of the broader anti-capitalism movement, which is — mostly — characterized by a commitment to nonviolence and bottom-up change. As a result, climate activism that crosses from peaceful protests, like marching in the streets, to civil disobedience — shutting down mines or monkey-wrenching machinery — remains stubbornly small. There are no exact figures, but people on the inside have told me that, in the U.K. at least, it’s just a few hundred hardcore activists, and a few thousand in the United States.

There are clues, however, that this may be about to change. The necessary conditions for the radicalization of climate activism are all in place. Some groups are already showing signs of making the transition. And when they do, we may be ill-equipped for handling these new green hard-liners.

Radicals of all types share certain characteristics. According to Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) and author of Der Terror ist unter uns (“The Terror Is Among Us”), people who become radicalized typically have a “sense of grievance” — sometimes real, sometimes perceived — and a belief that legitimate channels for redress are shut off, inaccessible, or ineffective. There is also usually a social element, in the form of a charismatic preacher or ideology, that spurs people to seek emotional fulfillment through otherwise forbidden methods for redemption.

Climate activists certainly have a central grievance — a catastrophic, existential grievance that is supported by scientific research.

Climate activists certainly have a central grievance — a catastrophic, existential grievance that is supported by scientific research.

Based on current projections, by the end of this century, large swaths of the globe will become uninhabitable, and extreme weather will be commonplace, as will food shortages and drought. By 2050, as many as 250 million people could be climate change refugees. This is the mother of all grievances, and it is measurably getting worse.

And formal, peaceful political activism — that all-important route to redress — isn’t working. True, there have been some successes. The renewable energy industry is surging. Anti-capitalist and pro-environmental political movements are on the rise (see: Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and politicians like Beppe Grillo, who’ve all made climate change a major priority). But from the perspective of environmentalists, there are mounting reasons to doubt the political prospects for saving the planet. By 2040, the amount of energy required to power the world will likely be around 50 percent higher than it was in 2012. Coal demand is expected to grow 0.6 percent every year between now and then. Last year was especially bad: Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere climbedabove 400 parts per million (the first time in millions of years); meanwhile, the Living Planet Index projected that the Earth could lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020. No serious activist thinks the Paris climate accords, feted by governments, are enough — and that was before Trump pulled out of them.

The signs of growing radicalism in green circles are already there, if you know where to look. While researching for my recent book, Radicals Chasing Utopia, I spent time with Earth First!, a hard-line environmentalist group founded in the southwestern United States but with cells all over the world. It is enjoying a resurgence precisely because of its promises of “no compromise in defense of Mother Earth.” Longtime members told me that they’ve never seen this level of interest or frustration; it was clear from my time with them that, along with hardened old-timers, Earth First! has attracted loads of young people getting involved for the first time, all of whom had a sense that something needed to be done and fast.

Visit any of the environmentalist websites or blogs and you’ll find an endless run of protests, demos, marches, and planned civil disobedience. Something is stirring. According to a representative I recently spoke to from Friends of the Earth, an environmentalist group with chapters across the world, local anti-fracking groups have grown faster than anything he has ever witnessed in the green movement. Had it not been for the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris just weeks before the climate accord meetings in November 2015, and the subsequent state of emergency, the demonstrations there would likely have been the biggest environmental protests ever. I interviewed several of the people involved at the time: There had been months of planning, hundreds of organizers dotted across the city, and a real sense of momentum. That same year, German climate change activists founded Ende Gelände (“Here and No Further”), an alliance specifically devoted to acts of civil disobedience against fossil fuels. In 2015, around 1,500 of these very determined and highly organized protesters temporarily shut down one of Europe’s largest coal mines by climbing into it. Last year, double that number of protesters did the same. And this month Ende Gelände organized an estimated 6,000 protestors into an 11-day effort to halt production in the heart of German coal country.

The same obstinate determination was visible in the Standing Rock protesters, who tried to prevent the building of the Dakota Access pipeline in the northern United States. Between August 2016 and this February, 761 arrests were made there. Of course that partly reflects police aggression and heavy-handedness, but it also signals protesters’ newfound toughness and refusal to stand down. Authorities have made clear that they’re worried: A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security warned of attacks from eco-terrorists who “believe violence is justified” to the planned Diamond Pipeline, which will run from Oklahoma to Tennessee (although it noted they have no current intelligence suggesting any attack has been planned).

Dalīties Facebook