“We are all eco-terrorists!”, Image: Sandy Colvine

The thought-provoking power of a graffiti message that stopped me in my tracks.

“We are all eco-terrorists!” The striking message in capital letters in green paint on the concrete road barrier receded in my rear-view mirror as I drove home but it stuck in my mind.

The message was a wry riposte by supporters of the French environmental movement, Les Soulevements de la Terre, to the French Home Office Minister, Gérard Darmanin. He used the term to discredit, even criminalise, the actions of environmental protestors demonstrating against plans to build irrigation mega basins to counter increasing drought in the French farmland.

This prominent message on the roadside got me thinking on two levels. Firstly, we, as a society, are approaching a global climate crisis largely fuelled by the consequences of our attitude to nature since the industrial revolution as a resource to control and exploit. Luminaries from the father of interpretation, Freeman Tilden, to French anthropologist, Philippe Descola, have highlighted this dilemma and echoed the classic mantra, “There is no infinite growth with finite resources”. Despite good intentions and global gatherings such as CoP, there seems little to suggest our approach to the environment is changing. Indeed, mega projects such as the irrigation basins or more recently, Europe’s largest fish factory ship, the Annelies Ilena, suggest we are still set on a course of accelerating unsustainability. Moreover, it is altogether regrettable that we have reached a state where campaigners against such projects are discredited and labelled eco-terrorists by others for daring to say, Stop! Enough is enough. There has to be another way.

My second thought was, am I an eco-terrorist driving by that graffiti in my car? Reappropriating Darmanin’s declaration, it made me reflect on my attitude towards the environment, how I use it, consume it and value it, or not as the case may be. Am I an eco-terrorist in gardening gloves and a hybrid car? It certainly felt healthy to challenge my perceptions and actions on a personal basis even if I find it uncomfortably easy to be a hypocrite. This then took me to wider issues such as the compulsion in western society to divide nature and culture into separate worlds, the concept of an historic environment that is so central to ‘modern’ cultural heritage and identity, or even the motivations behind rewilding projects.

There is plenty to demonstrate that humans are bad for the environment, yet during 4,000 generations of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens until the Anthropocene epoch (the term being a source of provocation in itself), our footprint was relatively restrained. Thereafter, in just over ten generations, we have had a major impact on our environment that is difficult to deny.

Those green painted words made we think about ‘modern’ society’s attitude to nature and to consult various sources to learn more. Can we change it individually and collectively? Is there a willingness to do so? Will our political and economic systems even allow such a change?

Needless to say, “We are all eco-terrorists” has been pressure-washed away now but it served to provoke reflection and challenge my values, which is what all good interpretation should do, even if the subjects are testing and tricky. I would even go as far as to say that in this case it was provocation with a capital P. 

Sandy Colvine is a freelance interpretive and rural development consultant based in southeastern France. As an IE Certified Interpretive Trainer and IE Supervisory Committee.

To cite this article: Colvine, Sandy (2024) ‘Provocation with a capital P’ in Interpret Europe Newsletter 1-2024, pg.4.
Available online: https://interpret-europe.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/PDF-Newsletter_2024_1-spring.pdf