Author: Neha Ramesh
Although ‘Ecoterrorism’ was coined in the 1980s, history dates to the 18th century when peasants revolted forest reforms in France. The term has since evolved and covered an array of attacks carried out for the protection of the environment. The most famous examples being the Earth Liberation Front and the Unabomber. In the path towards sustainable development, the idea of environmental preservation is given great importance. Regrettably, this was not always the case. The industrial revolution was made possible by fossil fuels and the degradation of the environment. In this piece, I wish to explore the security threat posed by eco-terrorism while outlining the need for eco-activism.
The farmers protest in India was an event of historic proportions that gained traction and support globally from celebrities and environmental activists. The government released a bill that was perceived to be detrimental to farmers. The intricacies of the bill aside, it was met with backlash by farmers of the northern states of India who took to blocking one of the capitals most coveted expressways. The government of India treated the farmers as anti-governmental forces. This is an example of eco-activism being treated as eco-terrorism. The line between the two may be slim but distinct.
Here it is important to note the divided perception of the bill. Both sides deserve merit for their respective arguments. Now let us discuss how environmental activism can be used as a gateway into terrorist elements. Psychologically there is merit to using causes that people are passionate about to drive them into anti-national and anti-governmental entities. There is a president of eco-terrorists being regarded as extremists however it is important to note that the government often uses the excuse of eco-terrorism to suppress eco-activism.
The lack of clarity in policy when defining eco-terrorism or environmental extremism has caused a lot of damage in the form of ill-constructed policy and state response. States are now resonating with the term eco-terrorism to avert potentially dangerous environmental activism, targeting protestors as terrorists with extreme outcomes for the protection of civil liberties. For example, at least a dozen of environmental activists were deported back, or denied entry to Poland, on the occasion of the 2018 United Nations Climate Conference in Katowice, because they were considered a threat to national security.
Some argue that to clearly define terrorism and make it a useful term, we must draw the line at human life. If an act seeks to destroy human life, and, therefore, coerce or intimidate through the threat to human life, it is terrorism. However, if an act destroys property and is careful not to injure or kill, it may be vandalism or arson, but it is not terrorism.
Climate change and the stress it places on environmental resources has been linked to conflicts of various nature. For some, this relationship has smaller effects within country-armed conflicts, as compared to other drivers of conflicts. Others have shown that climate stressors are linked to increased opportunity for violence and conflicts in areas of low living standards and poor governance. However, climate change has now been recognized to fuel greater political instability and conflicts due to resource competition and increasing global insecurity that places the most affected areas at the mercy of insurgencies, organized crime, and terrorism recruitment.
However, environmental activists are being increasingly categorized and targeted as terrorists by well-established democracies. The exacerbated role of these states may fuel a sense of injustice and desperateness capable of compelling radical individuals to join the likes of the Earth Liberation Front or to drive themselves to a new terrorism threat. This could trigger a security risk effect at the heart of advanced regions, where not yet the scarcity of water, but the loss of civil rights would potentiate the rise of a new form of eco-terrorism. Thereafter, the conditions linked to climate change have provided both, an opportunity for environmental terrorism developments in areas of resources scarcity, and a potential platform for a new form of terrorism born from extreme anti-progress ideologies.
At this point let us look at some important lessons we can take away from the mistakes we have made in the past. First, we need to go about establishing a clear understanding of eco-terrorism and differentiate it from environmental activism. Second, we need to protect environmental activists. Finally, we need to embrace sustainable growth and agricultural practices which will help us achieve our growth goals without compromising the environment.