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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.