R/S: I read that Edward Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang was an inspiration, and furnished a model which you adapted.
EARTH FIRST: Abbey is kind of a cantankerous desert rat, as is pretty well known. He’s kind of anti-human in that he’s an outspoken critic of overpopulation. That’s something the environmental movement seems to stay away from. Back in the early ’70s we used to actually talk about the concept of growth and the threat of overpopulation, but now, that fact that the world population is five billion and still increasing is never mentioned by the Sierra Club or any of those groups. Abbey was willing to throw his opinions out and a lot of the time they made an incredible amount of sense. He’s taken a lot of flak, but on the other hand there are those who respect him for being so frank.
We call our theory deep ecology. A Norwegian philosopher named Arne Naess coined the term about 10 years ago. He was an academic ecologist who decided that you couldn’t just be an academic ecologist. If you really cared about the earth and all this biota that’s being destroyed, you had to take it out of the classroom and put it into practice in your personal life. That meant more than just buying recycled paper and voting for the conservation candidate. He started organizing to save rivers from being dammed and forests from being cut down, even resorting to civil disobedience.
He was also hammering away at the academic institutions that contain most of our knowledge about life on earth. Everybody was looking at it in such a narrow way—one person studied only frogs, another only hummingbirds. Even though they knew that there were less of a particular species of frog or hummingbird than there were 10 years ago, they weren’t making that leap and seeing that if you put all these numbers together, it spells disaster—that we have to do something if we want to survive on this earth, because it’s biological diversity that makes our life possible. It was necessary to extrapolate that human beings are not the Crown of Creation like the Christians had always insisted, but are just one of many citizens of a biological community.
What deep ecology espouses is ecological egalitarianism. It’s really a practical and logical extension of the civil rights movement! Are we really better than a wolf or a dolphin or a microorganism in the soil? Under the present-day legal system they have virtually no rights whatsoever, just like blacks and American Indians not so long ago.
Human beings have been divorced from the natural world for only a short period of time during their evolution. The longer that has progressed, the worse conditions have gotten. A very practical reason for adopting an ecological egalitarian world view is because it’s a question of survival. But also, if you felt it was important for people to struggle for their rights in the civil rights movement, then you’ll also want to do that for the other organisms.
I think that’s really the underlying philosophy of Earth First! We’re not doing this for “the babies.” We’re not doing this for “society.” To us, the highest goal would be to do something for earth (hence the name Earth First!), even though we live in a post-Pleistocene era in which the flora and fauna have been damaged beyond repair on this planet.
There was this time when a lot of conservationists were called druids, and were embarrassed because that means being called a tree-worshipper and a pagan. However, if you look at the druids, what you see are forest-dwelling human beings, indigenous people living in close harmony with the land. They were practicing their religion living in the forest, gathering wild plants and growing little gardens. These people didn’t fence in their pastures; they lived much closer to the earth—these so called “druids” and Germanic tribes known as “barbarians.” They were exterminated by the Christians, and I don’t think they were necessarily just stabbed and killed, I think they were wiped out when their forests were removed. By the 1600s in Europe, anything remotely resembling big wilderness had been destroyed.
A lot of environmentalists seem afraid to admit that they actually have a different world view than the person who is just following this path called “progress” and not questioning it. I think that at this stage we have to do more than question—we have to challenge it.