Is green the new red?

Book Review

“Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege”
by Will Potter
2011, City Lights Publishers, 256 pages, paperback $16.95

Green is the New Red traces several stories about the radical environmental movement and the responses of the U.S. government. Written by journalist-activist Will Potter, Green is a fast and exciting read. Potter writes about several politically precarious topics, including the changing definition of terrorism since 9/11/2001 and the rights of individuals and groups to disrupt corporate profits via media campaigns that border on harassment.

This quasi-ethnographic account brings the reader into the underground world of the Animal Liberation and the Earth Liberation Fronts, and their illegal “ecotage” practices. These are controversial subjects given that most people (this author and publisher included) agree with the larger social consensus that does not support destruction of property and violent acts as methods for social change. In artfully discussing these topics, Potter provide a glimpse into the thinking, lives, and judicial proceedings of several “eco-terrorists,” such as Daniel McGowan, Kevin Kjonaas and Lauren Gazzola among others.

Central throughout the narrative is the constant clash between the Bill of Rights, specifically our freedom of speech and the right to assemble peacefully, and the practices of the FBI and National Security Agency. Since passage of the PATRIOT Act, our government has greatly expanded its definition of terrorism. Unknown to most Americans, the book says, our justice system has been co-opted by certain groups (such as the American Legislative Exchange Council) to write laws that infringe on basic civil liberties. These groups, Potter writes, tend to be interested in protecting corporate profits rather than our inalienable rights. Readers are exposed to an Orwellian reality, where vegans are blacklisted and secret spy projects like COINTELPRO, SHAMROCK and Operation Backfire are the norm.

Overall the book is well organized, well researched and well written. While Potter spends a few pages discussing the controversial tactics of radical environmentalists, I think further exploration into this topic is needed. At the root of these acts sits the definition of nonviolence, civil disobedience, and the question of what constitutes terrorism. Another concern here is the U.S. government’s response to loss of corporate profits. If citizens participate in nonviolent civil disobedience (boycott, protest, rally, etc), and business suffers, to what extent are people protected from corporate backlash lawsuits? This narrative opens these topics for public debate. I would recommend this book for any aspiring environmental or constitutional law students.

Green comes at a perfect time, when ecology and environmentalism are gaining popularity. Potter’s investigation invites people to consider the “proper” methods of creating a more ecologically sustainable culture.

Alan Wight is a doctoral student in educational studies at the University of Cincinnati. He is an environmental sociologist working on re-introducing agriculture to schools and communities.

Photo: joiseyshowaa CC 2.0