Friends of the Earth Europe becomes a social movement? Part I

Where is the environmental movement heading? To find out I went for the second time in my life to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE) in June.

I claim that the environmental movement have its deep roots in Jainism in India 2 500 years ago and many other movements in different parts of the world. Many others claim that the environmental movement started in the 1960s and international were the establishment of Friends of the Earth International in Stockholm 1971 and the UN Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) the year after in the same city. By chance I happened to live in Stockholm at the time and became involved.

In these early days of international organizing of the environmental movement there were some trends:

All photos: Björn Gustafsson

1.We did have a lot of fun. Here we occupy some trees in the middle of Stockholm a year ahead of the UN Conference some 200 meters away from parliament. Main organizers were Alternativ Stad, (Alternative City) established in 1969 and today Friends of the Earth Stockholm. The municipality wanted to cut down seven elms in the city center. We wanted to stop them. They went to the government to get support for their decision. They got the support and the felling of the trees shuld take place some time in the future. Secretly they planned to do it quick with the help of the police. We spied on the prpearations day and night. One night they came. By telephone people were mobilized from all over Stockholm and some 800 people gathered to save the trees. Alternative city had mobilized most on non-violence values. When the motorsaws started to cut into the trees more few but dedicated militant actvists forced themselves with some use of violence through the police cordon. A motorized vehicle that should be used to help cut down the trees was destroyed. The motrosaws were taken out of the hands of the workers. While the militant actvists were able to get through the police lines hundreds of non-violent teenagers moved some meters forward. The first activist was able to climb a tree and occupy it. There were no chance to cut the trees that night anymore. The police gave up. It can be added althought the police used quite some violence using batons, dogs and their horse whips there was less violence than usual sometimes today in confrontations between protesters and the police. For one week the politicians talked about the threat against democracy. Trade unions leaders were mobilized against the tree occupants. At the same time a big party started under the trees and in total some 250 000 people participated. The politicians gave up. remade their decision and the trees still stand. Today the victory against police and a democratic decison according to official ideology is hailed by the municipality, by the some years ago merged national business and industry organisation, the environmental mopvement and in school books as an example of struggle for freedom and a just cause.

Official UN Conference venue in the parliamentary building

2. Over population was presented as a main if not the main global environmental problem by the dominant Anglo-American environmentalism. A book distributed in two and a half million copies world wide by Friends of the Earth forced sterilization of all men with more than two children in India was presented as a solution. The book was titled Population bomb and the author Paul Ehrlich was a key note speaker at many parallel events at the Stockholm conference. In its own official Friends of the Earth book Only One Earth the text did not go that far but over population exemplified with the masses in the third world was also here a big issue. Friends of the Earth also put themselves very close to the official propaganda surrounding the UN Confeernce. Thus the title of their book, “Only one Earth” was also the title of another book promoted by the general secretary of the conference, Maurice Strong. The conceptual framework was initiated by business think tanksas Aspen Institue who with the help of Strong could get strong influence on the offcial framing as one can see above the entrance to the offcial venue.

UNCHE general secretary Maurice Strong speaking at Hog Farm rally for Life at Sergels torg

2. US hippies, ”crowd control experts” from Hog Farm, a dozen of journalists from the same two newspapers that never wrote an article about the events, business think tanks and the official US delegation eagerly cooperated. Some of them were in the frontline on the streets trying to provoke confrontations with the police, others set up a youth camp and were selling drugs were the general secretary of the conference, a North American businessman made his tribute to the youth, many of them stormed the press conferences of alternative activities to support official US positions and finally occupied the the presidium of the alternative conference and all of them joined in a march on the streets for protecting the wale. All of them also tried to stop protests against the US ecocide in Vietnam were Agent Orange was used in the warfare against the Vietnamese causing the forest to disappear and genetic damage to the people. Some US academicians did a great job on the opposite side supporting the protests against the ecocide. Also the Swedish social democratic prime minister brought the issue up at the official conference to the harm of the US delegation. It is said that the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam was stopped before the war ended.

Hog Farm rally for Life at Sergels torg

Mass demonstration against US ecocidal warfare in Vietnam at Sergels torg

3. The dominance of Anglo-American environmentalism with little concern for social justice was overwhelming from the outset but lost a lot of its glamour during the conference.

Man looking at anti-US street posters at UNCHE

Barry Commoner, one of the US academicians speaking up against US ecocide and bringing social aspects into the global environmental movement, here at People’s Forum at ABF

4. The third world was very poorly organized but in the last minute an alliance between young theosophists and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, (WILPF) was able to get funds from the government allowing 60 third world participants from the ad hoc Oi Committee to come to the alternative activities. They were successfully able to question the eco-fascism of Paul Ehrlich as well as the socially neutral environmental scenarios made by the Club of Rome and in general Western environmentalism whether from the left or more oriented towards business interests blaiming the individual moral for environmental degradation. But the pressure on their participation and lack of organizational support had the result that their Oi Committee statement on Human environment was copied to late for the press conference and then lost until it was found 33 years later. The first third world attempt at influencing the organized global environmental movement was forgotten.

Young theosophist Jan Fjellander and Tagi Farvar from Iran, both Oi Committee

5. Before the Stockholm conference many environmental organizations looked upon environmental problems as technical. Thus to save the rivers nuclear power was seen as an alternative to construction of dams. Especially WILPF, the women’s peace movement, but also others changed the minds of the environmental organizations. Afterwards criticism of nuclear power and promotion of saving energy, sometimes even promotion of change towards another low energy society became central to the movement.

Anti nuclear power poster from the 1970s in the US, source Wikipedia

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