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Earth First! is an anarchical movement relying heavily on the tenets of deep ecology. Earth First!ers embrace a biocentric philosophy whereby the earth and its many natural components receive the highest and utmost protection and consideration in any decision. You cannot become a member of Earth First!, as there is no membership. You cannot pay dues, as Earth First! is neither a club nor a nonprofit organization (like the Sierra Club). To become an Earth First!er one need only to take action in defense of the earth.
The Earth First! movement is said to have been born in a VW microbus in the spring of 1980 and to have been inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, and, most of all, Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. Environmental activists Dave Foreman and Mike Roselle, along with Wyoming Wilderness Society representatives Bart Koehler and Howie Wolke and former park ranger Ron Kezar, were upset by the actions of mainstream environmentalists and thus, according to the Earth First! history page at the Sierra Nevada Earth First! website, “envisioned a revolutionary movement to set aside multi-million acre ecological preserves all across the United States.”
Anyone is capable of forming his or her own Earth First! collective (group) to work on any environmental or social issue deemed important. The group’s self-description on its website notes that: while there is broad diversity within Earth First! from animal rights vegans to wilderness hunting guides, from monkeywrenchers to careful followers of Gandhi, from whiskey-drinking backwoods riffraff to thoughtful philosophers, from misanthropes to humanists there is agreement on one thing, the need for action!
Historically, Earth First!ers have worked to bring attention to issues such as logging, mining, grazing, wilderness protection, animal rights, transportation, development, endangered species, and so on. The online Earth First! Journal is a migrating literary collective of Earth First! activists. There is also a gathering and celebration of Earth First!ers called the Round River Rendezvous, in which fellow activists camp in a different national forest every July to meet new activists, organize campaigns, and celebrate the movement.
Earth First! is a mentality ascribed to by dedicated individuals who have taken a hard-line stance against anything human-induced that causes environmental and social deterioration, including capitalism, patriarchy, consumerism, corporate-state control, and technology. Often referred to as fringe or far left, the Earth First! movement represents a section of society (globally) whose official slogan is “No compromise in the defense of mother Earth.”
In terms of methodology, the worldwide Earth First! stance takes a “decidedly different tack toward environmental issues. We believe in using all the tools in the toolbox, ranging from grassroots organizing and involvement in the legal process to civil disobedience and monkeywrenching.”
Criticisms of Earth First! include the claim that the movement is “ecoterrorist.” Proponents insist that they support no violent acts, however, and most typical actions include unfurling banners, chaining protesters to logging equipment, sitting in trees, and blocking logging roads, all of which are nonviolent, though often illegal, acts.
Other critics suggest that the ecological and philosophical pillars of the movement may be flawed, including the fundamental concept of bioregionalism, which has been scrutinized for its romantic localism and antiurbanism, which may actually be environmentally unsustainable. Nevertheless, the critical ecocentric philosophy of Earth First! still makes it a galvanizing movement for a wide range of concerned activists.
- “About Earth First!” Earth First! Worldwide, www.earthfirst.org;
- Julia Butterfly Hill, The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).