Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 6.21.07

A Response to Failure
Enviros need a change in tactics

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about eco-sabotage and the absurdity of calling these acts “terrorism.” Yet the question remains: What led once law-abiding citizen activists to take such desperate measures in the name of the Earth?

For at least part of the answer, we need look no further than the failure of the mainstream environmental movement to achieve genuine and lasting protections for the planet. Now, more than ever before, we must breathe new life into true grassroots activism by addressing root problems instead of just symptoms. Only then will we be able to keep people from giving up hope.

Yet today there is an epidemic of environmental groups abandoning strong stances for a “seat at the table” of politicians. Instead of picking a stance and fighting like hell for it, the tactics of many greens have devolved to scrambling for any crumbs brushed off the bargaining table and then crying “Victory!”

Not only have these tactics not influenced government, they have failed to send a clear message to the public. In fact, many greens have essentially cut the public out of their operations, expected nothing beyond yearly dues or a token email.

Further examples of missed opportunities abound in each of the various “rights” movements – environmental, animal, human/civil, labor – which have chosen to pursue their own isolated missions rather than confront the common enemy: corporate power and rule. As corporations have gained more power, the environmental movement, especially, has abandoned its original grassroots momentum.

While the climate crisis makes national news, strangely absent from the debate is how logging the world’s forests causes one third of human-made carbon emissions. With all the life-sustaining benefits that forests provide, such as air, water and soil, when will we see the headline: “Clearcuts Cause Climate Change”?

Disengaged from the citizenry, shunning other movements and capitulating at every turn, the environmental movement has failed to connect human civilization, a healthy environment and consumer power in the national psyche. The following are just a few of the resulting assaults on forests, our global cooling factories:

• BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revisions: a backroom sweetheart settlement with timber barons to axe old-growth protections from 2.5 million acres of public forests;

• Fish and Wildlife’s latest Spotted Owl Extinction Plan;

• Logging under the guise of “fire prevention”;

• Forest biomass extraction;

• Bogus “restoration” on public lands, exploiting Latino immigrants.

What we propose is not the whole solution, only a missing part of the solution: being radical inside the system.

Now is the time to seize the mounting concern over climate change. Now is the time to add more uncompromising voices truly advocating for the people and the forest. Now is the time to stop just playing defense and start scoring some points. With public opinion overwhelmingly on our side, why are a handful of timber barons calling the shots?


One under-utilized tactic to protect our forests is targeting the pocketbooks of the individuals directly responsible for ecosystem destruction: the timber barons. The boycott of Umpqua Bank, or StUmpqua (whose board of directors are the most notorious clearcutters and pesticide sprayers in Oregon), has already cost the bank tens of millions of dollars.

Instead of burning down buildings, why not educate customers of eco-conscious businesses, like Market of Choice, to encourage the company to take its $100 million account away from Umpqua and do its banking elsewhere? You’d have to burn down hundreds of buildings to even come close to those numbers!

Some insist that working inside the system can never work as our problems lie at the very root of civilization. A growing number of these individuals truly are removing themselves from the culture of overconsumption.

However, while permaculture and bicycling must become commonplace, they alone will not stop the timber beast from clearcutting valley and mountain, poisoning and drying up your drinking water, smothering salmon and exacerbating global warming. We don’t have the luxury of looking the other way and pretending Earth-death isn’t happening. The only choice is to confront these issues head-on.

Few would deny that we need massive structural change in our government, in our society, in our culture. One approach is to pound our fists on the reinforced walls of the “system” from the outside. But how soon we forget that the most effective way to bring down any “system” has always been to knock out the supports from the inside.

Samantha Chirillo, Shannon Wilson and Josh Schlossberg are co-directors of the all-volunteer Eugene-based group Cascadia’s Ecosystem Advocates. They can be contacted at