THE GLOBAL EMERGENCE OF RADICAL AND POPULAR ENVIRONMENTALISM
Popular Ecological Resistance and Radical Environmentalism
The diversity of popular ecological resistance movements serves as a caution against hasty generalization. Nevertheless, thoughtful critique of these movements does reveal certain trends and tendencies among many of these movements and the contexts from which they emerge. Such analysis allows consideration of the international foundations of popular ecological resistance, and also makes it possible to speak of the emergence and potential of a global radical environmentalism.
After a review of the trends and tendencies that can be discerned among these movements, this chapter will briefly return to questions posed at the outset of this inquiry, namely: What are the international impacts of these movements thus far? What are their likely future prospects? And finally, what are the problems posed by the emergence of popular ecological resistance that deserve greater in-depth scrutiny?
Trends and tendencies in the global emergence of popular ecological resistance
Fueling the flames of resistance: understanding causes and motivations
This volume (especially the chapters by Akula, Wisner, Tandon, Lorentzen, Lohmann, Porio and Hadsell) demonstrates that popular ecological resistance often originates in a desperate quest for survival as industrial processes threaten habitual modes of existence--and as people recognize that their well-being is threatened by environmental degredation. Most ecological resistance is indeed "In Defense of Livelihood," as suggested by Friedman and Rangan (1993). Discussing popular environmental movements in India, Ramachandra Guha concluded similarly that, among their many causes, "undeniably [the most important is] the deterioration of the ecosystem" and the social stresses which follow (1993:82). In less economically marginal contexts, resistance may be grounded more in concerns about health than subsistence, as Edwards's analysis shows. Nonetheless, threats to human livelihood and health provide the most important reasons for the global emergence and proliferation of popular ecological resistance.
Obviously, such motives are far from misanthropic. Indeed, a central justification for popular ecological resistance is the protection of the world for the sake of children (see especially Edwards, Porio, and Lorentzen, and also Broad and Cavanagh 1993:18; Gottlieb 1993; Tovey 1993:427). That such human-centered motives provide the most common basis for ecological resistance might surprise those radical environmentalists who believe that a transformation of consciousness, from anthropocentrism to biocentrism, is a prerequisite of ecological resistance and the eventual reconciliation of humans and nature. Our examination of the factors animating ecological resistance, however, demonstrates the inadequacy of blaming anthropocentrism as the primary cause of human indifference to environmental deterioration--because many on the front lines of such resistance movements are fundamentally anthropocentric in orientation.
Believing that consciousness is the most important ecological battleground leads some radical environmental activists to give top (but not exclusive) priority to promoting spiritual transformation through various forms of nature-based ritualizing (Seed 1994). These studies suggest that such strategies are unlikely to be more effective than ecological education combined with appeals to enlightened self-interest and concern for children, families, and communities. Through such appeals the defense of sustainable land-uses can be promoted and justified as self-defense--a practical version of the notion of inseparability pursued by the more spiritually oriented members of these movements.
To emphasize self-interest as the central underpinning of these movements is not to deny that that newly invented ritual processes are powerful means of evoking and deepening affective and spiritual connections to nature, including among those drawn to the deep ecology movement. Such ritualizing is prompting increasing numbers to reconsider their perceptions about the value of nature, their place in the natural world, and their lifestyles (Taylor 1993a, see also Grumbine 1992:233). And within the deep ecology movement, creating new ritual forms is often viewed as part of a broad effort to create new "tribes" and an ecologically sustainable culture. Desires for intentional community among those who perceive industrial cultures to be unfeeling, impersonal and bureaucratic play a significant role in fostering radical environmental countercultures and activism, especially in more affluent countries (Taylor 1993a & 1993b).
Similarly, to acknowledge that basic human needs provide the most decisive impetus to ecological resistance (especially in less affluent countries) is not incompatible with recognizing that moral and religious idea-motivations are deeply intertwined with the material motivations; or that popular ecological resistance cannot be accounted for if moral and religious variables are overlooked, or reduced to after-the-fact justifications. Wapner, Hadsell, Lohmann, Lorentzen, and Gedicks all made specific arguments along these lines, and Porio, Tandon, Akula, and Hill buttress our conclusion that human motivations are embedded in both material interests and ideal factors.
These chapters demonstrate a diversity of ways that moral and religious motivations help shape and contribute to the increasing "environmental" character of many popular movements. Sometimes moral claims to "self-determination" or "human rights" or "democracy" are advanced in quests for land and sustainable agrarian practices. Sometimes such claims to are buttressed with religious legitimations (see especially Hadsell for how liberation theology promotes such "secular" ideas). Sometimes religious ideas--such as natural resources are God's gift to humans who should prudently use and distribute them equitably--play important roles in these movements (see Hadsell, Lorentzen, Hill, and Porio). Sometimes the perceptions that the natural world is animate or that it embodies spiritual intelligences of one sort or another (see Gedicks, Akula, Lohmann, and Tandon), or newer forms of nature mysticism (see Taylor, Hill, Deudney, and Stark) convey a sense of duties toward nature that help inspire the defense or restoration of ancestral lands or traditional lifeways. Whatever the tradition, religions are malleable. In the face of environmental deterioration they have been mutating into forms capable of inspiring (or reinforcing) ecological activism, both by articulating ideals that participants find compelling (and thus legitimations for resistance) and by providing concrete institutional resources for ecological struggles.
As we have seen, ecological deterioration directly fuels popular resistance by threatening human well-being. Another reason ecological deterioration provides the decisive breeding grounds for ecological resistance is that it places additional burdens on women who were already disproportionately responsible for child rearing and the agrarian economy. Consequently, women tend to be more acutely aware of the direct threats posed by ecological deterioration. They also tend to know more than men about traditional, yet ecologically sustainable, agrarian alternatives. The contributions by Lorentzen, Akula, Wisner, Edwards, and Wisner underscore these dynamics, which have also been noted by many other observers (Banuri & Marglin 1993:11; Shiva 1988; Guha 1993:82; Tandon 1993).
Another important reason for the prominence of women in many popular ecological resistance movements is the displacement of men, who in another survival strategy, often migrate to cities (e.g., see Akula and Wisner), or whose interests conflict with women's objectives, even within broader popular movements (see Lorentzen). Gedicks also noted that another reason women are often important in indigenous environmental movements is their important roles in spiritual matters. Taken together, ecological decline, the place of women in local subsistence production, the absence of men, and spiritual responsibilities, all contribute to the widespread mobilization of women in popular ecological resistance movements. Consequently, women are decisively shaping many of these movements.
Examining how ecological deterioration threatens families, communities, and traditional livelihoods certainly helps account for the emergence of popular ecological resistance. By examining in more detail the way people in these diverse movementsexplain ecological decline--who and what they blame for their precarious situations--we can begin to comprehend why theseare kindred movements--why and how they are radical.
The most common explanation for ecological deterioration and livelihood threats cited by those in popular ecological resistance movements is that the land has been stolen and abused by outsiders--either multinational commercial interests, or more commonly, commercial elites within the nation in question--interested in quick profits rather than ecologically sustainable land uses (see Edwards, Lohmann, Akula, Hadsell, Gedicks). Popular analysis often traces these realities to the arrival of colonial armies and the commercial enterprises that follow (see Wisner and Tandon). Popular analysis thereby links immiseration to the ecological and cultural impoverishment that began with the direct theft of mineral resources and continued with the replacement of traditional agri-culture with cash-crop monocultures. The resulting historic shift to international agri-business targeted for export, such analysis explains, reduced the availability of subsistence crops for local populations, enriched merchants and elite landholders, and eventually bankers and corporations, while displacing or marginalizing the original inhabitants. Such dynamics also produced cultural erosion and declining knowledge of the ecologically sustainable practices that had previously sustained local populations. Thus do rural "peripheries" come to be exploited by two "centers": financial and military powers in the industrialized world, and the metropolitan elites in less affluent countries who mimic in ideology and practice their mentors in the corporate, industrialized world.
Such criticism emerges from long-standing leftist analysis of economic imperialism. As this volume and related research demonstrates, popular ecological resistance in less-affluent countries often emerges from existing social movements already influenced by such analyses. Popular ecological resistance movements in Western industrial countries have also been strongly influenced by such social criticism, emerging as they do from the left-wing, peace and social justice movements (see Rudig and Edwards in this volume, and Gottlieb 1993). But there is something significantly new in the analysis employed by what we are calling popular ecological resistance movements--even those emerging from subcultures influenced by leftist theories of imperialism. It is the recognition of how resource scarcity exacerbates all the dynamics which accompany the global extension of market capitalism. Interestingly, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an emphasis on resource scarcity (Erlich 1968; Meadows, et. al. 1972), was sometimes derided by leftists as a means whereby the affluent could deny equity to those heretofore denied the fruits of industrialization.
Of course, progressive analysis has long argued that global market capitalism and industrial growth rarely benefit peasants, workers or tribals, but rather guarantees their dispossession from ancestral lands. More recently, many leftists have begun to acknowledge that long-term industrial growth is not sustainable ecologically. This has forced a rethinking of many assumptions. If industrial growth is unsustainable, then it cannot benefit ordinary people. Like Gandhi, social activists increasingly recognize that only grief will follow if all marginalized people seek to follow the west's path of natural resource imperialism to development. It is obvious to these actors that large-scale hydro-electric dams benefit elites while exacerbating inequalities and destroying communities and livelihoods; and that commercial forestry is likewise a disaster, uprooting people, eroding soil, polluting water supplies and destroying fisheries (Guha 1993:82, 98; Broad and Cavanagh 1993:56-63).
The obvious consequences of unrestrained "development" reinforce perceptions that the land has been expropriated by outsiders who are using it up for their exclusive benefit, and that the further extension of international commerce works against local needs and interests. (The destructive impacts of modern commercial enterprise is also fostering a renewed appreciation of and experiments with traditional livelihoods, medicines, and agricultural practices, as shown by Wisner, Hill and others, and especially Tandon and Lorentzen). It is the realization of the connections between commercial development, ecological deterioration, and declining life prospects that lead to the "ecologization" of many popular social movements.
At this point we discern central common denominators emerging among popular ecological resistance movements. Increasingly they trace the theft and abuse of their lands, that now threatens their physical and cultural survival, to the enclosure of the commons (see especially Hill and others, Lohmann, Lorentzen, Akula, Tandon, and Gedicks). The appropriation of the commons by those who fenced it in, claiming it as their "private property," is seen as the necessary precursor to mineral theft, monocultural cash cropping or animal husbandry, road building, mining, commercial forestry, dam construction and other "development" projects that, taken together, degrade ecosystems, imperiling those they purport to benefit, while simultaneously making possible capital accumulation on a scale otherwise impossible. In 1992 The Ecologist(which had already played a pivotal role in advancing emerging green critiques of industrial societies that take growth as a central objective, and of the multilateral lending and development agencies who promote the extension of such destructive societies) published yet another influential critique. This time they attributed much environmental deterioration to the forces unleashed by the global enclosure process, while noting that resistance always accompanies assaults on commons regimes (The Ecologist 22(4).) This analysis has struck a responsive chord and has been rapidly and widely re-published.
Another common denominator to popular ecological resistance movements, and related to the critique of enclosure, is the rejection of economic growth and industrialization as desirable social goals.10 Dieter Rucht (1989), for example, finds that anti-industrial attitudes are increasingly widespread among environmentalists from many cultures, dividing them into radical and reformist camps. In this volume, Lorentzen, Tandon, and Akula well illustrate Hadsell's observation that the very idea of sustainability, originally borrowed from international sectors, is an increasingly important organizing principle for these movements. Indeed, Hadsell's point that "sustainability" serves as an important "ideological resource" for popular environmental movements can be generalized widely. Thus, within popular environmental movement analysis, an important trend is to view growth and industrialization as illusions offered by elites to keep ordinary people from defending and promoting appropriate and sustainable alternatives.
Finally, another critique common among popular ecological resistance movements in both affluent and less affluent countries is of the scale of governance. Popular ecological resistance movements seek to gain greater local autonomy (or preserve it) against the encroachment of national and international centers of power (see especially Hill and others, and Tandon). Thus a common denominator related to commons defense and restoration, and the rejection of industrial lifeways, is the fundamentally democratic impulse to bring decision making back to local populations. Observing such commonalities, Guha (1993) suggests that there is a remarkable congruence between the anti-industrialism and anti-imperialism of Gandhi and his followers, and the bioregional social ecology of ecotopian visionaries such as Murray Bookchin who promote decentralized economics, participatory democracy, and "appropriate" technology.
Despite the common critique of the scale of governance in the modern world, popular ecological resistance movements are seldom revolutionary. Most of these movements envision neither the overthrow nor the withering away of nation-states. They seek, rather, to wrest concessions from them, to protect or reclaim access to and control over land, and then to secure government compliance with such concessions. Those involved in popular ecological resistance movements are rarely utopian; they cannot afford to be. Even in contexts characterized by greater affluence, most activists recognize that, at least presently, their victories depend on federal legislation or legal rulings. Involvement in ground-level campaigns often tempers ideology with pragmatism. While radical environmentalists nearly always have anarchistic leanings and desire comprehensive decentralization, many know that the most important environmental victories have usually resulted from federal legislation or legal rulings which contravene the desires of local communities. This has been especially true in the United States, as well as in Australia, where large tracts of Tasmanian forest were saved by federal power, not public sentiment (Hay 1992:95). A need for pragmatism is likewise evident to activists who seek to prevent or reverse oceanic and atmospheric degredation--tasks which can be accomplished only through comprehensive international agreements, regulations and enforcement. The unlikelihood that such agreements will emerge through "politics as usual" is one key reason for the militancy of those radical environmental groups who attend to these issues.
Those involved on the front lines of ecological resistance generally recognize that concessions gained depend on the enforcement powers of the nations or states from which they were won; otherwise the elites whose privileges have been restricted may use their superior wealth and power to thwart popular victories. Moreover, even the most radical within popular ecological resistance movements recognize that the law enforcement agents they despise are often in a position to protect them from the illegal attacks of those whose interests they oppose.
By examining how those engaged in popular ecological resistance perceive the causes and consequences of environmental deteriorization we can better comprehend how they justify their militant and sometimes illegal tactics. Given their distrust of existing political processes and their relative lack of power, they experiment with a wide variety of oppositional tactics. But whatever the means chosen, the attempt to restore or defend commons regimes fundamentally challenges landowners' ability to control and exploit the land for their own benefit.
In practical terms, the broad priority of popular ecological resistance movements is to protect land from corporate expropriation. As popular environmental movements seek to defend or restore the integrity of ecosystems (sometimes believing they have intrinsic value, more often to preserve their own livelihoods and health) they also seek to restore commons regimes, even when they do not conceptualize their struggle using such terms. Only when the land is reclaimed or secured, movement activists are convinced, can ecosystem health be restored and sustainable lifeways recovered. Only when they control the land and its uses, these activists believe, is there hope for both it and themselves. To summarize,renewing sustainable lifeways is the overall objective of popular ecological resistance movements, and this depends on the restoration of the commons.
This priority is related to a second objective--not to seize the government--but rather to capture its authority over specific places and to prevent the wider extension of its power. Such ambitions derive from the perception that governments are or represent the very elites monopolizing scarce resources.
There is an additional trend that buttresses our argument that popular ecological resistance movements presage the global emergence of radical environmentalism. Increasingly, participants in these movements are expressing the literally radical idea that, to resolve our ecological predicament, we must "return to our roots"--specifically, our traditional agri-cultural roots. By supplanting non-native plant species (that were imported by imperial powers for cash-crop agri-business) with native species and more traditional agricultural practices, it is hoped healthy ecosystems can be restored (see Tandon, Lorentzen, Gedicks, and Lohmann, and Wisner in this volume, and Shiva 1988). In a similar way, other groups are resisting modern forestry and fishing practices, hoping to supplant them with more traditional ways of taking trees or fish or game (see Hill and others, and Hadsell). Such efforts challenge current social, economic, and environmental realities as fundamentally as do direct assaults on elite domination of land. Of course, such radical efforts to recover traditional lifeways usually depend on equally radical campaigns to recover and secure the land.
The preceding analysis suggests that despite great diversity, popular ecological resistance movements generally share a common perception of their predicament (environmental deterioration is threatening survival), a common understanding of the causes (outsiders have stolen the land and are abusing it for short-term profits, they are fencing out those who know best how to live sustainably, and nation-states are deeply complicit in this process), and a common prescription (the land must be taken from the abusers and managed according to traditional wisdom, supplemented judiciously by modern knowledge, while vigilance is maintained against those who would usurp the commons for private gain). Such shared perceptions unify and make clear the radical agenda of popular ecological resistance movements around the globe.
Although specific situations give rise to particular political objectives, all ecological resistance movements call for a fundamental reordering of land uses, and thus of many political and economic relationships. In this sense, these movements are radical in orientation. This is not lost on those whose interests they threaten. Consequently, activists in ecological resistance movements have faced widespread reactionary violence, especially where elites fear such movements might succeed. Several case studies in the present volume provide examples of such violent reaction (see especially Gedicks, Akula, and Porio). However, these cases do not convey a sense of the extent of such violence.
In Brazil, where popular movements of rural workers and tribals have been particularly strong--where there have been repeated land invasions (or "recoveries") by peasants, and rubbertappers have confronted loggers, sometimes with hundreds of families, occasionally even tearing down their camps (Melone 1993)--the Pastoral Land Commission reports over 1,684 rural workers killed between 1964 and 1992 (Monbiot 1993). In the Philippines several of the most prominent popular environmental leaders have been murdered (Broad and Cavanagh 1993). In 1985, agents of the French government killed a Greenpeace photographer when they bombed a ship being equipped to disrupt a French nuclear test (Dalton 1993).
In 1990, two Earth First! forest activists were the targets of a car-bombing while they campaigned to save the California redwoods. Immediately afterward they were arrested and accused of carrying the bomb that injured them. They have a case pending against Federal and State law enforcement agencies for false arrest, and believe that law enforcement may even be complicit in the bombing itself (Bari 1994). We could detail other examples. As reactionary violence has escalated, so has the number of instances where members of popular ecological resistance movements threaten to "fight to the death" in defense of their lands and livelihoods. Some have already used violence. Others have turned to arson or forms of sabotage that place human lives at risk. The apparent escalation of a violent dimension to these conflicts is likely to continue because the conditions leading to ecological radicalism and reactionary violence show no signs of abating.
Many impacts of popular ecological resistance movements have already been discussed in this volume. Here I will emphasize just a few of the major points. First, these movements have had an impact on public awareness of environmental issues and problems. They and their sympathizers (including anthropologists and filmmakers, human rights groups and rock stars) have contributed significantly to global awareness of the contemporary extinction crisis and other environmental calamities. As Litfin (1993:102) points out, and Wapner and Kamieniecki contend in this volume, in the absence of grassroots ecological resistance, it is unlikely that an urbanized humanity's understanding of such issues would have developed to the extent that it has (1993:102).
Second, these movements have had clear political impacts. By challenging the legitimacy of the state to determine who owns, controls and benefits from the land, by challenging its plans, intentions and bureaucratic-scientific expertise, by haranguing states for failing to address the threats posed by environmental deterioration, these movements are significantly reducing the range of autonomous state action--reducing the spheres where states can pursue their own objectives without consulting with and granting concessions to popular movements. Consequently, popular ecological resistance is already significantly contributing to the contemporary erosion of state power, and promises to do so further in the coming decades. As concessions are won, so is confidence that, sometimes the weak can thwart the strong, popular pressure can bring victories, and with vigilance, compliance with concessions can sometimes be secured. As Edwards explains, crude and rude protest often works, and as Lohmann adds, government environmental action generally follows popular action. Moreover, as both Edwards and Kamieniecki argue, the presence of radical environmental ideas and tactics makes moderate environmentalists seem reasonable by comparison, and more concretely, their obstructionist tactics sometimes provide time for moderates to gain concessions or victories by less militant means.
Third, these movements have altered the "constitutive rules" (Lipschutz and Mayer 1993) governing a variety of land use practices. Radical environmental groups have been effective in shifting environmental debate around the world from issues of aesthetics and wildlife conservation to more comprehensive and fundamentally challenging issues of biological and cultural diversity. An important part of this process was when grassroots environmental activists rejected the leadership of the mainstream environmental groups, embarrassing them by accusing them of being members of an elite leisure class, concerned only with their own enjoyment of visually spectacular places and "charismatic mega-fauna." Radical environmental groups argued instead that a priority should be placed on the conservation of biologically important ecosystem types.
Such challenges have contributed to some change in the public rhetoric and actual priorities of the mainstream groups as well to shifting rhetoric among many nations and international agencies. Of course some within these organizations were also arguing for such changes in priorities, but it is difficult to imagine that such changes would have occurred as they did without the militant challenges posed by radical environmental groups. Mainstream environmental groups in the U.S. are increasingly making the conservation of biological diversity a high priority. Even though substantive political commitment to biological diversity and the preservation of the global commons have not followed the rhetoric--the rules are changing. Governments and international agencies must now present at least a facade of concern about biological and cultural diversity. Even extractive enterprises such as the timber industry must now claim that their practices are sustainable and compatible with biological diversity. Moreover, they increasingly recognize that false claims could lead to legal challenges, fiscal problems, and public relations disasters. (The chapters by Hadsell, Gedicks, Wapner and Lohmann especially well demonstrate how "development" is increasingly threatened by popular resistance, international attention, and changing values that are often expressed in demands for environmental impact assessments and sustainable land uses.) These are relatively new political realities for which radical environmental movements can claim significant credit. As increasing numbers of social actors are forced to justify their practices as sustainable, popular environmental groups gain significant new leverage in their political struggles.
It should also be noted that many of the groups studied in this volume have won significant outright victories (Gedicks, Akula, Porio, Lohmann, Tandon). Nevertheless, as Gedicks points out, most such victories could be overturned in the future.
Despite the repression radical environmental movements often face, it may be that they will continue to transform international politics in important ways. Moreover, all the available evidence suggests that the social conditions giving rise to these movements are worsening. Thus, it seems likely that the coming decades will witness further proliferation of popular ecological resistance. As Broad and Cavanagh explain, "The ranks of the opposition grow [with] the degredation of resources and peoples" (1993: 156). Yet there are obstacles to the proliferation and growth of these movements.
For example, it is likely that the conflicts they engender will be increasingly violent. One reason for this is that the conflicts fostered by radical environmental resistance seem destined to become intertwined with competing religious perspectives. This is partly because conservative Christians often believe that ecological resistance movements are animated either by forms of Christianity they consider false or misguided (such as Liberation Theology) or by pagan spiritualities they consider demonic. Moreover, many supporters of ecological resistance movements agree that these conflicts are grounded in fundamentally different religious worldviews--or as Banuri and Marglin (1993) put it, differing "systems of knowledge." It is not surprising to find religion deeply involved in conflicts such as these, since historically, economic interests nearly always become linked to religious worldviews and legitimations.
Also critical to the future of these movements is the role of international solidarity actors. As the contributions by Hadsell, Gedicks and Lohmann demonstrate, international actors make violent repression more difficult by making such violence visible. They also can provide important ideological, technical, and financial resources, help navigate legal processes, and counter government and corporate reassurances about "development" schemes. Yet the extent to which such international actors will contribute to the proliferation of popular ecological resistance remains unclear.
Equally important to the future of these movements will be the success of international alliances among these groups themselves. This will depend at least in part on how successful peoples alliances will be in gathering resources from international sectors and making visible their local struggles for self-determination, local land control, and sustainable lifeways. Many of the movements in this volume are clearly building the types of broad coalitions, addressing diverse but related issues, that are likely to be sustainable over time (see Kamieniecki and others).
Radical environmentalism, in its many forms, poses fundamental questions about meaning and values. In dispute, as Dan Deudney has explained elsewhere in this volume, are answers about which if any religions are intellectually plausible in the modern era, an era informed by astronomy and evolutionary biology. A related question has to do with what knowledge systems, what worldviews, are adaptive, that is to say congruent with the long-term flourishing of life on this planet. This leads us back to our initial reflections on narratives--do any of the stories we have been confronted by in this volume move us? Do any of these stories of ecological resistance, international solidarity, spiritual and cultural renewal and revisioning, make sense?
Must the religious mysticisms of deep ecology and primal peoples be jettisoned--as Stark contends, and replaced by human knowledge about how to live sustainably and peacefully gained through the natural and social sciences? Or should we instead--as is argued by deep ecologists such as Max Oelschlaeger (1991), Gary Snyder (1990), David Abram (1995) and Lone Wolf Circles (1991)--return to the lifeways and spiritualities of small scale societies, with their perception of nature as full of spiritual intelligences and sacred places? Should we await new religions or return to traditional spiritualities, as Tandon suggests, allowing ourselves to be guided by "the ancestors" or spirit mediums? Or should we rather--as Deudney in this volume (and 1993), and Theodore Roszak (1992) propose--synthesize such primal spiritualities with more scientifically respectable notions like the Gaia hypothesis, and the "new physics," to create new religious stories capable of promoting the kind of trans-border (and trans-species) loyalty to the earth and her creatures that seems so desperately needed?
This volume illustrates that popular ecological resistance is fueled most decisively by the conflicts that arise from the extension of industrial processes globally and from the consequences of these processes where they have already been established. Yet this volume also shows that the success and impacts of social movements depends not only on how desperate are the material conditions giving rise to them. Nor do the impacts of these movements depend solely on the material resources they can muster. The success and impacts of these movements also hinges on how compelling are the ideas and stories that undergird these struggles. Among the unresolved questions emerging from our study of the global emergence of radical environmentalism are whether the ideas that are emerging from it, as amorphous and nascent as they may be, can provide the kind of inspiration able to sustain movements that face very long odds indeed. Another line of inquiry posed but unanswered by this volume is why movements of popular ecological resistance have not emerged elsewhere where environmental conditions, motivations, ideas, cultures, and so on, are comparable.
Although often originating in the quest to meet basic human needs, these movements nevertheless pose fundamental and enduring questions. They also offer as answers a host of new narrative amalgamations, based on both old and new perceptions and stories. It may well be that contemporary environmental disputes, as with many previous historical conflicts, will continue to be deeply embroiled in the differing ways people conceive of the sacred: Is the Divine located above or beyond the world? Is the Sacred located, instead, right under our feet, or in "our" place rather than "your" place? Ought we revere the Earth as Gaia, the one responsible for our own existence? Or rather, is the Divine in some sense the Universe itself, with all the entities sacred, because in a mysterious way they all participate in the life of God?
Complicating matters further, how in the world do stories based in astronomy and evolutionary biology fit in? Some suggest that the narrative of the unfolding of the universe provides a compelling story into which humans can locate themselves, discovering their proper place (Swimme and Berry 1992). Others discuss how evolutionary narratives themselves and ecological understandings of interdependence confer a proper perception of the human place in nature, helping people to see that they are but one part of the natural world, and not even the most important one at that, but nevertheless a part with unusual responsibilities to the whole (Milbrath 1993). How are we to weave such narratives into the host of other stories spun throughout our cultures? -- such as enlightenment stories of people learning to act rationally, universalizing moral principles, and promoting democratic polity? -- or stories of the historical unfolding of the idea of human rights? -- or stories depicting the kinship of all creatures?
Such questions lead to a perplexing ending for this volume exploring the global emergence of radical environmentalism and popular ecological resistance. Whatever the impacts, prospects and diverse forms these movements take--however we evaluate these diverse stories or the propositions embedded in them--whatever we conclude about who we are, where we fit, to whom we belong, and how we should live in the immense universe that surrounds us--these movements pose fundamental, radical questions. The answers can only be discerned through a life lived passionately and intelligently in their pursuit.