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What is Ecotage?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Ecotage is a term used to refer to direct action taken on behalf of the environment. The word is a portmanteau of “sabotage” and the prefix “eco-”, and it is intended to separate ecotage from other acts of sabotage which might be aimed at achieved other goals. Some people also refer to ecotaging as ecodefense, or monkeywrenching. Opponents of the activity often label it ecoterrorism. One representative group which practices a great deal of ecotage is the Earth Liberation Front, a radical organization which focuses on trying to stop the exploitation of the environment.

The concept of ecotage became especially popular in the 1970s, when radical activism and direct action became much more popular. Many practitioners of ecotage started out with things like civil disobedience, later deciding that only direct action would work. Supporters of ecotage argue that it is a rapid and effective method for putting a stop to things like logging, whereas civil disobedience such as tree sitting and blocking logging roads is only a momentary roadblock. Opponents say that remaining within the bounds of the law is ultimately more effective, since it allows both sides of an issue to meet in the middle.

Acts of ecotage vary in scope. In 1975, Edward Abbey wrote a book called The Monkeywrench Gang, a piece of purported fiction about ecotaging with rather detailed instructions. The book describes acts such as putting sugar into gas tanks, burning billboards, and blowing up dams, illustrating some more large-scale types of ecotage. All acts of ecotage are designed to inflict considerable property damage, with the hope of economically punishing or crippling people and companies who abuse the environment.

In theory, ecotage is nonviolent, because it is not intended to cause loss of life or injury. However, some acts of ecotage can have potentially fatal consequences. Tree spiking, for example, can be very dangerous for loggers and mill workers, if the spike is not caught in time. Arson of housing developments under construction is also potentially risky, since the fire may spread or injure on-site guards.

Opponents in the environmental movement believe that ecotage ultimately undermines the goals of environmentalists and environmental groups. Ecotage is certainly illegal, and while not representative of the entire environmental movement, it can be used to tar peaceful and law abiding groups. Supporters of ecotage suggest that life and the environment in general are far more important than property damage. Like other radical acts stemming from frustration with more ordinary means of expressing displeasure, ecotage certainly captures public attention.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Aug 23, 2011

An extreme environmentalist in my neighborhood once sat in a tree to prevent city workers from cutting it down. The tree was two-hundred years old, and it sat in the middle of the town square. It had become a very part of our heritage. People were upset that they were cutting it down to make room for new business development, but this lady took it to the limit.

Instead of just sitting up there or chaining herself to a limb, she had a knife in a holster strapped to her waist. She threatened that if anyone should climb up there and try to get her down, she would kill herself. So, she had taken herself hostage for a tree.

The cops hired a sharpshooter to hit her with a tranquilizer dart. They already had a net set up to catch her under the tree. She fell out and awakened in the county jail.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 22, 2011

I see the thought process behind ecotage. True, the environment cannot defend itself against those who would do it harm, so people who practice ecotage are defending the helpless.

However, damaging the equipment and property of workers seems kind of a childish way to go about it. It’s kind of like one kid stealing another kid’s lunch money to protest the kind of food the lunchroom serves. The wrong person is the victim, and it doesn’t work in the long run.

Ecotage will likely always continue. People will forever have opinions so strong that they warrant extreme action, even if that action falls flat and the goal is never achieved.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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