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Earth First!

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Earth First! is a radical environmental defense movement, pioneered in the early 1980s by Arizona desert activists Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, Howie Wolke, Bart Koehler, and others.

Contents

The Early Years

During the group's early years (1980-1986), Earth First! mixed innovative publicity, such as rolling a plastic "crack" down Glen Canyon Dam, with far-reaching wilderness proposals that went far beyond what the mainstream environmental groups were willing to advocate, and with conservation biology research from a biocentric perspective. The group's proposals were published in a periodical, Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal, informally known as the Earth First! Journal. Edward Abbey's writings were a major inspiration and Abbey himself was revered by the early movement, and often spoke at early Earth First! gatherings. An annual gathering of the group was known as the Round River Rendevous, from a phrase taken from Aldo Leopold's book A Sand County Almanac.

Later, from about 1987 on, Earth First! became primarily associated with direct action to prevent logging, dam building, and other forms of development which may cause destruction of wildlife habitats or the despoilation of wild places. This change in direction attracted many new members to Earth First!, some of whom came from a leftist or anarchist political background or involvement in the counterculture or neo-paganism. Dave Foreman has related that this led to the introduction of such activities as a "puke-in" at a shopping mall, a flag burning, heckling of Edward Abbey at a 1987 Earth First! rendevous, and back-and-forth debates in the Earth First! Journal on such topics as anarchism, that Foreman and others did not wish to be associated with. Most of the group's "old guard," including Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, Bart Koehler, Christopher Manes, George Wuerthner, and Earth First! Journal editor John Davis, (but not Mike Roselle) became increasingly uncomfortable with this new direction, and eventually severed their ties to Earth First! in 1990. Many of them went on to launch a new magazine, Wild Earth, and a new environmental group, The Wildlands Project. Roselle, on the other hand, along with activists such as Judi Bari, welcomed the new direct-action and leftist direction of Earth First!

Starting in the mid-1980s, Earth First! began an increasing promotion of and identification with "Deep Ecology," a philosophy put forward by Arne Naess, Bill Devall, and George Sessions, which holds that all forms of life on Earth have equal value in and of themselves, without regard for their utility to human beings. Earth First!ers use this philosophy to justify an a ecocentric view of the world in which intrinsic values for organisms and ecosystems outweigh their resource values. The motto of Earth First! is "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth!"

Earth First! Since 1990

Since the departure of the old guard in 1990, action within the Earth First! movement has become increasingly informed by anarchist political philosophy. Rotation of the primary media organ among publishers in differing bioregions, an aversion of organized leadership or administrative structure, and the use of rhetoric by so-called members identifying Earth First! as a movement rather than an organization, all of these activities characterize a decentralized, locally-informed activism based on communitarian ethics.

In the field, individual citizens and small groups form the nuclei for grassroots political actions, which may take the form of legal actions--i.e. protests, timber sale appeals, and educational campaigns--or civil disobedience--tree sitting, road blockades, and sabotage - called "ecotage" by some advocates when it is done as a form of ecodefense. Often, disruptive direct action is used primarily as a stalling tactic, to prevent environmental destruction while lawsuits (which take more time) can secure the long-term victories.

A very popular combination of tactics is road blockades, activists locking themselves to heavy equipment to immobilize it, tree-sitting to prevent logging, and sometimes sabotage of machinery.

Although Earth First! was at first known for providing information in the Earth First! Journal on the practice of tree-spiking, which can be potentially injurious, and monkeywrenching (or ecotage), in 1990 Judi Bari led Earth First! in the Northern California and Southern Oregon region to renounce these practices, calling them counterproductive to an effort to form a coalition with workers and small logging businesses to defeat large-scale corporate logging in Northern California.

In 1990 a bomb was placed in Judi Bari's car, crippling her, and leading to false charges by police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she was responsible for the bomb. Bari died in 1997, but her federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland California police resulted in a 2002 jury verdict exonerating her and awarding her estate to fellow Earth First!er Darryl Cherney, a total of $4.4 million. Eighty percent of the damages were awarded for violation of the two Earth First! leaders' First Amendment rights to organize politically in defense of the environment. Juror Mary Nunn told reporters the jury unanimously agreed with Bari's and Cherney's claims that the FBI and Oakland Police attempted to frame the pair and falsely smeared them in the media as a way to neutralize them and Earth First! by making the public believe they were terrorists who used bombs. Earth First! has never advocated the use of bombs or explosives in any way, due to the risk of harming living things.

Some critics of the movement still call EF! activity eco-terrorism, though Earth First! proponents say that the term more accurately describes the people who destroy the environment. In response to being labeled terrorists, some have adopted the neologism terrist instead.

Earth First! was parodied in the December, 2003 Simpsons episode, "Lisa the Tree-Hugger".

Books About Earth First!

Books about the early Earth First!:

  • Davis, John, ed. The Earth First! Reader: Ten Years of Radical Environmentalism (1991) (ISBN 0879053879)
  • Foreman, Dave. Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (1991) (ISBN 051788058X)
  • Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching (1985) (ISBN 0963775103)
  • Manes, Christopher. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization (1990) (ISBN 0316545325)
  • Scarce, Rik. Eco-Warriors (1990) (ISBN 096226833X)
  • Zakin, Susan. Coyotes and Town Dogs: Earth First! and the Environmental Movement (1993) (ISBN 0816521859)

Books about the post-1990 Earth First!:

  • Bari, Judi. Timber Wars (1994) (ISBN 1567510264)
  • Lee, Martha. Earth First!: Environmental Apocalypse (1995) (ISBN 0815603657)
  • Coleman, Kate. The Secret Wars of Judi Bari (2005) (ISBN 1893554740) (note: some consider this book to be a hatchet job on Judi Bari, see colemanhoax.com (http://www.colemanhoax.com/)).

Critical or Hostile Books about Earth First!:

  • Arnold, Ron. Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature (1997) (ISBN 0939571188)
  • Bradford, George. How Deep is Deep Ecology? (1989) (ISBN 0878100350)
  • Clausen, Barry. Walking on the Edge: How I Infiltrated Earth First! (1994) (ISBN 0936783125)

See also

External links

Earth First! Today:

Other links of interest, because of their historical ties to Earth First!:


Earth First was also the name of a fictional xenophobic neo-Nazi movement on the television program Babylon 5.

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