A Brief Introduction to Earth First! and the Global Ecological Crisis


by Panagioti Tsolkas / Earth First! Newswire

Cover of the book from Greece which this text originally appeared in

[Author’s note: The following text was included in a version of the article “No System but the Ecosystem” which was published last year in a Greek anthology on ecology and anarchism. This portion of the text was never published in English, but I thought it could offer a valuable introduction to those new to the ecological resistance movement. For more on Earth First! (EF!) and its recent history, check out the articles “No System but the Ecosystem” and “A Decade of Earth First! Action in the Climate Movement”]

For those new to Earth First!, it can be described in a single sentence as a movement of people committed to stopping the destructive expansion of industrial society by (1) using direct action, (2) presenting a no-compromise strategy and (3) promoting a biocentric worldview.

These three tenets haven’t changed much, though the environmental movement surrounding them has changed in some significant ways.[1] EF! has survived as a movement without central bureaucracy or formal membership, facing the massive system of industrialism and daunting state repression, in large part due to inspiration and cohesion provided by these tenets. They are worth exploring further.

Biocentrism – This is a worldview that says we are one part of the earth’s complex of living systems, we are not above them. Deep Ecology is a synonym, generally referring to a philosophy or spiritual practice that entails a hands-on approach to biocentrism.

Biocentric theory has given rise to other related concepts, such as bioregionalism (the belief that human activity, including environmental and social policies, should be based on ecological or geographical boundaries rather than economic or political boundaries), or permaculture (designing and engineering living systems for food, water and community life).

No Compromise – This was initially a response to the spineless liberals and corporate sell-outs of the mainstream environmental movement, but it has become a key component of a successful overall strategy to win long-term and short-term goals. In its most visionary way, it can be thought of as such: if someone is threatening friends or family, no decent person would offer to sacrifice some to save others—they would stand together and fight for the best possible outcome.

In its practical application it often means pushing the center of a dialogue in order to expand the realm of what is considered possible. Without someone like EF!, groups like Sierra Club or the Green Party are perceived as the environmental extreme. With the presence of EF!, the spectrum of liberal to radical has been shifted in the general favor of ecological goals.[2] It’s also worth noting that his tenet is a strategy for dealing with industrial enemies, not internal conflicts.

Direct Action – Without this one, the other two tenets are just words on paper. Along with the immediate result of confronting destruction to slow or stop it, it is within these moments of confrontation with the industrial system that space is created for alternatives to it become urgent mandates with visible social consequences.

These three tenets are further examined throughout the text of “No System but the Ecosystem”.

To those unfamiliar with ecological crisis and unaccustomed to anarchist analysis, these tenets may sound extreme or impractical. A review of some facts on the global context shows the tenets to be appropriately urgent.

A quick lesson on catastrophes in ecology and environmental justice:

  • The current rate of species extinction on the planet: dozens every day[3]

  • Amount of nuclear waste produced in the US alone: 8 thousand tons per year[4]

  • The increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere since industrialism began: rapidly reaching 400 ppms[5]

  • The amount of land destroyed by dams around the world: Over 154,400 square miles [400,000 square kilometers] flooded[6]

  • The amount of land blasted apart by surface mining for coal: Over 8.4 million acres in the US alone[7]

  • Percent of old-growth forests remaining: In the US, less than 10 percent; less than 1 percent in Europe (with the exception of Russia)[8]

  • Size of islands made of trash in the ocean: more than twice the size of Texas[9]

  • Decimation of the Australian Aboriginal population: 90% by 1900[10]

  • Percentage of African-Americans more likely to live in areas of high density industrial pollution than white people: 79%[11]

  • Loss of languages representative of intact human cultures: One every 14 day[12]

There are absolutely no signs that the Manifest Destiny mindset behind these atrocities will stop at the planetary borders of the Earth. In fact, this society has already launched an attack on the moon’s surface in pursuit of lunar resource extraction, where, according to NASA, “an abundant presence of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane could be exploited to produce fuel.” And companies are starting to line up for permits to bring industrial extraction to extraterrestrial levels.[13]

That should sufficiently scratch the surface of the industrial nightmare, scare the shit out of anyone with a working brain, and hopefully fill them with a righteous anger to act on.



[1]Among the most noteworthy: (1) the rise of a climate-focused movement which, at times, seems more interested in counting carbon particles that protecting ecosystems, and (2) the rise of civil disobedience among mainstream liberal NGOs.

[2] This is most clearly indicated by the evolution of public dialogue and policy surrounding issues such as old-growth logging, wilderness corridors and biotechnology. All were put on the map largely by radical groups, since liberals were nervous about sounding too extreme, but have since become normalized concepts.

[3]Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century. Source: Chivian, E. and A. Bernstein (eds.)  2008. Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity. Center for Health and the Global Environment. Oxford University Press, New York.

[4]The US is the largest nuke generating country in the world. Between the massive nuclear weapons testing, atomic bombs dropped on Japan and nuke plant melt downs in Chernobyl and Fukushima, there are few places on the planet which remain entirely untouched by nuclear radiation. Source: http://www.statista.com/topics/1087/nuclear-power/

[5]350 part per million (ppms) is regarded as level for inhabitable planet. On May 10, 2013, NOAA & Scripps reported daily averages that temporarily reached 400 ppm. Source: co2now.org

[6]This number is from back in 2001. The permanent inundation of forests, wetlands and wildlife is the most obvious ecological effect of a dam. But it’s not only the amount of land lost which is important. River and floodplain habitats are some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Source: http://www.internationalrivers.org/rivers-no-more-the-environmental-effects-of-large-dams

[7]“The Footprint of Coal” used data available up till 1977, with estimates from the OSM up to 2008. Source: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/The_footprint_of_coal

[8]While definitions of “old-growth” vary around the world, reports all show forests are going down faster than they are growing up, at a rate of net-loss that replanting efforts still can’t even keep up with. Sources: (1) http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/features/science/34550-scientists-ask-obama-to-protect-old-growth-forest (2) http://atlas.aaas.org/index.php?part=2&sec=eco&sub=forests (3) http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C56/forests_2012

[9]“Giant Garbage Patch Floating in the Pacific” Oct 2007. Source: http://phys.org/news112248742.html

[10] This is the estimated number of people killed by British colonialism in Australia between 1788 and 1900. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Indigenous_Australians

[11]Source: Ejnet.org

[12] By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, primarily due to colonial resource wars Source: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/vanishing-languages/rymer-text

[13]“NASA Missions Uncover the Moon’s Buried Treasures” press release from Nasa, Oct 2010. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2010/10-89AR.html and “Moon Mining Rush Ahead? A commercial space company wants the U.S. government to give it lunar mining rights.” Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131113-lunar-property-rights-bigelow-nasa/

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