Critical pedagogy

Business students learning from A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

  • Helen Kopnina The Hague University of Applied Sciences


While environmentalism is often associated with different non-governmental organizations, agencies, movements, institutions, and grassroots groups, one of the least understood types of environmentalism is so-called radical activism. This article will argue that the label of radicalism or even terrorism attached to some forms of environmental activism precludes learning about the causes of environmental crises. Based on the work of Paulo Freire in critical pedagogy and eco-pedagogy, this article supports the position that learning about social and political framing of “radicalism” as well as the issues that drive this “radical” action help the development of critical thinking and ethical judgment in students. By analyzing student reflection essays on the film If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, this article draws lessons in ecological citizenship and critical thinking.



Amnesty International. 2018. Poland: arrests and refusal of entry to environmentalists during the cop24 climate talks.

Best, S. 2003. Common Natures, Shared Fates: Toward an Interspecies Alliance Politics.
Impact Press.

Bevington, D. and Dixon, C. 2005. Movement-relevant Theory: Rethinking Social Movement Scholarship and Activism. Social Movement Studies, 4 (3): 185-208.

Blet, R. 2018. Five Asian environmental activists killed for defending land and natural resources against exploitation. South China Morning Post.

Bonnett, M. 2020. Environmental Consciousness, Sustainability, and Transcendent Nature. Towards Ecologizing Education. New York: Routledge.

Breiting, S. 2009. Issues for environmental education and ESD research development: Looking ahead from WEEC 2007 in Durban. Environmental Education Research 15(2):199–207.

Burke, J. 2018. Six Virunga park rangers killed in DRC wildlife sanctuary. The Guardian.

Baletti, B., Johnson, T., & Wolford, W. 2008. “Late mobilization”: transnational peasant networks and grassroots organizing in Brazil and South Africa. Journal of Agrarian Change, 8: 290–314.

BBC. 2013. Turkey protests: 'It's a fight for freedom'

Berry, W. 1999. In distrust of movements. The Land Report, 65:3-7.

Castells, M. 1997. The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Clark, B. 2002. The Indigenous Environmental Movement in the United States: Transcending Borders in Struggles Against Mining, Manufacturing, and the Capitalist State. Organization & Environment 15 (4): 410-442.

Collinson, H. 1996. Green Guerrillas: environmental conflicts and initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin America Bureau, Ltd.

Crane, A. and Matten, D. 2016. Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Covill, C. J. 2008. “Greenpeace, Earth First! and The Earth Liberation Front: The Progression of the Radical Environmental Movement in America”, Digital Commons.

Dryzek, J. S. 2005. The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freire, P.1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder & Herder.

Gayle, D. 2019. Shami Chakrabarti warns police over Extinction Rebellion prosecutions. The Guardian. May 25.

Gibbens, S. 2019. 15 ways the Trump administration has changed environmental policies. National Geographic.

Global Conservation. 2018. Over one thousand park rangers die in 10 years

Global Witness 2017. Defenders of the earth.

Gottlieb, R. 2005. Preface, Introduction to the Revised Edition. In Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Revised and Updated Edition, xiii-40, 389-414. Washington D.C.: Island Press.

Guha, R. 2000. Environmentalism: a Global History. New York: Longman.

Grubbs, J. and Loadenthal, M., 2014. From the classroom to the slaughterhouse: Animal liberation by any means necessary. Counterpoints, 448, pp.179-201.

Holden, S. 2011. Crimes Against Property, as Protests. New York Times, 21. June.

Holmes, G. 2016. Environmental activist murders set record as 2015 became deadliest year. The Guardian.

HOP. 2018. Baudet: ‘We’re being undermined by our universities’

Jickling, B. 1996. Wolves, Ethics and Education: Looking at Ethics through the Yukon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. In A Colloquium on Environment, Ethics and Education; Jickling, B., Ed.; Yukon College: Whitehorse, Canada, pp. 158–163.

Kahn, R. 2010. Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy Movement. New York: Peter Lang.

Kopnina, H. 2012. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): The turn away from ‘environment’ in environmental education? Environmental Education Research, 18 (5): 699-717.

Kopnina, H. 2014. If a Tree Falls: Business students’ reflections on environmentalism. International Journal of Environment and Sustainable Development, 8(3): 311-329.

Kopnina, H. 2015a. Revisiting the Lorax complex: Deep ecology and biophilia in cross-cultural perspective. Environmental Sociology, 43(4): 315-324.

Kopnina, H. 2015b. If a Tree Falls and Everybody Hears the Sound: Teaching deep ecology to business students’. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 9(1): 101–116.

Kopnina, H. 2018a. Circular economy and Cradle to Cradle in educational practice. Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 15(1): 123-138.

Kopnina, H. 2018b. Teaching Sustainable Development Goals in The Netherlands: a critical approach. Special Issue: Environmental and Sustainability Education in the BENELUX region’. Environmental Education Research, 24(9): 1268-1283.

Kopnina, H. 2019. Green-washing or best case practice? Using circular economy and Cradle to Cradle case studies in educational practice. Journal of Cleaner Production, 219:613-623.

Kopnina, H. and Blewitt, J. 2014. Sustainable Business: Key issues. Routledge, New York.

Kronlid, D. O. and Öhman, J. 2013. An environmental ethical conceptual framework for research on sustainability and environmental education, Environmental Education Research, 19(1): 21-44.

Lewis, T. L. 2009. Environmental Movements in the Global South. In Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology, eds. K. Gould and T. Lewis, 244-254. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lipscher, S., Coldwell, A. and Bunch, J. 2005. Vail arson suspect dead. Denver Post. December 22.

Lobanov, V. 2018. Leading Environmentalists Violently Attacked in Russia

Mallory, C. 2006. Ecofeminism and Forest Defense in Cascadia: Gender, Theory and Radical Activism. Capitalism Nature Socialism 17 (1): 32-49.

Mercier, J. 1997. Downstream and upstream ecologists. The people, organizations, and ideas behind the movement. Westport (Connecticut): Praeger.

Mustafa, Y.U. et al. 2010. A Participatory Action Research Study of Nature Education in Nature: Towards Community-based Eco-pedagogy. International Journal of Progressive Education. 6:3.

Nixon, R. 1996. Pipe dreams: Ken Saro-Wiwa, environmental justice, and micro-minority rights. Black Renaissance, 1(1):39.

Nocella, A. 2007. Unmasking the animal liberation front using critical pedagogy: Seeing the ALF for who they really are. Journal for critical animal studies, 1, pp.1-10.

Pickering, L. J. 2002. The Earth Liberation Front: 1997–2002. South Wales, NY: Arissa Publications.

Rosebraugh, C. 2004. Burning Rage of a Dying Planet: Speaking for the Earth Liberation Front. New York: Lantern Press.

Sitka-Sage, M. D., Kopnina, H. Blenkinsop, S. and Piersol, L. 2017. Rewilding Education in Troubling Times; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Post-Nature’. Visions for Sustainability. 8:1-19.

Scarce, R. 2006. Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press

Shantz, J. 2002. Judi Bari and ‘the feminization of Earth First!’: The Convergence of Class, Gender, and Radical Environmentalism. Feminist Review 70: 105-122.

Taylor, B.R. 1995. Ecological Resistance Movements: The global emergence of radical and popular environmentalism. SUNY Press.

Van Gelder, S. ed. 2011. This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Publishers.

Wolford, W. 2010. This Land is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings of Land in Brazil. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Wals, A. E.J. and Jickling, B. 2002. “Sustainability” in higher education: From doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3(3): 221 – 232.

Wals, A. E. J. 2010. Between knowing what is right and knowing that it is wrong to tell others what is right: On relativism, uncertainty, and democracy in environmental and sustainability education. Environmental Education Research, 16 (1): 143–51.

Youkee, M. 2018. Indigenous Chileans defend their land against loggers with radical tactics. The Guardian.

Zelko, F. 2006. Challenging Modernity: The Origins of Postwar Environmental Protest in the United States. In Shades of Green: Environmental Activism Around the Globe, eds. Christof Mauch, Nathan Stoltzfus, and Douglas Weiner, 13-40. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Kopnina, H. (2019). Critical pedagogy. Studier I Pædagogisk Filosofi, 8(1), 43-68.