This article was originally published in Outlook: The Libertarian Monthly Volume III, No. 2, May 1972, p. 18.

Review: Ecotage

by Roy Halliday

Ecotage!, a mixture of ecology and sabotage, is the title of a recent book edited by Sam Love and David Obst. It is a product of the "First National Contest in Ecotage--or how to make the corporate polluters shape up." It comprises the "best" entries sent from all over the country. I read the book hoping to find some suggestions for defending life and property from destruction by polluters, but was sadly disappointed with the quality of the majority of the selections. Instead of serious proposals for self-defense against the poisoners of our air and water, many of the suggestions were merely pranks rationalized by ecological rhetoric. Few of the suggestions were motivated by self-defense. or love of life; most were petty punishment schemes and zany brainstorms. Let the punishment fit the pollution is the theme of this little book.

Ecotage is a compilation of suggestions for taking the law into your own hands and punishing polluters to deter them from continuing the destruction of our environment. It starts with the assumption (perhaps valid) that we cannot afford to wait for the courts to act. (The government is controlled by the polluters anyway.) One problem this book has is that the suggestions for action reveal no understanding of what constitutes pollution other than it is bad and should be stopped. The suggestions, therefore, generally boil down to the formula: find something you donít like and destroy it, or harass the person responsible for it until he changes it to suit your liking. For example, if you find a billboard to be distasteful (as many of the bookís contributors do), destroy it, burn it, tear it down, paint it, change it to suit your taste. If you donít like produce packages that are not biodegradable, use the packages to barricade the stores that sell them and donít let anyone do business there until they start doing things your way. If someone starts to construct a shopping center or housing development where you prefer to see trees, donít let the, foul up their plans, take their tools and building materials, regardless of whose property it is. Donít let anyone do anything without your approval.

The authors of many of these suggestions have no respect for private property; on the contrary, they seem to think that the private property system is a cause of the pollution problem. They assume that they have as much right (or even the only right) to decide what is to be done with any parcel of land or any natural resources as the people actually using them.

Some of the suggestions seem to come from a mentality that places the rights of trees and flowers and insects above human rights. For example, one opponent of housing developments wrote,

In this land live a countless number of plants, animals and insects. It will soon be plowed up for houses for more people. These poor things, unlike the people who will someday live here, have no chance of moving. (p. 37)
What is to stop them from doing away with human beings they donít like? Suppose they decide that fat, ugly old ladies are offensive and use up too many natural resources that could be better used for giving life to flowers and trees. How long will it be before we hear ecotage suggestions for recycling useless old ladies into plant fertilizer?

Reading the imaginative and sadistic punishments proposed in this book is almost enough to make me glad that the government maintains a monopoly on punishment and protects us from these would-be vigilantes.

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