"The question is not whether we will be extremists,
but what kind of extremists we will be . . .
The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
-- Reverend Martin Luther King
To live content with small means,
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion,
to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy,
not rich,to study hard, think quietly, talk gently,
act frankly,to listen to stars and birds,
babes and sages, with open heart,
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely,
await occasions, hurry never - in a word,
to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.
-- William Ellery Channing
Mainstream media stories, and many members of the public, will often refer to the efforts of small bands of people who want to stop some defenseless animal from being killed or who want to end the destruction of the Earth's forests and oceans as being "extreme."
To me, the systematic destruction of the Earth's oceans, forests, and atmosphere to increase the profit of a few shareholders, the killing of animals to obtain furs for the rich, the butchering of majestic whales in high-tech Japanese ships in protected waters, and children who starve and die in the midst of vast abundance because profit for few is the top priority is extreme.
Think about your own reactions for a moment to the events listed below. What is your gut feeling? Do they seem extreme?
- Many activists, environmentalists, and scientists recommend that fish not be consumed at all due to the high levels of mercury that has been found in so many species.
- Every year in Seattle, the Northwest Animal Rights Network sponsors a demonstration against the Ringling Brothers circus when it comes to town. The circus train is met with banners, a protest march, and speeches decrying the cruelty of the circus.
- The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ship, the "Steve Irwin," with volunteers and Captain Paul Watson aboard, sailed to the icy waters of Antarctica to attempt to stop the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Their plan is to physically stop the whaling boats by thrusting their vessel between the whale and the pursuing ship. Their efforts are being broadcast around the world by the Animal Planet network on the show “Whale Wars.”
- Watson says these whalers broke laws that govern whaling by the International Whaling Commission, International Laws of the Sea, Antarctic Environmental Protection Act, The Convention of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and The World Charter for Nature. Some people call the Sea Shepherd activists terrorists.
Now look at the activities below that are triggering the above actions. What is your gut reaction to them? Do they seem extreme? Or do they seem to be just the consequences of progress?
- International standards for mercury in seafood continues to allow a dangerous mercury exposure level that is particularly threatening to infant children whose developing brains may be exposed to twice the amount of mercury that the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. EPA consider safe.
- Mercury pollution comes from many sources, but especially from burning coal to produce power in plants that pollute oceans and contaminate seafood. The Environment Working Group has repeatedly warned over the years that the Food and Drug Administration fails to protect consumers by not adequately informing the public to avoid certain contaminated fish species, including canned tuna, which are especially risky for children and pregnant women.
- Ringling Brothers is regularly accused by animal welfare groups of engaging in unlawful activities by routinely beating elephants to 'train' them, 'discipline' them, and keep them under control, by chaining them for long periods of time, by hitting them with sharp bull hooks, by 'breaking' baby elephants with force to make them submissive, and by forcibly removing nursing baby elephants from their mothers before they are weaned, with the use of ropes and chains." A former Ringling Bros. elephant trainer has joined the most recent lawsuit.
- The BBC reported a few years ago that schoolchildren in the western coastal district of Wakayama, Japan were being offered an unusual addition to their lunch menus - whale. The Wakayama education board was supplying whale meat to around 280 schools to increase the interest in whale meat around the country. All of the whale meat used in Japan comes from whales collected during “research” hunting.
- As of November, 2008, Japan had 2,000 tons of whale meat in frozen storage and has been trying to reduce their stockpiles by offering the meat to schools, nursery schools, and even the pet food industry. Why are they still hunting?
- According to Captain Watson, "Here we have Japan claiming that there is a subsistence need for whale meat in Japanese communities and at the same time they are directing a surplus from their illegal activities in Antarctica into pet food."
- The Sea Shepherd website says, "Whale and dolphin meat contain high levels of heavy metals, especially mercury. The level of toxicity in whale and dolphin meat has discouraged many Japanese consumers and is causing a surplus. This surplus is being processed into pet food. There are no other vessels, no governments, no other organizations that are stopping the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese, or enforcing the International Laws and Regulations that are made to help protect and preserve these endangered species. "
Many people classify the activist actions in the first list as extreme while the second list just represents progress and the quest for a better life.
This is not a natural, instinctive classification. It is one that has been carefully developed in us for the last 200 years in the United States by those who are interested only in short term gain.
Could anyone interested in a humane, sustainable future with abundance for all support the second list? Why are those who fight for the life support systems of the Earth and its people and animals considered extreme? Are those who fight those who would destroy our world terrorists because they refuse to honor rules made to support greedy industries?
The fundamental assumptions that we grew up with and live with today may ALL need to be thrown out. We need new assumptions, values, and ethics.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the word extreme to mean "extending far beyond the norm." It is shocking to me that some people can define toxic pollution and the resulting suffering and cruelty to be the norm.
Think about all the things we do each day that we call normal and routine. All the driving, consuming, wasting, and throwing away we do are just a part of just another day. Look at what a routine day in the United States brings:
200,000 tons of edible food is thrown out
313 million gallons of fuel, enough to drain 26 tractor-trailer trucks every minute, is used
18 million tons of raw materials are taken from the Earth
6.8 billion gallons of drinking water is used to flush toilets
1 million bushels of litter is thrown out of car windows
10,000 minks are added to the closets and coat racks of the wealthy
$200 million is spent on advertising
100 million board feet of wood is sawed
250,000 tons of steel is used
548,000 tons of paper is used
What if we all decide that we will work hard to define a new norm for us all? What if a normal day became driving as little as we can, buying nothing other than what we need to survive, not watching TV, not throwing anything out, and doing something to help someone who has nothing?
What's so extreme about that?
1. Learn of the efforts of the Sea Shepherd at: http://www.seashepherd.org/.
2. The Northwest Animal Rights Network can be found at: http://www.narn.org/.
3. BBC whale meat stories: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14223673