SECOND PRIZE: Throwing a Wrench Into Things: The Strategy of Radical Environmentalism

Teale Phelps Bondaroff


A growing sense of urgency within the environmental movement has caused many activists to radicalize, and adopt more violent forms of protest, resorting to acts of sabotage and property destruction such as tree-spiking, ‘monkey-wrenching’ heavy equipment, or fire-bombings. This paper defines actions which seek to cause material damage as acts of ecotage. Ecotage is appealing to many radical environmentalists, in as much as it is perceived as being effective. Through an analysis of the strategic reasons why ecotage is employed, this paper will examine the ways in which ecotage is perceived as effective. Ecotage is adopted by environmentalists for three primary reasons. First, ecotage produces powerful images (mind-bombs) that garner media attention and in so doing generate public awareness and sympathy for a particular issue. Secondly, ecotage is employed in order to cause enough property damage to drive up the costs of doing business to the point where the profitability of environmental degradation is so high that companies are forced to halt operations. And thirdly, organizations who engage in ecotage expand the environmental activist spectrum, resulting in other, more conventional organizations being considered as moderates. The ultimate goal of radical organizations that practice ecotage is the same as that of most conventional environmentalists; they seek to protect the environment, yet through their more violent tactics it is clear that they have adopted a divergent strategy. Ecotage is but one tool available to environmentalists, but if, through an application of its strategy, it can be seen as an effective tool, it is one which environmentalists are likely to reach for more often, and in so doing become a greater threat.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.