Burn, Baby, Burn

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When asked about Amster's argument, Rosebraugh says that the righteousness of the environmental cause validates the method, that the ends justify the means.

"We are already seeing signs of massive species extinction in both plants and non-human animals, and humans becoming sicker and sicker due to environmental reasons," he says. "I feel this is quite different from the Fascist Right burning down a synagogue. . . . That action . . . would only be of benefit to humans, and more specifically to white humans. It is a selfish act versus an act by the ELF that is designed to ensure life on the planet for all can continue."

So we race toward a conclusion, flying toward an endpoint, wondering where this discussion is going to end up. We've learned that if we strip away the knee-jerk moralizing and shrug off the plight of irked homeowners, there is a historical value in a popular movement having a violent fringe.

It is a dark-hearted "macro perspective" where we coldly realize that, yes, a continued eco-terrorist campaign will eventually cause physical harm, and, yes, since many lives are lost because of our increasingly toxic environment, a few well-publicized acts of destruction could theoretically accelerate environmental legislation to save lives and improve quality of life for everybody.

But that's not where this can end up. Surely not. As the man says, there's just gotta be a better way. There must be additional higher arguments that put the act of torching houses firmly back into its neat mental slot labeled "bad."

And, of course, there are. Blowing stuff up is the lowest common denominator protest. A tacky option for those who feel ineffectual, who cannot use their public life for significant change. Maximum publicity for minimum effort. Whereas the only reason you can still walk directly from Mill Avenue to "A" Mountain is because of the legal and massive public effort put forth by the Save Tempe Butte movement. It's been frustrating, and protesters may still lose, but they've effectively influenced public opinion. And influencing public opinion is what this battle is really all about.

Of course, that's just another macro perspective. But if you want the ultimate in environmental terrorism macro perspectives, go to Prescott and speak with a cabinetmaker named Mark Davis.

Davis is a former Earth First! monkeywrencher. In a 1989 sting operation, the FBI arrested five Earth First! members for attempting to cut down a power-line tower as a supposed dress rehearsal for sabotaging the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

As the operation's leader, Davis was sentenced to six years in a minimum-security prison. He served four. And while locked up, Davis says he charged himself with a new environmental mission.

"I decided to spend most of that time trying to figure out how we got ourselves into this mess," he says, "and what a possible way out might be."

So Davis read books about history. He read about biology. He read about sociology, psychology and sociobiology. He sat in his cell and read and read and then, in 1995, Davis was released. He was free once again, and he had found a peace, of sorts. After years of studying, Davis had come to a conclusion.

"The primary mission of all organisms is to survive and thrive," he says. "So when you consider the environment our species evolved in, they wanted to get fed, they wanted shelter and they wanted to get laid -- those are all short-term objectives. The animals that were successful bred, and those who didn't died. So we're literally wired for short-term thinking. And now we've created technologies in pursuit of our short-term gain that have long-term consequences. There is only a small core of people who can see such consequences, the people who actually think about such things. And if you spend a year or two doing that, you're going to discover we are in the throes of an incredible destruction. And most of us can't see that, because it's inconvenient to fulfilling our short-term needs."

In other words . . .

"We're stripping the world of pretty much everything we can take and will continue to do so, and I don't think there is any way to stop it."

Whatever we do, Davis concluded, is just "mitigating the damage." He says the term "environmentalist" doesn't mean anything to him anymore.

Wait, what about the Phoenix arsonist and the ELF?

What about young activists, just like his former self, missionaries who flout the law and put their freedom on the line for a better world?

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James Hibberd
Contact: James Hibberd