Environmental Action Group

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Environmental Action Group


By: Anonymous

Date: 1970

Source: Getty Images

About the Photographer: This photograph shows a symbol combining graphic elements symbolizing environmentalism, the American Flag, and the activist group Environmental Action. The photographer is unknown.


Environmental Action, founded in 1970 shortly after the first Earth Day, was one of the earliest (though never one of the largest) environmental organizations to come out of the social and political ferment of the 1960s. The quasi-American flag symbol pictured here, not invented by Environmental Action but adopted by it and other groups, including Greenpeace, is known as the "ecology flag." In this design, green—the symbolic color of environmentalism, as in the "Green" political parties of Europe and the United States—has replaced the red and blue of the U.S. flag, and a design resembling the Greek letter theta has replaced the conventional field of stars. The theta-like symbol is actually a combination of the letters "o" and "e," for "organism" and "environment." (Ecology is the study of the relations between organisms, their environment, and other organisms.) The symbol was invented by a cartoonist, Ron Cobb (who later worked as a conceptual designer for the films Star Wars, 1977, and Alien, 1979) and was first published in the Los Angeles Free Press in 1969. It was first used in an ecology-flag design in the April 21, 1970 issue of Look magazine.

Environmental Action was eventually disbanded, though it reformed in the early 2000s. The version of the group that flourished in the early 1970s is perhaps most often cited today not by environmentalists but by right-wing anti-environmentalists, who point to it as an early advocate of "ecoterrorism." The ground for this charge is the book Ecotage! (1972), which offered suggestions for ecological sabotage (ecotage) techniques such as plugging pipes emitting pollutants, destroying billboards, and pulling up survey stakes placed for construction projects. The suggestions were submitted by members of the general public in response to a nationwide contest run by Environmental Action.

Although ecotage is illegal, virtually all ecotage is vandalism, not terrorism, because it is not designed to terrorize—that is, to make human beings fear for their personal safety. Environmentalists damaging property—and only a small minority have ever done so—have in almost all cases sought to do so in ways that are politically pointed but non-dangerous. A rare exception is tree-spiking (which was not advocated in Ecotage!), the practice of driving metal spikes into trees to damage chainsaws when the trees are later cut down. Tree-spiking deters logging by posing a direct danger to loggers. While tree-spiking can be construed as a small-scale form of terrorism, it is notable that illegal pollution of the environment by corporations is never termed "ecoterrorism" by those who condemn tree-spiking, even though such actions are also illegal and threaten the lives of many more people than even the most extreme forms of ecotage, including arson and tree-spiking—air pollution alone kills 50,000-100,000 people every year in the United States.



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In the 1960s and 1970s, a mass movement arose—the "environmental" movement—that was supported by people who believed that human activities, including development, mining, forestry, agriculture, fuel extraction and burning, and garbage creation were destroying the ecology of the planet and its ability to sustain life. The environmental movement has continued to be a significant force in public affairs, spreading from Western industrial nations to much of the world. The general purpose of environmental groups such as Environmental Action is to advocate for ways of living and doing business that do not exhaust the Earth's resources, cause species of plants and animals to become extinct, or otherwise befoul or damage the planet.

Almost every movement or group—political, religious, or other—invents or appropriates visual symbols to focus its sense of purpose and identity, and the environmental movement is no exception. Since the environmental movement tends (though not exclusively) to be associated with progressive or left-leaning politics, which have historically been accused of being "un-American" or unpatriotic, it has repeatedly merged the most powerful symbol of U.S. national identity, the flag, with its own symbology so as to suggest that patriotism is compatible with its own agenda. The goal is to counter a negative perception. The ecology flag is one of these symbols. The peace or antiwar movement has also designed hybrid peace-flag symbols, and for the same reasons. Hybrid symbols such as the ecology flag reveal political and cultural tensions inside American society over the question of ultimate loyalty or identity.

The ecology symbol, unlike the peace symbol, has not achieved universal recognition in popular culture, and remains relatively uncommon.


Web sites

Environmental Action. 〈http://www.environmental-action.org/index.html〉 (accessed February 17, 2006).

University of San Diego. "Environmentalism 1960–1986." 〈http://history.acusd.edu/gen/nature/environ5.html〉 (accessed February 17, 2006).

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Environmental Action Group

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