Just Do It: documentary on "environmental extremists"

Emily James, a talented documentary filmmaker, is working on a new movie called "Just Do It," about "environmental extremism" -- activists who are willing to risk beatings and arrest to stop environmentally catastrophic projects. She's raising money to fund the film though donations, and will make it a free download when the editing is finished. They're looking for volunteers to help with everything from graphic design to making tea for the editors. Having watched the trailer, I've kicked in £150 -- this is a movie I'd love to see made!

In early 2009, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Emily James began filming the clandestine activities of several groups of environmental civil disobedient activists in the UK. Allowed unprecedented access, her footage shows us the people behind the politics, providing the often overlooked human element to their story as we watch them take on the combined forces of global capitalism, run-away climate change and those pesky metropolitan police!

Their adventures will entertain, illuminate and inspire, whilst inciting you to get off your arse and change the world.

Just Do It (Thanks, Emily!)


  1. Civil disobedience to awaken the public doesn’t work on national and international issues anymore. There are only two ways that still work, either become a part of the system and attack it from within or become a domestic terrorist and fight it from without. I personally recommend the former, as the latter can have significant (unnecessary, unacceptable) collateral damage. Run as a state or national representative and change things with your vote. If you can’t win the election, bribe whoever does.

    You can’t expect a lethargic, apathetic public to support you even on something as blatantly obvious as halting global climate change and pollution poisoning everyone. This documentary should be called “Just Do It Yourself”.

    1. “Civil disobedience to awaken the public doesn’t work on national and international issues anymore. There are only two ways that still work, either become a part of the system and attack it from within or become a domestic terrorist and fight it from without.”

      The kind of there-is-no-alternative reformism you are advocating is alarmingly reductive.

      In the early 1970s, a split emerged between German feminist and student movements, the former using direct action in a campaign to liberalise abortion laws, the later instigating what you are arguing for, Rudi Dutschke’s ‘long march through the institutions’. By 1974, the former had set up autonomously managed and financed women’s centres sporadically throughout West Germany. These helped to shift attention from staid, patriarchal traditions to decentralised sites of autonomy. The German Green Party, the later, were initially organised around similar sentiments: consensus, antihierarchy and a countercultural lifestyle. Their more theoretical wing, Alternative Liste had close ties with the Berlin squatters movement in the early 1980s and were crucial in representing their agenda to the city’s parliament. With time however, the more radical aspects of the Green Party withered and they became targets of groups organised around principles of autonomy and direct action. I would argue the German Green Party have today become entirely co-opted by the institutions they were set up to change.

      You did of course have domestic terrorists active in this period too. The Red Army Faction were centrally organised militant insurgents in operation from 1970 until 1998. They had a more rigid ideology and identity than the German feminist movement but were as equally antagonistic towards authority and marginalisation at the global periphery. While initially engaged in attacks on the ‘character masks’ of capitalism, they quickly fell into cycles of violence designed solely to coerce the release of imprisoned members. I agree with you that this is most often an unnecessarily/unacceptable way to go about achieving change.

      Climate Camp has long been organised along similar autonomous principles to the German feminist movement. This is very different to the centralised hierarchy of the Green Party and the Red Army Faction (analogous to the two options you are offering). Climate Camp believe that this prefiguration of self-determination is crucial to achieving change – Ghandi’s ‘be the change you want to see’.

      “You can’t expect a lethargic, apathetic public to support you even on something as blatantly obvious as halting global climate change and pollution poisoning everyone.”

      This second part of your argument seems to negate the former. If support isn’t to be expected, then what would it achieve to become part of a representational democratic system? Is government so corrupt that democracy doesn’t work; that the only way to get something done through ‘bribes’? If that’s the case, then the climate movement has lost already – the coffers of industry are far deeper than those of political activists.

      As I understand it the climate movement in Europe is currently at something of an impasse. Following the COP15 a rift seems to have emerged between those who want to push past climate change to tackle what they see as the core of the issue (capitalist industry’s blatant disregard for the environment), and those who believe that the immediacy of the climate threat demands a liberal movement from within the institutions (http://www.anarchist-studies.org/node/423). Sound familiar? Perhaps this is not unlike what happened in Germany forty years ago. It remains to be seen what groups will emerge, what politics they will espouse, what methods they will employ and what forms of organisation they will follow.

      Clearly there are many ways to go about achieving social change. I’m not sure what you think has changed in the last forty years but your obscurantist one-or-the-other rhetoric reeks of the very neoliberal ideology contemporary activists so stringently oppose.

    2. Civil Disobedience doesn’t work anymore because apparently nobody understands it. The idea is that you’re protesting an unjust law (or rule) by breaking it. Like some of the racial segregation protests of yore.

      Just getting arrested for its own sake is stupid.

  2. Great project.

    Showing others about what your are passionately caring about is always good. Because it is personal and emotional and helps to engage others.

    What is at least as important as that is to inform others about alternatives. Show new ways in an more objective way with the same passion.

    At the moment my girlfriend and I are on a Social Media Roadtrip around Europe. It is a mixed project – we are looking for entertaining and sporty stuff as well as for envirionmental projects all around Europe.

    For example near Sevilla we found a Solar Plant which delivers the technology to supply the whole electricity for the WHOLE world when used on some % of the Sahara.

    Here you can see our report about the Solar Towers. Don’t worry – the article may be written in German, but the Videointerview with the engineer is in English:

    That’s right. It would just take 1% of the surface of the Sahara to cover the electricity needed by the whole world. Everything needed is there. What is standing in the way is politics. Some dictators. And some oil and gas companies that don’t want it to happen.


    So that would be the REAL big solution to cover all and everything. But yesterday we found out that it works in real small ranges also:

    We visited the village Guessing in Austria. 20 years ago it was one of the poorest areas of Austria. Then the mayors of the little towns there said to themselves:

    “Why are we sending our money away to Russia for Gas and Arabia for Oil? Let’s produce our own energy”

    Now the area isn’t producing its whole energy for themselves. They are exporting 45% of their electricity and heat into the austrian energy network.

    AND they are exporting the technology as well all over the world. The swedish city of Goteborg is planning to rebuild the concept – but just 100 times bigger.

    There are lots of ways to do something:
    or just
    DO IT.

    Sometimes they have to be done in that order. Sometimes you can just start with doing it and eyplaining to the administration of your town that are examples and best practices out there who did it. That created thousands of new jobs and kept the money for energy in the area and didn’t send it away. And that those towns get more and more popular and prosper.

    I think that is the new way. Finding those ways to improve. To do it better. Then informing those who can go those ways but didn’t know that they exist and who would profit from it and then go it with them.

    Just my two cents :)

    If you would like to know more about our project and join our journey please take a look at

    http://facebook.com/ori10k or http://www.ori10k.de

    We will complete ozr 50 days of travelling Europe in two weeks. So you can still watch us on the road :) After that we will publish what we saw in detail piece by piece.

    Greetings from Vienna, Austria and on our way to Praha, Czech Republic


  3. Protest and direct action definately still work.

    As always, they need to be supported by research (you’ve got to have good ground to stand on), good messaging, strategic thinking (looking for leverage points), showing what the solutions are, etc. Note that the people/organizations doing the protesting don’t have to be the same as the ones doing the other work.

    And they don’t work as fast as people would like them to. The civil rights movement took over 10 years (perhaps a lot lot longer, depending how you add it up).

    There’s a whole range of tools that exist now (you know, internet stuffs), which never have before. These open up new tactics and strategies on both sides.

    My hat’s off to all the semi-mad people who will be in this film. Should be an entertaining look at UK activism.

    1. All true: but IMHO it is crucial that people not forget the over-arching goal – to persuade people.
      To persuade them: that there IS a problem, and that there IS a solution.
      Persuasion is the activity which – politically – matters most.
      Persuade them. Persuade us.
      That is the goal.

      1. “All true: but IMHO it is crucial that people not forget the over-arching goal – to persuade people.”

        I disagree. The goal of the environmentalist should be to stop the damage that is being done to the environment. If you can persuade people to get behind you, then go forth and persuade people, and use their mass support to your benefit. But if mass support is unavailable, go forward and achieve your goals (stopping the mining/toxic waste dumping/deforestation/etc/operation) any way you can, whether it makes you popular or not.
        Because that – stopping the destruction – is the real goal.

  4. Fascinating project and I’m throwing in to see it come to fruition. Too often you only see activists like this presented in mass media as little more than cartoons. Watching some of the (dozens) of short pieces posted from the G20 last summer that went up on youtube almost immediately was really eye-opening.

    That said, Rosa Parks? No. Lets leave Ms. Parks alone for a time, shall we? Rosa Parks was a long-time supporter of the civil rights movement. What made her stand out was, what MLK called, “her utter commonness of experience”. She was someone everyone could relate to, a woman coming home from work, tired on her feet, just looking for a seat.

    In some sense, I think that’s what the direct action movements lack, is something that connects or clicks with everyday people. People who seem to simply filter out protests these days.

  5. Glad to see this plugged on boing boing, I was involved on this in a very small way but I can guarantee it’s going to be a good one. Marina Pepper is a hero.

  6. Anyone interested in this should watch/order Pickaxe! Such a fabulous film about environmental activists who lived in the snowy mountains of Warner Creek for almost a year to prevent suspiciously razed natural forests from being logged. It really showed me that modern activism is alive and well, and can be effective.


  7. @the most recent anon: I agree entirely. Educating and informing people who are unaware of certain issues (most people, in a general sense, don’t want to destroy the environment, but do they know what fracking is and why it’s bad?) It’s also important to reach out to people to build networks of support and community, so that people can help each other through hard times, provide specialized knowledge, etc. However, the people who will listen to you are not the people who are responsible for the continuing destruction of landbases. The CEOs of logging companies aren’t in it because they won’t listen to sense, they’re in it because they make good money raping and pillaging. They know very well what they’re doing and they’re not planning on stopping anytime soon. So the question here is not really “violence or non-violence?” or “in the open or underground?” — a variety of tactics are needed in any struggle to achieve ends.
    Keep in mind that many anti-authoritarians do not consider property destruction to be violence, especially not compared to destruction of actual living things, which *is* what the other side is doing. Personally, I don’t consider “terrorism” to be a useful term unless it’s only applied to those who harm the innocent to achieve their ends. People who rescue animals from fur farms and sabotage logging equipment? Not terrorists, unless bank accounts can feel pain.

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