We are a group of eco-warriors drawn together by common principles and a great love for the natural communities of the Hudson River Valley in New York. We generally meet in Orange County, Purchase, or NYC.
Earth First! is not an organization, but a movement. The only offices we occupy are those we storm during actions. Our version of green technology is the equipment we devise to blockade roads and lock ourselves to machinery. We carry grassroots organizing, home demonstrations, climbing gear, and bike locks in our tool bag. Our actions attempt to deliver an appropriate response to the violence against the living world.
The principles that unite all Earth First! groups are direct action, eco-justice, respect for all life, and a “no compromise” stance.
Some groups encourage people to vote with their dollars by buying the green products. Other groups spend their time trying to persuade politicians to make sensible decisions. We have no money and no faith in the political system. We take direct action because corporations and governments are often driving the bulldozer we are trying to stop and cannot be counted on to end the destruction. It’s not that the system is broken; it was never meant to work for the Earth. Instead of asking nicely and waiting for results, we go directly to the source: corporations, their financers or government agencies. Direct action can mean shutting down a construction site, taking back foreclosed homes, blocking traffic with a pack of bicycles or defacing storefronts. It cuts through all the red tape and puts the power back in our hands.
We do not believe that we are all responsible for the destruction of our ecosystems. While many of us need to reduce our level of waste and consumption, it was not our idea to build nuclear power plants, invade Iraq, or drain wetlands, nor have we gotten rich off of these attacks on the Earth. The people responsible for these attacks have names and addresses and should be held accountable for what they have done to make a quick buck.
We are globally linked through a system of neo-colonialism that takes resources from the least powerful and delivers it to the most powerful. We stand together with those who are most negatively impacted by this plunder: rural folks trying to make ends meet, people of color, indigenous people and other land-based people. We make friends at the county jail, not at county commission meetings.
Respect for All Life
The Earth, its wildlife and its peoples are not for sale and cannot be commodified. We are an inseparable part of a larger natural community. While it is alright for us to take from the Earth for our basic needs, we do not have a right to take it all. It is not up to humans to decide which species live or die.
This modern culture has never focused on the needs of the Earth, but nowadays it’s not even focused on people. The needs of the economy are now more important than life, human or otherwise. This is the rise of the death culture, where money and machines rule. In this culture, people only matter when they are helping make more money for the rich by destroying the Earth. The Earth is only valued when it is turned into products like lumber, gasoline or computers. The importance of dead things, like stock markets and oilfields, are put before the health of the land and its people.
We stand against this death culture. We stand for life. The idea of balancing the needs of the economy with the needs of the environment is contradictory; we need herons and otters more than we need millionaires.
Since all life is equally valuable, we cannot compromise a piece of the atmosphere for a forest elsewhere, nor will we be satisfied with ethanol as a replacement for gasoline. We have compromised too much already. We are not ashamed to demand the infeasible or to be bold with our actions. If we compromise for anything less than sustainable societies, we are dooming ourselves to be scavengers on a dead planet.
Many other groups come to the table with a compromise and leave with even less. They try to find ways to make small changes without upsetting the powerful. We start off our campaigns planning to win and to get everything that we want. We do whatever it takes to win.
We are not alone in this fight. The world is filled with people who are no longer willing to ask for change and hope for results. These people understand that this is a fight we cannot lose.
Bless Their Hearts
Coal is not, was not and never can be a clean energy source. The entire process from mining, to burning for electricity, to storage, is destructive to the Earth. Utilities in North Carolina are the largest purchasers of mountaintop removal-mined coal. Mountaintop removal mining destroys the rich ecosystems of Appalachia, and the resilient culture of its people, while coal-burning plants release toxins into the air and coal sludge ponds release them into the water. Every time a dam breaks on a coal sludge pond, it is more disastrous than an oil tanker spill. North Carolina has 19 sludge ponds, each one biding its time. We cannot wait for slow phase-outs 50 years into the future. Coal plants should have been shut down 20 years ago.
First they took our trees and our land. Then they took our people. After they had taken our oil, our rivers, our mountains and it seemed like there was nothing left to take, they came to take away our wind and our sun.
Many in the climate movement feel that they need to push for alternatives to fossil fuels. Before we embrace new sources of electricity we must ask who will control this energy source and what its large-scale effects are. Hydroelectric dams, like the Fontana and Hiwassee, were once championed as a clean energy source but are now threatening fish and freshwater mussels in the Little Tennessee River. Both of these dams are owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), an expansive quasi-governmental corporation. It that was also responsible for the Kingston sludge spill and subsequent cover-up, one of the largest man-made disasters in US history. Is this the future of wind and solar farms?
Climate change and ecological devastation were not caused by fossil fuels; they were caused by greedy and short-sighted development. We have yet to address the power of corporations and the level of consumption of our society. Until we do, any new technology we use will be equally devastating. Before we trade the old mule for a new horse, let’s remember that it’s a load of shit in the cart it’s pulling.
Most of us have succumbed at some point to the allure of “green” products. It’s the chocolate that claims to stop climate change, or the coffee that claims to stop rainforest destruction. At a time when things seem so frighteningly hopeless, along come the snake oil peddlers to alleviate our fears. They say, “Worried that we’ve changed the chemistry of the atmosphere? If you just buy our product, it will all go away!”
For example, International Paper has always made huge profits off of forest destruction. Public outcry over chipmills and the destruction of rare forests led it to join with other giants in the paper industry to form the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). This front group allows the industry to claim that it has cleaned up its practices without getting a third party involved. SFI certifies projects that convert native forests to pine plantations and use unlimited amounts of herbicides as “sustainable”. International Paper has developed a greenwash strategy that combines getting its pulp certified through SFI, adding a minimal amount of recycled material to its line of products, and occasionally donating surplus land to the Nature Conservancy. While teaching schoolchildren about the importance of planning trees and sustainability, International Paper is still actively clearcutting, ditching and draining forested wetlands, as well as destroying rare forests like the Green Swamp, home to the red-cockaded woodpecker and Venus fly-traps.
These corporate and governmental ideas of sustainability narrow our options and distract us from real change. There is no indication that ecological collapse has slowed because of carbon offsets or green gadgets. Only when we stop being consumers and work together as a community can we develop appropriate responses to this crisis