Photo via Political Warfare
Earlier this week, news broke that for the first time ever, the FBI added a domestic terrorist to its famed international Most Wanted list--the suspect planted nail bombs outside buildings in 2003 to deter animal testing and cruelty. That was big news, sure--but the bigger news seemed to be that this pioneering American offender was an "environmental terrorist." Or an "extreme animal rights activist." Or an "eco-terrorist." Depending on which paragraph of the Wall Street Journal article you read. Point is, all that loaded language effectively lumps together many different hot button terms people associate with the extreme side of the green movement. Is there really no separation between environmentalism and animal rights extremism? Is there an agenda being pushed to corral all such activism into the same category? Or is there just a general confusion about what the green movement actually is?
Animal Rights Activist, or Environmentalist?
Let's start with the basics. What is an environmentalist? Of course there's no definitive answer, so let's say loosely that it's someone who advocates environmental stewardship, sustainable practices, and is concerned with the general welfare of the natural world.
So is a man who plants bombs at animal research labs an environmentalist? Most environmentalists would probably say no. It's more accurate to say he's a (misguided) animal rights extremist—his deeds have no benefit to the environment at all. But would a man who peaceably protests animal cruelty be termed an environmentalist? Again, first and foremost, we'd consider the man an animal rights activist.
But looking after the welfare of animals certainly has some overlap with the general green movement—protecting endangered species, advocating sustainable fishing, and preventing habitat destruction are all undoubtedly dark green causes. So there's definitely some grey area—but if the lab where the animal testing was occurring came up with a cure for cancer, many environmentalists would be pleased, and would acknowledge the benefit of the practice. Since, after all, personal health is a major green issue too (man, this gets complicated). And animal rights activists are upset by cases like the mass slaughter of 150,000 goats that took place on the Galapagos Islands—a move not only approved but orchestrated by environmentalists to save the fragile ecosystems from the invasive species.
So there must be some difference between animal rights activists and environmentalists—it's a matter of priorities, perhaps, between a diehard love of all animals and a dedication to protecting the environment on larger scale. Again, still plenty of gray area to go around.
What's in a Name? Why 'Environmentalist' MattersSo what's the big deal anyways? Why ponder semantics when there's so much to be done? It matters because we're perched on the precipice of an era where we could potentially see great environmental progress in national government, big business, and the energy sector. One of the biggest climate and energy bills in US history is being debated in Congress at this very moment. And to be indiscriminately throwing around terms like "environmental terrorist" at a time where so much stands to be gained could serve to throw doubt on the entire movement.
It could be that such language is being used deliberately—for the most part, the Wall Street Journal is no champion of environmental causes. But it could also be that the author simply has the conception (as many people do) that environmentalists are still the flower powered lovers of all things cute and cuddly, government and business-hating activists of the '60s (of course, things were more nuanced even then, but that's the perception). Which is not the case: environmentalist philosophy is entering business and government on an ever growing scale, after decades of stagnation. We support this. We're fighting for the big picture now—reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, keeping human consumption practices sustainable, and yes, conserving natural lands around the globe.
We do not back the bombing of research laboratories by "extreme environmental animal rights eco terrorists," or whatever the media terms them. And we can't let the movement get grouped in with the actions of such fanatics. We're not "extreme animal rights activists."
We're just environmentalists.
More on the Environment and Terrorism
Observe the Environment, Let Terrorism Flourish?
Climate Change Activists Are Terrorists! At Least That’s What the Maryland State Police Thought