SAC # | 122
TIME | 10 November 2011, 4pm onwards
LOCATION | Seminar room, Centre for Innovation (corner of Castle and St. David Streets), University of Otago
Most environmental activism today involves acts of symbolism intended to embarrass, intimidate, or obstruct, rather than acts that directly determine change. What are the historical precedents for today’s activism and how are these used? Are there precedents for action that is more than symbolic? What is the role of illegality? “Activists are not criminals”, argues Greenpeace’s International Executive Director, Dr Kumi Naidoo. What illegal acts do New Zealand’s most radical activists contemplate? How do they justify their right to act, and perceive their responsibility to others? What importance do they place on their own safety and freedom in pursuit of ecological justice? The shifting of risk and responsibility that could be borne by governments and corporations, onto the shoulders of passionate individuals, could be seen as the ultimate, self-imposed, personalisation of the neo-liberal world. How would such offenders be treated in this world? In researching these questions, I have identified some major challenges for activism, and offer some far-reaching recommendations for effectiveness, that if utilised have potential to transform the movement.
Dr Toni Atkinson is a biologist and anthropologist with long-standing interest and involvement in the environmental movement. In the 1990s she extensively researched the spirituality and values of active environmentalists in New Zealand. In the last 10 years she has studied and worked as a biologist, specialising in mycology (the study of fungi), and doing a PhD at Otago. She enjoys finding new species of microfungi in New Zealand’s wild natural habitats. She has also researched the microfungi of the Great Smoky Mountains (southern Appalachia, USA), while working for the Illinois Natural History Survey in 2007, and in Ottawa in 2009 worked with microfungal specialists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. She has presented her work at several international conferences. Her special interests include interrelationships between organisms, biospheric energy cycles, and implications for sustainable living. She is a free-lance editor for an international scientific editing company, and uses her spare time for independent research.