What is an eco-terrorist?
What is an eco-terrorist?
Byron Christopher - Edmonton journalist
Liebo Ludwig and his wife Maime, a few months before his death at his family compound
Early last month, a well known and somewhat notorious Canadian figure passed away in a hospital in Alberta. He wasn’t a celebrity or a major sports personality, but his actions over the past decade had captivated media attention and galvanized public opinion.
The man was Wiebo Ludwig, a convicted pipeline bomber who some people labeled a terrorist. Mr. Ludwig was the spiritual leader of a small Christian community on the outskirts of the town of Hythe in Alberta.
Wiebo Ludwig probably would be unknown to most of us if not for one fateful day when an oil and gas company showed up on his property and indicated that they were about to place a gas well just a few kilometers away from his family compound.
Despite objections from the family, the company went ahead. Once again, this probably would have been the end of the story except for the fact that soon after the well began production, the community of Trickle Creek, where Ludwig and his family lived, started to experience a rash of deaths and abortions in their livestock, sores and general illness among the human population and then finally human miscarriages and stillbirths.
The community and Mr.Ludwig appealed to the government to address the situation and ensure the collective safety of the people that were living close to the gas well. Once again, this is probably where the story could have ended since a reasonable response would have been to ensure that people and animals were not being inadvertently poisoned by the industrial activity associated with the gas well.
Unfortunately, nothing was done and in fact Wiebo and his community began to face persecution for daring to speak up. Meanwhile, the sickness continued.
At this point, Wiebo Ludwig became known to Canadians. A series of vandalism, pipeline bombings and protests began to occur in and around the Trickle Creek area and Mr. Ludwig was suspect number one. While he was eventually convicted, the evidence against him was always a little flimsy although common sense seemed to point the finger in his direction.
Until recently, my knowledge of Wiebo Ludwig was confined to the media reports that I had heard at the time and I had dismissed him as the “terrorist” he had been labeled. However, a recent documentary produced by the National Film Board on the life of Wiebo Ludwig has tempered my judgments and raised the question of what is an “eco” terrorist and how should we judge these people.
Wiebo Ludwig did what he thought was justified to fight the destruction of the environment that he lived and depended upon and, when he had no other choice, he broke the law.
He is not alone. Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived in an ancient tree in California for over a year to prevent it from being felled by loggers.
She was shot at, threatened and insulted but she eventually won her fight and the forest was saved.
Closer to home, Canadian Paul Watson spent years patrolling the Antarctic Nature Reserve interfering with Japanese vessels that were illegally killing whales. No government was willing to police these waters or interfere with the illegal activity so Watson did and subsequently he was charged for his actions.
There are many more like Ludwig, Watson and Hill, from the peaceful student protesters who protected the forest of Temagami in the late 1980s to the grandmothers who were arrested trying to save the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.
All of these people technically broke the law but they did so because they sensed a great injustice was occurring and they were driven to sacrifice in order to preserve either their families or irreplaceable natural environments.
By law, this makes them criminals or “eco-terrorists”. However time may judge them differently.
History has elevated previous breakers of unjust laws to revered status. Certainly Martin Luther King, Mohatma Ghandi or Rosa Parks would never be faulted in this day and age for their actions.
Yet each at the time was breaking the law. I am in no way suggesting that we should equate Ludwig, Watson or Hill directly with such great historical figures but it does raise an interesting question.
How will history judge our current crop of eco-terrorist?
Dante was famous for saying that in times of great moral crisis, maintaining neutrality is not an option.
If we accept the fact that our planet is currently in a state of environmental crisis, as many believe it is, what is a reasonable response?
Finally, if someone was threatening your family, how far would you go to defend the ones you love?
These are troubling questions that should be asked before we jump to judgment on the guilt of an “eco” terrorist.