Top 5 Eco-Activism Events of the Past Decade

john butler tree sit photo
From the abolition of slavery to women's suffrage, every socio-political movement has had its radical moments in the struggle for recognition. The environmental movement is no exception: Individuals, groups and even whole communities have resorted to the use of radical actions in order to draw attention to a direly unjust situation. Violent, destructive behaviour is never ok, no matter which side you are on: It's the everyday actions of moderate but progressive people who have spread lasting social change on a deeper level. But nevertheless, here are some people who were willing to go to extremes:

Image: Musician John Butler in the world's tallest tree sit in Tasmainia. Photo via Green Peace
vail ski resort fire photo

Image: The aftermath of the Vail fires. Photo via The Washington Times.

1. Most Costly Act of Eco-extremism: Vail, Colorado

The 1998 burning of a ski resort in Vail, Colorado is recognized as one of the most costliest acts of eco-sabotage in the United States, resulting in $12 million in damages. The radical environmental group Earth Liberation Front (E.L.F.) and animal-rights organization Animal Liberation Front (A.L.F.) claimed responsibility, stating that the resort was destroying lynx habitats.

Though no one was injured, the case remained unsolved for four years, until an informant who was originally involved in the arson plan spilled the beans. Eventually, 11 people were indicted, including William Rodgers and Chelsea Gerlach, the two individuals charged with setting the fires. Rodgers ultimately committed suicide in prison late in 2005, while Gerlach received a reduced sentence of nine years for her cooperation with the authorities (you can read her own detailed story of the event and its aftermath here).

Jeff Luers

Image: Jeff Luers in Eugene, OR. Photo via

2. Longest Sentence Handed Down For Eco-Sabotage: Jeff "Free" Luers

For his part in the torching of three SUVs in an Eugene, Oregon dealership in 2000 as protest against excessive consumerism and global warming, then 21-year-old Jeff "Free" Luers was given a 22-year, eight-month sentence. But thanks to an international campaign against what some saw as a heavy-handed punishment for a bloodless crime, this sentence was eventually reduced to 10 years in 2007.

For Luers, it seems that extremist actions have a role in the larger picture: "When you've got groups like E.L.F. out there burning things down, it makes above-ground activism look tame. Because of that, the general public knows it's asinine when Greenpeace gets charged with piracy for boarding a ship and hanging a banner."

greenpeace anti-whaling ship

Image: Greenpeace attempts to stop whaling operations. Photo via Greenpeace/Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.

3. Most Dramatic Eco-Campaign: Greenpeace Anti-Whaling on the High Seas

Moving beyond hanging banners, in early 2008 Greenpeace initiated a gripping 8,000-kilometre chase to prevent Japanese whalers from killing its annual quota of 1,000 whales for "scientific research." Since much of the whale meat--coveted as a delicacy--ends up on dinner tables, many accuse Japan of using science to ostensibly cover up its participation in commercial whaling (banned outright in 1986). The Japanese government argues that whales are depleting fish stocks and that they are merely controlling whale populations by culling a restricted number.

The high-stakes incident has all the trappings of an action movie: After pursuing the Japanese fleet for 14 days, the Greenpeace ship "Esperanza" succeeded in preventing the fleet from refueling, with two protesters actually succeeding in boarding a whaling ship. Other players included the more hard line Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which threatened to actually ram whaling ships in order to stop them.

The intrigue escalated as the Japanese government put pressure on neighbouring nations to turn away the Esperanza, now running low on fuel, from finding haven at their ports. Later, the detention of two Japanese Greenpeace activists who exposed a whale-meat smuggling operation culminated in one hunger strike and accusations of human rights abuses. The unpredictable confrontation has led to increased media coverage of whaling and not-so-unpredictably, one television program called "Whale Wars."

Though the anti-whalers may get a lot more media attention, there are also other equally-extreme but less-publicized staples of radical environmental protest, which brings us to the next category


Image: Then 23-year-old Julia Butterfly Hill becomes a tree-sitting icon. Photo via Earth First!

4. Tree-Sits: Long and Tall

Longest: The longest period of uninterrupted occupation of a single tree goes to Julia "Butterfly" Hill, who lived in a 180-foot (55 metres), 600-year-old Coast Redwood tree she called "Luna" for 738 days in order to prevent it from being cut down. Hill only came moved out of the tree in December 1999 after she and other activists were able to resolve the issue with the Pacific Lumber Company and spare Luna and trees in a surrounding 3-acre buffer zone.

The rest of the Top 5 Eco-Activism Events of the Past Decade are on Page 2

Top 5 Eco-Activism Events of the Past Decade
From the abolition of slavery to women's suffrage, every socio-political movement has had its radical moments in the struggle for recognition. The environmental movement is no exception: Individuals, groups and even whole communities have resorted to

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