The large mainstream environmentalism groups started compromising too much with regulatory agencies and bureaus, beginning with the Glen Canyon Dam project. This led to an estrangement with the mainstream and culminated in the rise of more militant groups like Earth First! Glen Canyon represented what was fundamentally wrong with the country’s conservation policies: arrogant government officials motivated by a quasi-religious zeal to industrialize the natural world, and a diffident bureaucratic leadership in the mainstream environmental organizations that willingly collaborated in this process. The mainstream environmental groups and government held the premise that mankind should control and manage the natural world. The radicals held that our technological culture, with its intrusions on the natural world, had to be curtailed, perhaps even undone, to keep the ecology of this planet and our role in it viable. This marked a shift from a rearguard strategy (mainstream) to protect wilderness to an affirmative attempt to roll back the artifacts of civilization, to restore the world to the point where natural processes such as the flow of rivers could continue. The mainstream environmental movement is now perceived by many as out of touch with people’s deep concern about environmental degradation and has become systematized.
The activists use approaches such as industrial vandalism or ecotage” to foster dramatic results. Other methods employed include tree spiking, tree sitting, road blockading, demonstrations, tree pinning, ship sinking, dam breaking, and outright terrorist-type sabotage such as bombing power stations, bridges, and power lines. There may be some complementary results of the efforts of both mainstream and radical groups. The large environmental organizations, while denouncing the radicals’ confrontational activities, have been able to use their ample finances to take the campaign to Congress or the courts with the impetus of public support generated by the radicals. With Soule’s quote, including “Vertebrate evolution may be at an end,” it means that the civilization complex has lost its reference point by overwhelming the natural processes it has always used to define itself.
The otherness of nature is disappearing into the artificial world of technology. As the environmental crisis worsens, we can expect increased attention directed at the ecological sciences, resource management, pollution control, and technological supervision of the reproduction of valued species, including humans. Toynbee writes that the ecological scarcity of the future will be so severe that within each of the beleaguered developed” countries, there will be a bitter struggle for control of their diminished resources. This conflict will inevitably lead to the imposition of authoritarian regimes. There is already evidence of “ecological elites” where power and status are increasingly measured not merely by economic control but by control over the ecology. Access to clean water, fresh air, open wild spaces, and natural products is competing with ownership of German cars and Swiss watches.
It is becoming the main preoccupation of political debate. As an example, even when a corporation decides to create an item through genetic or non-genetic engineering, it is often indirectly determining what species will be exterminated to increase profits, which habitats will be sacrificed for economic growth, and whose children will be allocated the toxic water, poisoned food, and radioactive living space. If the environmental crisis is causing us to reexamine and reject the accepted values of the civilization complex in its entirety, a unique event is taking place: the passing of civilization into history. Societal breakdown in the face of a continually deteriorating physical world may face many problems.
As stated above by historian Toynbee, a conflict may lead to the imposition of authoritarian regimes. Political scientist Ophuls offers a similar view, stating that in the light of ecological scarcity, the individualistic basis of society, the concept of inalienable rights, the purely self-defined pursuit of happiness, liberty as maximum freedom of action, and laissez-faire itself all require abandonment if we wish to avoid inexorable environmental degradation and perhaps extinction as a civilization.”
Economist Heilbroner sees this process of environmental disarray as transcending political distinctions between capitalist and socialist countries, regardless of conservative thinking that democratic” capitalism has triumphed over communism. He believes that the urgencies of the future point to the conclusion that only an authoritarian or possibly only a revolutionary regime will be capable of mounting the immense task of social reorganization needed to escape catastrophe. The story of the IK tribe and its analogy to the future of Western society in the face of continuing biological meltdown may prove true. We have had various authorities from a variety of disciplines reach similar conclusions about this unprecedented problem. It suggests, at the very least, that the environmental crisis has made our…