Happy Earth Day? 

Forget feel-good rallies and one-day recycling efforts. The 40th anniversary of the environmental movement's biggest celebration calls for more drastic measures.

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But the group's drive as a whole is far greater than those individual incentives. NRRT echoes Stocks' sentiments when he explains that the Rising Tide message is about world economies, social justice and "the future of our planet."

"That's why Otter Creek isn't just about Otter Creek," Stocks says. "It's about all of the Otter Creeks."

Alex Sakariassen

Serious about winning

Granddaddy of radical eco-activisim continues the fight

In 1987, Mike Roselle scaled Mount Rushmore and attempted to put a giant gas mask and banner across George Washington's chiseled face. That protest against coal-fired power plants earned him four months in a South Dakota prison—and national notoriety.

Over the years, the long-time Missoula resident hasn't let up. He co-founded a slew of high-profile organizations, including Earth First!, the Rainforest Action Network and the Ruckus Society. He's fought mining and logging companies with a series of controversial tactics that sent the same message: Act now to protect the planet, or it'll be too late. And after three decades of using non-violent civil disobedience to fight the good fight, he's considered the granddaddy of the radical eco-activism movement.

"If we're serious about winning," he says, "then we've got to be serious about standing up and confronting the people who are making this happen."

click to enlarge Earth First! co-founder and long-time eco-activist Mike Roselle, right, believes civil disobedience is the only way to create real change. “It’s a pretty traditional American way to respond to the fact that governments aren’t always right,” he says. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANTRIM CASKEY/APPALACHIA WATCH
  • Photo courtesy of Antrim Caskey/Appalachia Watch
  • Earth First! co-founder and long-time eco-activist Mike Roselle, right, believes civil disobedience is the only way to create real change. “It’s a pretty traditional American way to respond to the fact that governments aren’t always right,” he says.

More than two years ago, Roselle helped found his latest group, Climate Ground Zero. The organization has since conducted a high profile "pressure campaign" to stop Massey Energy's West Virginia mountaintop removal operation. Climate Ground Zero activists draw from the civil disobedience handbook to stop coal mining by chaining themselves to equipment, squatting in trees on land slated for blasting and using their bodies to block roads.

Roselle has been arrested six times during the past year by the same police officer in West Virginia. The Climate Ground Zero crew as a whole tallied approximately 150 arrests last year and wracked up tens of thousands of dollars worth of fines.

"It's not a free ride. This is a very difficult way to wage a pressure campaign," Roselle says. "You have to throw pretty much everything you have at it."

It's worth it, though, because they're getting the job done, Roselle says. He points to the group's success at grabbing national headlines and the fact that, earlier this month, the Obama administration announced new regulations that are expected to seriously curtail mountaintop removal.

Successes like that make it easier to shrug off criticisms. During his many years of demonstrations, critics have dubbed Roselle an eco-terrorist bent on destruction. Even people inside the environmental movement question his tactics at times.

Roselle, however, makes no apologies. He says ballot boxes and political persuasion are optimal ways to affect change—and clearly less dangerous than, for instance, scaling Mount Rushmore. But if that doesn't work, when it comes to saving the planet, civil disobedience becomes a moral imperative.

"It's a pretty traditional American way to respond to the fact that governments aren't always right. The courts aren't always right. And, of course, the corporations aren't always right," he says. "When everything else has been exhausted, and what we feel is irreparable harm to the environment and to these communities is happening, than it's a moral issue. And we have to take actions that we think are going to make a difference."

Historically, pressure campaigns have led to groundbreaking environmental legislation like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, he says. Then there's the obvious example of citizen activism helping to spur civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

"The way it was really applied by Martin Luther King, those people who were involved in those campaigns they suffered immensely. They took huge sacrifices. And, of course, some of them died," he says. "It was a very serious campaign and not just about marching down the street or banging drums or hanging a banner off of a building. They were actually getting out there and confronting the problem where it was."

Watching Montana glaciers melt and the state's rivers flow at historic lows, Roselle says it's clear an environmental emergency is mounting. But it's been tough to drum up activists willing to take a stand against environmental threats in Montana.

"I was very interested in civil disobedience in Montana over the last few years. In Missoula, I find it very, very difficult to find people who are willing to take that step," he says. "The people in western Montana didn't seem to be too concerned about what's going on in the eastern part of the state."

During the past several months, though, the emergence of Northern Rockies Rising Tide has given him a glimmer of hope. The group of young activists grabbed the spotlight locally and nationally in March after they staged a sit in that disrupted a Montana Land Board Meeting that convened to lease state-owned property for coal mining.

"Those are my heroes," says Roselle. "They've got the only other campaign in the U.S. right now on coal mining. It's us and them."

The environmental movement needs more groups like Rising Tide, Roselle says. Too often people simply write a check and expect someone else to do the work.

"I think the fact that we spend probably a half of a billion dollars a year to maintain an environmental movement in this country and we get so little out of it is a travesty," he says. "Citizens have got to become personally involved in these environmental issues ...There's enough of us to make a difference."

Jessica Mayrer

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