There was quite a furor last week over a headline in this fine village tri-weekly that indicated that open flames might be banned in cases where they posed a danger of, I don't know, burning down a multiple dwelling. The philosophy seems to be that if you own your own home and want to take your chances on your barbecue grill, that's up to you, but you can't endanger others who don't get the opportunity to try the brisket. Go figure.
At the same time there was an incident up in a suburb of Seattle wherein several luxury homes under construction were burned down under the signature of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), an eco-terrorist group. Whether it was ELF or not, the incident was clearly an act of eco-terrorism. Eco-terrorism is defined by the FBI's Domestic Terror Section as "the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature." That last part is kind of problematic, I think – there is nothing symbolic about burning down buildings – at least not to the owners of the buildings or to their insurance companies. It has been estimated that the damage caused by environmentalist sabotage from 1980 to 1999 amounted to $42.8 million. Since 2003 the FBI has credited "eco-terrorists" with $200 million dollars in property damage. Pretty big symbols, even with the dollar at a long-time low in value.
Back in the '70's, people who were opposed to that decade's war had a saying that, translated for a family newspaper, went something like "fighting for peace is like (having carnal relations) for chastity." That analogy would seem to apply here. As one who cares about the environment, I can't imagine better ammunition for those we oppose than acts of wanton, meaningless, and hypocritical destruction.
The question for me is what these supposed environmentalists are attempting to accomplish. I consider myself an environmentalist – I've consulted to the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations and I would match my credentials in this area with almost anyone. Within that, different people have different environmental concerns – global warming, fossil fuels, recycling, air pollution, water pollution, etc. What all of us have in common, though, is a respect, even reverence for the environment and for nature and a real commitment to finding a way for human technology to interact with the natural world in a way that includes what is important to both. These eco-terrorists, on the other hand, seem, to think that we should abandon all technology and go back to living in the forest. What I don't understand is how they rationalize their actions. For example, by burning down those houses under construction, they assured that twice as much lumber (as in "from trees") would be used, they added smoke and particulates to the air, and in general acted in a manner that was about as environmentally responsible as driving a Hummer.
According to sources in the Washoe County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies consider eco-terrorism to be a far greater threat to us here at Lake Tahoe than international or other forms of political terrorism. Given what we've seen in Seattle last week and at Northstar a couple of years ago, it behooves each of us to be vigilant. In post-9/11 New York there are signs in the subway, on buses, on trains and in the street that say "if you see something, say something." The non-emergency number for the Incline Substation is 832-4110. The Sheriff's office and the Fire District would rather respond to ten calls that turn out to be nothing than to miss one that is the real deal, so if you see something, say something.